Quite sadly, Patty did not win her disability case. Quite happily, Patty is an angel who wants to share what she learned so that you can win your disability case! Patty has some super good, super helpful advice.
My lawyer was from a well-known firm in Boston that claimed a 97% success rate with disability cases. They told me they would not have taken my case unless they thought I would win.
I believed I had a strong case. I had an MRI showing 4 lesions, bulging C4, and degenerative changes. Plus, I had three positive Lyme tests.
My records included a consistent history of regular doctor’s visits and ongoing medical treatment including a PICC line and infusions.
My doctor filled out an excellent function form detailing my limitations and stating that I was unable to work, plus I had two years of evidence of biweekly visits to a therapist for anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
I also had a strong work record with a 15 year career as an Registered Nurse making $80,000, which I left behind when I became disabled.
I was with my lawyer for 15 months and he never once suggested that anything was wrong or that I needed to do anything different.
If I can help anyone else win their case, I will share what I learned. These are the four things my lawyer never told me.
“You are Seeing the Wrong Doctor”
When I first became sick, I saw an infectious disease doctor, but then she referred me to a Lyme Literate Naturopathic Doctor. I had no clue that this switch would hurt my disability case. I was just happy to get treated and get help. For two years, I continued to see the Naturopath and never knew that anything was wrong.
In the end, Social Security said my doctor was not an “acceptable medical source” and did not give weight to his records, treatments or lab tests. (Please see link below for more information on how you can tell if you are seeing the right kind of doctor).
“You are Seeing the Wrong Therapist”
I saw my therapist biweekly for 2 straight years. I even got my entire chart copied for hearing. If I had known that Social Security has rules about therapists and counselors, I could have switched to a psychiatrist or psychologist. No one ever told me this. At the hearing, the only question the judged asked me about my mental health was, “Did you drive yourself to the therapy visits?”
Once again, Social Security said my therapist was not an “acceptable medical source” and did not give weight to her records.
“Get Testing for Every Condition”
One of my diagnoses was peripheral neuropathy. I was treated unsuccessfully for two years with various meds. However, I never got any nerve testing done. (I didn’t need any tests to tell me I had peripheral neuropathy because I could feel it in hands and feet). Had I known a test was necessary, I would have gotten it before my court date.
In the end, Social Security did not consider my neuropathy because they said I did not have any proof.
“Get Your Forms Co-Signed”
A few months before my hearing, I asked my Naturopathic doctor to fill out an RFC function form. I had learned from my Lyme group that I needed to explain everything to my doctor so that my form included the amount of breaks I needed during the day, the amount of time I laid on my back, how long I could stand consistently, and details on my persistent neuropathy and fatigue.
My lawyer never mentioned that the form was signed by the wrong kind of doctor. If I had known, I could have gone back to my old doctor, or I could have asked my Naturopath if he worked on a medical team with another doctor who could review my case and co-sign the form. I also could have asked by Naturopath if he could refer me to a colleague who might be willing to evaluate me and fill out or co-sign the form. That is what Daisy did and she got approved.
My form had everything I needed to get approved, but it was not signed by the right kind of doctor. Social Security did not consider it.
At My Hearing
My lawyer called me the night before my hearing to prep me. Over the phone we reviewed 25 questions he knew they would ask and we tweaked the way I would word things. He emailed my responses so I could study them overnight.
Like many people with Lyme, I have memory issues, concentration problems, difficulty focusing, and anxiety. I was a complete basket case and couldn’t retain a thing even with the pages in front of me. I wish they had given me a week to prepare!
At the hearing, the judge seemed heavily concerned with: Who cooks the meals? Who does dishes and laundry? Who runs errands? Who does groceries? Who cleans the house? Who gets your four kids up for school? Who drives your kids to activities? Is some one at your house helping you shower or toilet?
I explained to the judge that household activities were a collective effort between myself, my husband, and my mother and sisters. I described how I could not stand for more than 15 minutes, and often could not type, write or hold objects.
Social Security concluded that I could be a fruit picker, a truck driver, or a post office worker. This still makes me laugh.
Patty’s story has a semi-happy ending. Her health turned a corner and she returned to part-time work.
“Previously, I worked 12-hour shifts and juggled 7 patients and a charge nurse. Now I do home care for one patient, two hours a day. I still can’t work a full day or even every day.”
Patty did not continue to pursue disability. She wanted to share her story to help others.