Hello, Invisible Reader! Today I want to discuss your Social Security Benefits. Allow me to refresh your memory. I'm drawing Social Security Disability benefits. The very same week that the VA denied my request for 100% IU, I was awarded Social Security Disability. How ironic is that considering the fact that I only claimed my service connected disabilities when I filed for Social Security Disability? I have other non-service connected disabilities that would have locked it in for me, but I purposely chose not to claim them. I filed for SSDI to support my claim for 100% IU with the VA. Granted, I didn't get the approval while my claim was pending so the VA didn't have it to consider but they have it now .... and my appeal has been pending for almost one year. But that's another blog for another day. I'm going to try to stay on topic today.
Before I get started there is one very important point I need to make here. I am not a lawyer. I am not a paralegal. I do not work for Social Security. I am not "certified" by any organization to give you this information and advice. What I am about to share with you is based strictly on my own experience with the Social Security Administration. You can choose to follow my advice if you want but do so at your own risk. I filed for SSDI on my own. I did not hire an attorney. I did it on my own. I read the instructions, followed them to the letter, listened to what my Social Security Caseworker told me to do and I was approved the first time through and it took only nine months. After I shared my experience with another woman she was approved in two months time. No shit, Invisible Reader. Two months time. It can be done if you do it right the first time.
"Where do I start?" I can hear you asking me that now. If you're a disabled Veteran your first stop should be the SSA's Disability Benefits for Wounded Warriors Webpage . Read through that page and then click on the link that says "Apply for Benefits" when you are finished. There is a statement at the top of the page,
The expedited process is used for military service members who become disabled while on active military service on or after October 1, 2001, regardless of where the disability occurs.
Don't let this frighten you. My caseworker told me they are expediting ALL MILITARY CLAIMS regardless of when you served,when you were injured or became too disabled to work. I served from 1976 to 1994 and my claim was expedited. Proof that she was right.
So you've clicked on the "Apply for Benefits" link. What's next? Four easy steps. The website will guide you through them. Quoted directly from the SSA Website, they are:
Follow these 4 easy steps to apply onlineStep 1. Review the Adult Disability Checklist for details about what you will need before starting the online process.
Step 2. Fill out the online Disability Benefit Application to provide us with information regarding eligibility for payment.
Step 3. Fill out the online Adult Disability Report to provide us with medical and work history.
Step 4. Fill out, sign and mail or take the Authorization to Disclose Information to the Social Security Administration to your local Social Security Office.
That's the easy part, Invisible Reader. And this is were I must caution you. It's so easy that if you don't pay close attention to what you are doing you WILL make mistakes. Attention to detail is extremely important at this stage of the application. Do not get careless when you fill out your application. Check and double check your facts, dates, figures, injuries, illnesses, etc. Prepare a list of all the hospitals where you have received treatment, hospitalization dates, surgery's, doctor names if you have them, troop medical clinics and the bases where you were treated. All that will be necessary and is required. You need to have it all on hand. You will also need to have on hand your employment history for the last several years. Try to compile addresses and phone numbers of your previous employers, job descriptions, the number of hours you worked each day and the kinds of tasks you did and how much time you spent on each task. The more organized you are prior to filling out your application, the easier it will be.
The more evidence you have the better. This is where your homework will pay off. Social Security will contact the VA Hospital(s) to obtain your medical records for the conditions that you claim. This is a lesson I learned the hard way. If you do as I suggest, you will cut months off your processing time. Prior to submitting your SSDI claim, go to your VA Hospital's Release of Information (ROI) Office. Request a complete copy of your medical records going back the last 10 years. If you haven't been seen at that particular VA Hospital for the last 10 years, the ROI people will be able to assist you with getting records from the other VA Facilities. One thing you must remember, and this is KEY: If you are claiming a mental health disorder such a PTSD or major depressive disorder, when you request your records from the VA Hospital, you must specifically ask for your mental health records or they won't be released to you.
It may take a while for Release of Information to get all those records to you so I'd suggest you request those as soon as you decide to apply for SSDI. That way, when Social Security asks for your medical records, you'll have them. Don't let the Social Security Administration request your records. I did that in the beginning. Social Security requested my records from the VA and the VA sent them 90 pages worth of medical records. There wasn't enough there to justify my case and Social Security was ready to deny me without sending my packet to Atlanta. I asked my Caseworker to hold my claim file open just a little while longer until I got my records from the VA and she did that. When I sent them to her she told me that was what she needed and not the crap the VA had sent her. Remember, the VA had sent her 90 pages. I sent over 700 pages from my VA file.
I also sent in copies of all my VA disability decisions, and anything I had that stated I was disabled, i.e., supporting documents from Vocational Rehab. You should send these in, too, if you have them.
Social Security will send you for doctor examinations. I was set up for three appointments. One was a general examination. It was similar to a Comp and Pen exam. The difference is they have you fill out a questionnaire when you first arrive which they screen very closely. There was a question on it that asked, "How long can you sit comfortably?" I answered "one hour". They left me sitting in the waiting room for just over an hour to see if that was true. At the one hour point, I started to get very uncomfortable. I had answered honestly. I got up from my chair, started to stretch, move around, I was limping and in pain, and it was very noticeable. It was shortly after that I was called back to see the doctor. Don't BS them when you answer the questions when you go for your Social Security general exam. They will test you. That said, like the Comp and Pen exam, if the doctor tells you to do something that causes you pain, tell them. Don't do anything that you feel will cause you harm, pain or more damage. You don't have to do it as long as you tell the doctor it causes you too much pain to do that particular task or movement. Be polite, never be rude, but be firm.
After your physical exams are completed then comes the wait. Be patient. Don't call your caseworker. There's nothing she can tell you. It's out of her hands. She's waiting with you and she won't know anything until the decision comes back. If you have crossed all your T's and dotted all your i's, followed my advice and you have a valid reason for applying for SSDI, you'll be approved. Remember, this is not a guarantee. You still have to win on the merits of your case. That said, it's easier to win SSDI than it is to win your VA Claim for 100% IU in my opinion. The VA Rates in increments of 10%. Social Security rates you all or nothing.
Feel good about this, Invisible Reader. You've done it yourself. You've followed the very simple online directions. You've gathered all your evidence and submitted it. You didn't hire an attorney so you've saved yourself a lot of time and money. Chances are your claim will be expeditiously moved through the system. I've known friends who used an attorney and their paperwork was still sitting on the attorney's desk, not even filed, long after my claim had been approved. Why is that? This is my opinion only, Invisible Reader. Those attorneys see a good claim, a huge back pay and the longer they hold on to it the larger the back pay will be. The larger the back pay, the bigger the pay off to the attorney. I'm sure not all attorney's are like that but a good portion of them are. You have to be careful when you're working with an attorney who takes your case on a contingency. The time to look for a good attorney is if/when your claim for SSDI is denied. Mine was approved the first time through so I don't know anything about that.
That's really all there is to it, Invisible Reader. It's simple, straight forward and easy to complete. There are no "tricks" to applying for SSDI. I just remind you to pay attention to detail, gather your medical records and any other evidence that you have. The more evidence you have that state you cannot work the stronger your case will be. As I stated earlier my evidence included 900 pages of VA medical records, a Letter of Feasibility from my VA Voc Rehab Counselor, all of my VA Decision Letters, a statement from my Social Worker and a carefully completed disability application. No lawyers. That's all there was to it. Bingo. Nine months later there was a big fat check in my bank account. They backdated my award to the day I was too disabled to work based on my medical records. I got two separate back pays and now I get a regular check every third Wednesday of each month.
There you have it, Invisible Reader. Wendi's easy as pie recipe for applying for Social Security Disability. If you're applying for 100% IU, also submit proof of that with your SSDI application. What are you waiting for? Don't delay. I've given you the website to go to. I've given you the basic guidelines. I've told you what evidence you need to collect. It's easier than submitting a claim for IU. It's a faster process and if you're a disabled Veteran from any era, you're qualified to filed under the Wounded Warrior Program and your claim will be expedited. You can't ask for more than that.
If you have further questions or something here isn't clear to you, feel free to email me and I'll be happy to assist you and/or answer your questions. It's a simple process. Honest it is. You'll wonder why you didn't file for SSDI sooner.
Until the next time, Invisible Reader .........