Here is a long list of things you can do to make a super great Social Security disability application. You can do these things before you first apply, while you apply, or during your appeal.
It is never too late to start doing the things on this list and it is never too early to start doing the things on this list. I have met people who took steps that made a big difference at every possible stage.
Please don’t try to do everything on this list (you will die). Look through and pick out a few things that feel right to you. If all goes well, you may decide to come back and try a few more.
It’s perfectly fine if you can’t do a lot (Of course you can’t! That’s why you are applying for disability!). Any little thing you can do can make a big difference. A few minutes each day can really add up. If possible, ask a friend or loved one for help.
Whatever happens, don’t let anybody ever tell you that you can’t get approved if you are young. Or you can’t get approved without a lawyer. Or it’s not possible to get approved in less than two years. Or you can’t get approved for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Or you can’t get approved if you have Lyme Disease. Or it is totally random and some people just get lucky.
Those people are disheartened and discouraged. But those people don’t know what you know. Because you know all of this:
Don’t Read This List
🍭 This is a long list with many options. Maybe you don’t want so many options and just want a few of the most important things. If so, try one of these shorter lists:
Find Mr. or Mrs. Right
🍭 Social Security is particular about what kind of doctor they would like you to see. The right kind of doctor can be important for your case. If all your doctors are MDs, psychiatrists or psychologists, you can skip this step.
🍭 If you are seeing other types of doctors, this may be fine, or you may need to make changes. Here’s how to Make Sure You Are Seeing Mr. or Ms. Right
Start Seeing Them Regularly
🍭 Start seeing a doctor on a regular basis. How often is ideal? The frequency depends on your condition and what your doctor recommends. Many people see their doctor every two months while applying for disability. (More often for mental health)
🍭 If you don’t have money or insurance or transportation, check out: How to Get to the Doctor When You Can’t Get to the Doctor
Follow Doctor’s Orders
🍭 Social Security would like you to see follow whatever treatment your doctor suggests. There are some exceptions. Learn more about doctor rules and exceptions.
🍭 If you cannot afford medications, check out: How To Be Broke & Medicated
Have “The Talk”
🍭 It’s important to talk with your doctors about your disability application and find out their opinion. If you’ve already talked to your doctor, ask yourself these questions: Did your doctor clearly state that she believes you are disabled and unable to work? Did your doctor recommend you apply for disability? Did your doctor say she is willing to help your application?
🍭 If you have not heard those actual words come out of her actual mouth, read more about How to Talk to Your Doc About Your Disability Ap.
🍭 If your doctor was clear that she supports your disability application, great! You can skip this step. If your doctor was vague or non-committal or said she won’t fill out paperwork, or was downright unsupportive, may be a good time to explore your options.
Get a Great RFC Form
🍭 Many lawyers say this is the single most important piece of paper in your entire case. You want one. Here’s a bunch of tips for how to Get a Great RFC Form and How to Avoid Common Mistakes. If you already have an RFC form, you can still read this to make sure your form has everything you need.
Get a Great Doctor’s Letter
🍭 Most doctors have no idea how to write a Social Security letter and many well-meaning doctors write letters that do not help. Here’s how to work with your doctor to make sure your letter is good. Get a Great Letter from Your Doc. You can get a letter instead of an RFC form. Or you can be a superhero and try to get both.
Get Ready for The CE
🍭 Social Security will likely contact you and send you to an appointment with one of their doctors. This is called a Consultative Exam. This most often happens 3-6 months after you first apply. It occasionally (but rarely) happens during appeals. Here’s how to Learn About the CE Before You Go to the CE.
Check Your File
🍭 It is very very (very) common for records to be missing from Social Security files. Most people do not learn about the missing records until they read their denial letter, and some people never learn about it. Here’s how to Check Your Social Security File
Start Having Great Doctor Visits
🍭 Many people give their doctors mixed messages, downplay their symptoms, try to befriend their doctors, or assume that their doctor remembers their symptoms and impairments. All of these things can hurt your disability application. Here is how to have Great Doctor Visits that Create Accurate Records. Read this and burn it into (what’s left of) your memory.
🍭 Here’s a list of Tricky Questions at the Doctor’s Office. You may be asked these questions, and your answers may make a big difference in your disability case.
Find Out If There are Secret Medical Records You Have Not Seen
🍭 There might be! Find Out
Change Your Mind
🍭 Many people unintentionally hurt their own applications by holding onto false beliefs. Luckily, you are not going to be one of those people. Come by and learn How To Kill Your Social Security Application
Collect Your Medical Records
🍭 One of the most important things you can do to help your case is get all your medical records. Yourself. In your own two hands. How to Collect All Your Medical Records
Read Your Medical Records
🍭 Now that you have all your medical records, you really want to read them. If you don’t read your records, you are playing darts with a blindfold on. Ten Stories That Will Make Your Run Out and Read Your Medical Records RIGHT NOW.
Prove You Can’t Work or Function
🍭 Have you ever heard someone say, “You need to prove you cannot work” and wondered, “How do I do that?” Most of the suggestions on this page will help you prove functioning. Here is a more concise list that reviews just the steps for How to Prove You Can’t Function. Proving functioning is the step most people skip. If you met someone who was turned down and does not know why, this is may be why.
Get Home Care (if you need it)
Document Home Care (if you already have it)
🍭 If you are unable to care for yourself, now is a great time to see if you qualify for home care. How to Get Home Care.
🍭 If you are already in a home care program, now is the time to request your file from your home care agency and send it to Social Security. Hint: make sure to request your entire file, including all of your recent caseworker reports, plus your original intake and assessment when you first applied. This initial assessment may be the most helpful part.
Get Medical Equipment (if you need it)
Document Medical Equipment (if you already have it)
Medical equipment can include things like walkers, canes, wheelchairs, hospital beds, toilet rails, shower rails, mobility scooters, and any other kind of equipment you need. If you need medical equipment, don’t just run out and buy it. Get a prescription through a doctor, or get an assessment through an occupational or physical therapist. Then collect and submit those documents to Social Security. Learn More About Medical Equipment.
Very important, make sure to speak to the doctor or person assessing you and arrange to get copies of all forms they fill out. they may just send them in and not keep copies. If you don’t get copies yourself, and send them to social security yourself, Social Security may never see them. How to Get Medical Equipment.
When you apply for disability, you’re going to be asked a lot of questions. Here’s a bunch of important ones that a lot of people get wrong (even lawyers sometimes get these wrong!)
💠 Tricky Questions You May Be Asked Right After You First Apply (first few months)
If Homeless or at Risk for Homelessness
🍭 The SOAR program is a huge help with disability applications for people who are homeless or at risk for becoming homeless. Many SOAR programs require a diagnosis of serious mental illness, but some do not. They provide wonderful help and have truly amazing success rates. Get Help from SOAR (If homeless or at risk)
Learn From The Pros
Meet the Flower Girls. These smart, creative, persistent women all got approved for disability. They wanted to share their stories to help others. We have learned more from these stories than from any disability book we have ever read: “How I Got Approved for Disability.”
Things You Want to Know That You Don’t Know You Want to Know
🍭 If you are applying for SSDI, you will want to know your Date Last Insured. This may also be called, the date when your work credits expire. It’s important.
🍭 If you are applying for SSI, you will want to know the living arrangement regs. It’s important (in some cases, super important).
🍭 If you don’t know what you are applying for, you will want to know what in the hell we are talking about here. Read this: How to Understand the Difference Between SSI and SSDI Without Making Your Head Explode
Get a Lawyer or Representative
In some cases, having a lawyer can be very helpful. However, we have also heard from many people who left everything up to their lawyer and later had regrets.
The first two years: It may be helpful to keep in mind that most lawyers do little or nothing to really help your case in the first two years. They file the basic paperwork and then wait and see if your case wins on it’s own.
Hearings and appeals; Many people report that they were glad to have a lawyer with them at their hearing. In some cases, lawyers can be very helpful during hearings and appeals.
Getting a lawyer costs nothing upfront, so if you want one here’s where you can find one.
Don’t Rely On Your Lawyer to Win Your Case
If you are expecting your lawyer to win your case, you are taking a risk. In some situations, a lawyer can be very helpful, but a lawyer is not going to do most of the things on this page. Out of all the things listed here, they might do one or two. Learn more about how to work with a lawyer and what to do for yourself.
Don’t Try to Look Good When You Feel Like Crap
🍭 I love this article written by someone with ME, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Lyme. Good advice! Don’t Try to Look Good When You Feel Like Crap
🍭 Have you heard someone say you need “objective medical evidence”? This is what they are talking about. Here’s a list of Medical tests for ME, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Lyme, and related conditions that other people have found helpful when applying. If you do not have one of these conditions, please speak with your doctor or do your own research about what type of tests might be helpful in documenting your condition.
Some people get no medical tests. That is not so great. Some people get a ton of medical tests and are focused on getting more and more. That is fine, but if you spend all your time, money, and energy on medical tests, you may not have any time, money and energy left over to do the other things on this page. All things in balance. How Many Medical Tests Do I Need?
🍭 Social Security looooves consistency. They will be looking to see that everything you write and everything you say and everything your doctor writes and everything else in your file are all consistent. They don’t have to be exactly the same, just generally similar. Here’s how to Paint a Consistent Picture
Take it With a Grain of Salt
🍭 For some reason, the people who work at Social Security don’t know how to say, “I don’t know the policy for that.” If you ask them a question, they will just give you an answer! Sage won his case by ignoring everything Social Security told him and learning everything himself. Pretty good strategy. Be Like Sage
See a Specialist
🍭 If you are able to see a Specialist, this can help your case. The type of specialists you see will depend on your condition. Examples of specialists might be: Rheumatologists, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Infectious Disease Specialists, Cardiologists, and pain specialists/pain clinics. Some people report that assessments from Rehabilitation doctors and Occupational Medical Doctors were particularly helpful for their claims.
Reach Out for Help
🍭 If you know someone who cares about you, this is a wonderful time to ask for their support and assistance. You can ask a friend, family member, neighbor or anyone else you know if they might be willing to look though this list and pick out a few things you can do together. You do not need any special training or any special knowledge. Everything here is something anyone can do.
Read Our Survey
🍭 We surveyed people who had been approved for disability and asked: What helped your application the most? Read what they said.
Collect Support Letters
🍭 It may be helpful to collect support letters from friends, family, caregivers or employers. However, please focus on your medical records first. If your medical records are strong, than support letters can support those records. If your medical records are not strong, support letters will not help.
Enroll in Vocational Rehab (Maybe)
🍭 Vocational Rehabilitation programs are designed to help people with disabilities find jobs. They may be able to give you free assessments in your job skills, physical abilities, and mental abilities.
🍭 If they find that you are too disabled to hold a job, this can help your disability application. If they find that there is employment you can do, this will not be good for your disability application, but it may be helpful to you in seeking employment or job training.
🍭 All states have Vocational Rehabilitation agencies run by the state. If you enroll in Vocational Rehab you should know that Social Security may collect and read all files from the programs, not just assessment results, but any notes written by anyone you speak with.
Get Neuropsychological Testing
🍭 If you have problems with memory, focus, or concentration, this type of testing may be helpful. Social Security may send you to one of their doctor’s for psychological testing, but these exams are sometimes brief and may or may not be accurate. It is much better to arrange your own complete exam with a trained Neuropsychologist. How to Find a Good Neuropsychologist
🍭 Lyme Disease – Disability for Lymies
🍭 ME and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – Disability for MEeps
Make a Medical Outline
🍭 Social Security has a lot of paperwork, and important information often gets overlooked. Here’s something you can do yourself (or with help from a loved one) that can be a huge help in making sure you get a fair decision: How To Make a Medical Outline to Help Your Disability Case
Live Without Regrets
🍭 Some people who apply for disability later have regrets about how they handled things in the doctor’s office. Luckily this won’t happen to you! How to Go to the Doctor Without Regret
Keep a Symptom Diary
🍭 A symptom diary can help you when you talk to your doctor or fill out forms for Social Security. How to Keep a Symptom Diary
If you are waiting for a decision or waiting for a hearing, now is the time you can make a difference. Many people think there is nothing they can do but wait, and many people are told by their lawyers that there is nothing they can do but wait. This is utterly untrue.
If You Have Income
If you are working, please see read: Applying for Disability While Working
If you are earning money without working (for example, if you get income from a business, but do not perform work): Earning Income Without Working
Learn About SSI
If you are applying for SSI, the way you are living right now may affect your check later. Please see: How to Apply for SSI Without Falling into Quicksand
You will have an SSI interview when you first apply and/or after you get approved How to Handle an SSI Interview
This is for SSI only. For SSDI your finances and living situation do not matter.
Answer Tough Questions
Use the Blue Book
Here’s an extra special, super duper, advanced method for getting approved for Social Security disability. When it works, it can get you approved easily and automatically! How to Use the Blue Book to Get Approved for Disability
Three Things You Can Do To Increase Your Chances of Financial Survival
Ok. This is cheating a bit, because none of these things will actually increase your chances of getting approved for disability. But they will increase your chances of staying alive, so that part’s good:
🍭 To find out what other programs you can apply for read this.
🍭 To make a financial survival plan, read this.
🍭 For general tips on getting by when you’re not getting by, read this.
Applying for disability is a tough road, here’s How to Make Life a Little Easier While You Apply