In Social Security disability cases involving degenerative disc disease, claimants need to be conscious of this fact: disability examiners see a lot of back impairment cases...and deny most of them. Does this mean that all cases with DDD (degenerative disc disease) have little chance of success? Not necessarily. But it does mean that in a disability case where disc disease is alleged, the quality of a claimant's medical records is very important.
You may ask yourself, "How does a person applying for Social Security disability have any control over the quality of their medical records?" Well, while it's true that what goes into medical files is determined by physicians, it's also true that patients can exercise a small degree of influence over that process. Here are some tips that may help tips the scales in your favor.
Get regular medical treatment. The importance of this cannot be overemphasized. Disability examiners and administrative law judges who work for Social Security find it very difficult to approve cases (even in situations where the long-term medical record is strong) in which the newest records they have to review are more than two months old. Therefore, you should try to be seen by a doctor at least once every two months.
Try to be seen by the same physician on an ongoing basis. By doing this, you can hopefully develop a relationship with a doctor who, in turn, may be more attentive and responsive to your condition.
The simple truth is, most doctors see an incredible number of patients and, as human nature would dictate, tend to be more responsive to the ones they are more familiar with. By seeing one physician more frequently, as opposed to several physicians infrequently, you may end up with better records as well as a more sympathetic doctor. And the advantage to this may be realized when the time comes to ask your doctor for a statement supporting your disability case.
I have personally spoken with dozens of physicians who said they were unable to complete a statement supporting a claimant's Social Security case because they had not seen the claimant enough times, or any time recently.
When you visit your physician, make him/her aware of your physical limitations. If, for example, as a result of your back condition, you have trouble bending, stooping, or crouching, let the doctor know. Very often, physicians will not check a patient's ability to stoop, bend, or crouch during an examination, and yet bending, stooping, and crouching are the three primary exertional limitations that Social Security disability examiners look for when they evaluate the residual functional capacity (RFC) of claimants with degenerative disc disease.
For this reason, disability examiners will often call claimants and ask them questions such as:
Since your regular physician may not test you for these exertional limitations when you are seen, it is a good idea to mention them to your doctor in the hopes that he or she will record them in their treatment notes.
Keep your family and friends up to date on your physical limitations. Disability examiners often call claimants to ask questions about their daily activities, but they also routinely contact the relatives and friends of claimants as well. Examiners refer to these calls as ADL (activities of daily living) calls. Technically, ADL calls are for the purpose of gathering "supporting" information on claims.
In actuality, though, they are used almost exclusively to gather evidence to deny cases. As an examiner, I witnessed many ADL calls during which examiners prompted claimants to give responses that were not helpful to their case. As terrible as it sounds, this happens in many cases. In fact, it is for this reason that disability examiners are not allowed to make ADL calls to claimants who are represented by a disability lawyer or nonlawyer representative. (Claimants who have representation can not be contacted directly unless they have authorized it; otherwise, Social Security must contact their representatives.)
For more information, see our article on getting disability for degenerative disc disease.
By: Tim Moore, former Social Security disability claims examiner