In preparing to represent you in a disability appeal hearing, your attorney will want you to answer some detailed questions about your symptoms and limitations. In addition, your attorney needs an abundance of medical evidence to support your allegations.
The most important evidence you need to substantiate your claim for disability benefits is the opinion prepared by your treating doctor(s). You will give your lawyer contact information for your treating doctors so that the lawyer can request your doctor to submit a written opinion of your diagnosis, prognosis, and functional limitations in an RFC (residual functional capacity) statement.
To help your attorney prepare the best case possible, provide your attorney with your complete medical history, including the names and contact information of your treating doctors, dates and locations of any medical tests, the dates and locations of any hospitalizations, and a complete medication list, including the dosage, prescribing doctor's names, and any documented side effects.
If you haven't see a doctor regularly, your attorney may be able to develop medical evidence using consultative exams and testimony from you and a medical expert. (For more information, see our article on how not seeing a doctor affects your disability case and how a medical expert can help you get disability if you haven't seen a doctor recently).
Your lawyer will want to make sure that Social Security gives the opinions of your doctors as much weight as possible. To do this, your lawyer will want to:
request detailed opinions from doctors with whom you have a long relationship
In the past, Social Security had to give more weight to the opinions of treating doctors who have treated you for a period of time, who know your medical history, and are supportive of your disability claim. As of March 27, 2017, this is no longer true. For more information, see our article on when Social Security can discount your treating doctor's opinion.
The short answer to this is no. When preparing for a disability hearing, an attorney will frequently receive hundreds of pages of medical records, many of which have nothing to do with your impairment. Your attorney will review the medical records to see what is relevant to your case and submit only that information to Social Security.
Because of their heavy caseloads, administrative law judges (ALJ) do not have the time to sift through hundreds of pages of documents to determine what is relevant and what isn’t. A good attorney will do his or her best to avoid an ALJ’s ire by submitting only the evidence needed to fairly determine whether you have a disability.
It is not uncommon for medical records to contain information that is not only unhelpful but may be harmful to a disability applicant's case. Social Security regulations and ethics rules require a disability attorney to submit all relevant evidence to Social Security.
Fortunately, an experienced disability attorney is trained to handle “bad facts.” For example, if your records contain opinions by a physician or other medical provider that do not support the fact that you have a true disability and are unable to work, your attorney will ask you questions aimed at limiting the importance of and/or eroding the accuracy of the doctor’s statement. For instance, your lawyer may ask you how long you had been a patient of the doctor, whether the doctor was a specialist in your illness, and whether you sought a second opinion.
Another situation where conflicting statements may arise is when there are difference between what you said on your application or at your hearing and what you wrote on your ADL (activities of daily living) function report. It's important that your function report is accurate because Social Security often checks applicants' function reports to assess exactly what they are capable of doing, so if your function report doesn't properly reflect your disability, you should speak to a lawyer. In some situations, if a medical expert is at your hearing, your lawyer can cross-examine (question) the expert to clarify when the ability to do certain ADLs doesn't translate into an ability to work. Your lawyer can request that a medical expert be at your hearing (by phone).
If your records contain statements about drug or alcohol abuse, it will be especially important for your lawyer to explain to the ALJ what you are doing to treat your addiction. An ALJ will appreciate that both you and your attorney are straightforward about the “bad evidence” and may agree with your position. If your attorney attempts to cover-up the evidence or mislead the ALJ about its importance, both you and your attorney’s credibility will be damaged.
If Social Security agrees that your medical condition doesn't allow you to do heavy or medium work, but thinks you can do sedentary work, you'll need to provide you can't even do sedentary work (in other words, a sit down job). When trying to prove that you can do what Social Security calls "less than sedentary work," your attorney will need medical evidence to prove that you have certain functional limitations, like not being able to lift ten pounds or needing to lie down frequently during the day.
A good disability lawyer will develop the best theory of disability for winning your case, prepare you for your hearing, and arrange for witnesses. Hearing approval rates are about twice as high for applicants who bring lawyers. To learn how a disability lawyer handles other aspects of your case and appeal hearing, see our article on how disability attorneys will handle your claim.
To find a local disability lawyer who can sort through your medical records, know which additional tests or statements to request, and deal with evidence that may harm your case, use our disability lawyer locator tool.