Form Completion–Such a source of frustration for Social Security Disability Claimants

I really should be working on a brief in response to the government’s arguments on another case.  But I just got off the phone with a client.  She was understandably overwhelmed about the huge packet she got in the mail from the Disability Examiner at DDS.  She has to complete a Pain Report, a Function Report and a Work History Report.  She explained to me that if she could do that within any reasonable time frame (like 6 months) she would be working.

I told her, don’t worry.  That is why you hired us.

I know that in a few days she will get another “scarry” letter telling her that she was asked 14 days ago to complete the forms and they will give her only another 15 days.  These letters don’t account for how long these packages have been in mail transit or how often my clients check and then read their mail.

Disabled people lead stressful lives.  This correspondence from Social Security adds to their stress.  But as one SSA employee told me, “We are under the gun, over here!”  He was justifying why he called another client of mine and scared her to death even though he knew she was represented.

I asked him to please take his frustrations out on me, not my client.  I get it.  Social Security employees are overworked and underpaid.  God Bless them!  But I digress.

Anyway, we help our clients complete these forms.  Most are fairly easy in that they ask how the person is feeling, how they are doing, what is their average day like, what tasks are difficult for them, where is their pain, how often stuff happens (quantify the limitations).  This is fairly easy because a disabled person, even one with memory issues, knows the answers.

But it isn’t fun to re-hash what most disabled claimants avoid talking about–their pain, their limitations, the reason they can’t work and have no money.

The most difficult form of all: Work History.

SSA needs  a thorough list of all the jobs you did in the past 15 years.  They need to know when you started that job and when you finished it. They need to know what you did and how physically demanding the job was.  They finally need to know the extent of any supervisory duties you had.

The work history form is difficult because it is hard to remember the past 15 years (unless you only worked for one or two employers).

Here is a new twist: SSA has decided that they are going to NOT ask for this form if they can deny the claim without it.  Ok–that is my short and sweet version of a new proposed ruling from Social Security.  It is short and sweet and of course not entirely accurate because it is short and sweet. Get it?

Why would Social Security eliminate the Work History Report? Here is what Social Security says:

Gathering and evaluating a claimant’s work history can be a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, particularly when the claimant has performed multiple jobs during the relevant 15-year period.  The time we spend obtaining the work history needed to make step 4 findings frequently delays the processing of claims and requires us to divert our limited administrative resources from processing other claims.  This delay can occur at all levels of the administrative review process.

So I think that makes my point for me:  Form completion is not for the lighthearted.

Well, we continue to help our clients with all of these forms and submit the answers electronically to their claim file so that they get to the decision maker quickly and so that we know the forms got to the right claim file.

We ask the client the question and they give us their answer and we write it down.  It takes some time and a couple of cups of coffee but it is worth it.  These forms can really help Social Security make their decision.  I use them all the time, even after a denial.  Months down the road they can help my client remember basic information at their hearing, etc.

Even though Social Security may forgo the Step 4 consideration, we wont.  We know we have the burden to prove that the claimant cannot perform prior work. If we don’t present some evidence of that, we will have a tough time arguing that a Step 4 denial is unsupported by evidence.  SSA may not develop the evidence, but we will.

I think I digressed again.

To anyone trying to complete these forms on their own, my advice is take a deep breath, take your time, don’t exaggerate or embellish, be accurate.  Don’t over-do it either.  Typed forms with attachments from a highly educated claimant is often met with a “Well, they clearly can work if they can do that” attitude.  Sure you need more space to explain your life.  But this isn’t about “running the office even though I was the secretary.”  I get that a lot from folks who are still traumtized from the effect of declining health and a resulting “pink slip.”  This is about medical evidence of an inability to work, explained by forms.  That’s all.