Note: We updated this article in March of 2022 to reflect the latest data. First, let’s look at the good news. In 2021, 827,138 people got approved for Social Security disability benefits. Imagine how relieved they felt when they heard they’d would soon start collecting those checks!
Now, let’s take a moment to review the not-so-great news. More than 1.8 million people (disabled or not) applied for SSD benefits. That means almost 1.2 million received denial letters from the Social Security Administration. Just 35% of that year’s applicants met the guidelines for Social Security disability. The SSA approves about 1 in every 5 first-time claimants for benefits, and nearly all applied through a disability lawyer.
If you’re too disabled to keep working full-time, you want to make sure you understand the SSA’s guidelines. Doing so can greatly improve your claim’s chances for approval.
Tip #1: Understand What Functionality Is, and Why It Matters
Yes, a doctor’s diagnosis (especially one that says you’re disabled) is key for claim approval. But there is something else to keep in mind as well. Your claim could be denied if your functionality at work hasn’t changed — and we mean specifically due to your disability. Let’s put this another way: The SSA needs to know how well you function at work each day (or not).
To approve your claim, the SSA needs to know you cannot function at work for 40 hours a week. What’s more, you need to show them evidence that your disability stops you from performing your job duties as expected. Also, the agency needs to know that your doctor doesn’t expect your condition to improve within 12 months. Lastly, you must show that you cannot work in a similar job with reasonable accommodations.
Tip #2: Clearly and Honestly Explain How Being Disabled Limits Your Everyday Abilities
Fill out your Adult Function Form truthfully and clearly. Do not leave any required fields blank. Explain which routine tasks and job duties you could do before that you can’t do now because you’re disabled. Be honest about how often you need help. Think about how long you can stand or sit without pain. Don’t exaggerate, but don’t pretend your symptoms are better than what they actually are, either.
Tip #3: Skip Using “Never” and “Always” On Your Forms
This form isn’t a good place to be dramatic. Just give plain and clear information about the job tasks, movements, or requirements you could once perform, but now can’t because of your disability. Be clear about how your disability has changed your day-to-day life.
Tip #4: Be Aware of Mentioning Daily Activities That Could Also Describe Job Duties
If you can currently drive, cook, or clean your house, the SSA may decide that you can work just fine. One way to assess your current abilities in a realistic way is to keep a symptom diary for one week. You can refer to these notes when you fill out your adult functioning report.
Tip #5: Keep Your Answers Consistent With Your Doctor’s Assessment of How You’re Disabled
When you fill out your report, it’s important not to contradict whatever your doctor says. Keep your answers short and don’t provide a lot of details. For example: If your doctor says you cannot concentrate because of an injury or chronic pain, it makes no sense to tell the SSA you babysit sometimes for your neighbors.
Tip #6: Have Someone Who Knows You Review Your Adult Function Report
Sometimes it’s hard to be honest about how much we’ve changed due to a disability. It can also be tough to tell the truth about how well we actually function every day. For this reason, you should have someone who knows you well review your form’s answers. That person may remind you about challenges you have each day that you’d otherwise forget.
Tip #7: Don’t Forget Mental Functionality Concerns
A disability may leave you feeling physically unable to work — yet that’s only half the story. Yes, many jobs require you to walk, stand, sit or lift certain objects. But don’t forget to include symptoms that may affect your ability to focus, follow directions or concentrate at work.
These mental abilities are just as important (if not more so) than your physical abilities when it comes to fulfilling your job requirements. Be honest about any mental limitations you have now. Consider how well you handle stress on a daily basis. Think about your ability to follow verbal instructions without writing them down. You don’t have to be completely physically disabled to get benefits!
Tip #8: Consistency is the Key
If you’re on your way to an ALJ appeals hearing, the most important thing to remember is consistency. It’s easy to stay consistent if you simply tell the truth at all times. Don’t say on your report that you can’t prepare your own meals, but then say you cook sometimes at your hearing. Instead, update your report any time your condition improves or your symptoms get worse.
Tip #9: Submit Additional Documents That Help Prove You’re Disabled
Your claim is stronger if it comes with additional evidence from an acceptable medical source (AMS) explaining how you’re disabled. You can include medical records, a doctor’s letter, a list of medical equipment you use each day, records of psychiatric evaluations, and assessments from case workers or social workers. Any documents that show what you wrote on the claim is consistently true and stops you from working only increases your chances for approval!
Related: How to Apply for Social Security Disability