Whenever possible, an applicant for Social Security disability (also known as SSD or SSDI) or SSI disability benefits should obtain copies of their medical records and submit them with their application or appeal. There are two good reasons for doing this.
First, when your disability claim is in the initial disability determination phase, which is handled at Disability Determination Services (DDS), it is the job of the disability examiner to request your medical records. However, disability examiners at DDS are not always successful in obtaining all the necessary records. Often this is due to an unresponsive or slow doctor's office, clinic, or hospital (many medical offices receive hundreds of medical records requests each month).
It is not unusual for disability examiners to make decisions on claims when not all of the medical evidence has been obtained. This takes place when the medical evidence that has been received is deemed "sufficient enough" for the purposes of deciding a disability claim.
Second, most of the processing time required to make an initial decision on a Social Security disability or SSI case is actually due to waiting on medical records (before a claimant's records are obtained, there is nothing with which to evaluate a disability claim).
Because the wait for records in most cases will be long, and because DDS examiners are graded according to how fast they process their work, cases "landing" on a disability examiner's desk with all the records attached tend to be the cases that get worked on immediately. From a disability examiner's point of view, cases that arrive with the medical records are looked at as bonuses.
By getting and submitting the records yourself when you apply (or appeal), or having your disability attorney or nonattorney representative do this for you, you can ensure that all of your medical records are evaluated, and that your disability case will not sit around for months longer than necessary.
To get your records, simply request them from your doctor's office. You may have to pay a fee for copying. If your doctor refuses to give you your records after you explain you need them to apply for disability benefits, consider finding a new doctor. If the doctor doesn't cooperate with you, he or she might not cooperate with Social Security. But if you really want to get your records from a doctor who is refusing you, you may need to hire an attorney. Doctors' offices respond much more readily to requests from attorneys.
If you are getting records before your appeal hearing, you need only get the most recent records -- any medical records from visit to doctors or hospitals since you applied for Social Security.
Learn about the medical evidence disability examiners need to make a disability determination.
By: Tim Moore, former Social Security disability claims examiner