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How to Prove Disability

Even if you believe your claim for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits is a no-brainer, remember that the vast majority of initial claims are denied by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Learning how to prove disability is an important step of the process. Whether it's the initial claim or the third appeal, you will need to convince the agency that your impairment limits your ability to engage in "substantial gainful activity" (employment for profit).

The obvious first step is to see if you meet the eligibility criteria for Social Security disability benefits (see also "Medical Conditions that Qualify You for Disability Claims" and "Definition of 'Disabled' for SSI & SSDI Claims"). But not all claims are that simple, while the SSA tends to favor claims with extensive medical documentation.

How to Prove Disability: Tips 

The following tips are meant to help you prove disability when applying for SSDI or SSI benefits:

  • Keep a detailed journal of your daily activities, from the moment you wake up to just before bedtime, paying special attention to how your impairment affects the ability to perform everyday tasks (this may be more useful when preparing for a hearing).
  • The SSA will want to see medical records dating back to the time at which you state you first became disabled (this is often more difficult for mental health disability claims).
  • Make sure all of the elements of your claim are consistent. A claims administrator or Administrative Law Judge (if on appeal) will actively look for reasons to deny your claim, including inconsistencies that challenge your credibility.
  • Keep in mind that your claim may be denied if it is determined that drug and/or alcohol abuse contributed to your disability.
  • If you are presenting your case at a hearing, be ready to describe your ability to walk, sit, stand, carry objects, and other specific tasks.
  • Be careful not to overstate your ability to perform a given physical or mental task. Claimants often make the mistake of stating they can do more than they actually can.
  • Make you sure emphasize how your disability limits your ability to work full time. It's not enough just to have symptoms of a disability.
  • Not all medical professionals and treatments are given equal credibility under the SSA. For example, you may jeopardize your claim if you have decided to seek treatment from a naturopathic doctor instead of a conventional M.D.
  • You may benefit from the opinion of a board certified specialist, in addition to (or in place of) a general practitioner.
  • Make sure you communicate clearly to your doctor about any limitations you may have. This will help ensure your doctor not only can diagnose your disability, but also can understand how the impairment affects daily activities.
  • Do not assume your doctor will support your claim. Just make sure you and your doctor are on the same page before submitting a claim.
  • If your case is particularly difficult, consider meeting with a disability lawyer prior to your initial claim (attorneys typically get involved only at the appeals level).
  • Compile a list of people, including coworkers and family members, who can attest to your disability and how it affects your ability to perform certain tasks.
  • Make sure you have complied with your doctor's orders, including medications and therapy sessions.

If you need additional help determining how to prove a disability for the purposes of an SSDI or SSI claim, consider speaking with an a social security disability lawyer.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified social security lawyer to assist in your
social security disability matter.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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