Arthritis & Disability: Filling out Forms

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(Editor’s Note: On Wednesday, August 2, 2000, had an exclusive interview with disability expert Scott E. Davis, Esq., in which we discussed how to fill out Social Security forms to best help win your Disability claim. Here’s what he had to say.)

ArthritisSupport: Mr. Davis, how important are the forms that need to be filled out in filing a disability claim?

Davis:From the time you begin your claim there will be a multitude of forms to fill out. One of the “fatal mistakes” people filing for disability make is assuming that just filling out the forms will win your case. It’s difficult to decide which are important and how much effort to put in. But there are a few rules of thumb people should follow.

First rule of thumb is to concentrate on three forms: the Symptom Questionnaire; Pain Questionnaire; and the Activity of Daily Living Form.

ArthritisSupport:Why are these three so important?

Davis:Because everything in your case comes down to what you say on these forms. Disability cases are won and lost on symptoms and medications. The findings on these three forms are the primary ways Social Security has to evaluate your case. Judges look at these to get a level of understanding of what the problem is, how severe it is, how frequently it affects the person, and ultimately what the impact is on that person’s day-to-day life.

ArthritisSupport:How is a judge involved?

Davis:A judge listens to the testimony from the person requesting disability. The judge, more than SSDI, will want to know how you’re limited in your ability to work. The judge will compare what you’ve written on your forms to what you testify.

He or she will hear your testimony about how bad the pain is, how you can’t work, problem you might have had when you last worked, what you can and can no longer do. All of this testimony will be compared to what you have written on the forms.

ArthritisSupport: So what should a person write on these forms?

Davis: First of all, always handwrite the form. Never type, even if your handwriting is awful. If you can’t use your hands properly as a result of swollen joints, don’t try to cover up your disability. And don’t attach additional pages. Answer in the space provided and get to the point. Make sure not to write in margins. Fight the urge to talk on paper. Economize.

ArthritisSupport: But if I need more space to tell how badly I’m affected, shouldn’t I attach it? Isn’t it better to be organized?

Davis: Detail is good, but it can be a disaster to your case if you’re so organized that you have your entire case in a binder, for example. It’s not terribly convincing to the judge. It takes work in and of itself to get all that together. If you’re well enough to do that, the judge may very well think you’re well enough to work.

ArthritisSupport: So what should someone write on the Symptom Questionnaire?

Davis:It’s important to be specific. Provide a laundry list of problems you have. What are the specific symptoms? If you claim you have carpal tunnel syndrome yet you haven’t listed pain in your wrist as one of your symptoms, you’ve alleged you have a problem and not to include it for whatever reason minimizes what you’ve said.

Bottom line: make sure you provide a full picture of all the symptoms and their severity. But don’t include symptoms that have nothing to do with your case. For example, women shouldn’t list their ob-gyn problems unless they have something to do with their inability to work. Don’t throw in every medical problem you’ve ever had. Only include it if it affects your ability to work.

Focus on how the problem affects you. If you have constant back pain that limits your ability to sit, stand, or walk for any period of time, say that. If you have frequent headaches, on the average of two per week and on those days you’re incapacitated by pain, say it. A diagnosis means nothing by itself. How it precludes you from being able to work does.

ArthritisSupport:What about the Activity of Daily Living Form?

Davis:This is very important because it should show how your day-to-day life is affected by your illness. This documents how you spend your time during the day. What type of activities do you do around the house? If you still do the laundry, for example, does it take three times longer than it did before you became ill? Does it cause pain to pick up a gallon of milk or button a shirt? Write about limitations that everyone takes for granted: shaving legs, getting dressed, taking a shower.

But don’t complain that you can’t bowl as frequently as you used to. I had a client who ran five miles a day. It was way less than she was able to do before she became ill, but there’s no way in the world you can explain that to a judge and have him or her believe it. It wouldn’t matter what the doctors said or how well documented your case was.

On this form you need to show how your life is different as a result of your illness. What limitations you now have. To be credible, you have to say you do things. You’re not bedridden, after all. The judge doesn’t want to hear that. What is believable is what level you are able to perform daily living activities. Think back to how life was before you became ill. Did you used to do yardwork but cannot any longer? Did you have hobbies? Are you now unable to sit on the floor with your children? Did you used to cook elaborate meals but now can only make quick ones because you can’t stand for more than 10 minutes?

The reality is that you still do things, but perhaps you don’t do them as often or they take you longer. Details like I used to clean the house in half a day but now it takes me two to three days are what you want to use.

ArthritisSupport:What is important to document on the Pain Questionnaire?

Davis:Talk about the frequency of the problem. How often do you have pain? What is the level? Use descriptive words like exhausting, debilitating, severe, constant. Make sure you rank your pain level. The goal on this form it to provide detail about the severity of your disability. Where is the pain? Is it stabbing, sharp, dull, burning, aching? What relieves the pain? What side effects do the pain medications have? What makes the pain worse?

Describe what hurts. If it hurts getting in and out of the car, say so. If walking around the block or bending over to put on shoes hurts, tell it. The more simple the explanation, the more powerful.

The frequency of pain is also important. If someone spends the majority of the day dealing with pain, write this down. If you literally spend the best part of the day trying to avoid pain, this is also important. Make sure you explain how pain limits you. If you’re not able to stand or walk for any length of time or can’t manipulate with your hands, or if you have to buy shoes with Velcro instead of laces because of the pain tying shoes causes, say so.

Scott E. Davis is a social security and long-term disability insurance attorney in Phoenix, Arizona. Mr. Davis has experience representing clients with a broad spectrum of physical and/or psychological disorders. He represents clients throughout the United States. In most cases a fee is charged only if their client obtains benefits. Mr. Davis invites your questions and inquiries regarding representation via email or telephone (602)482-4300. Or contact Scott E. Davis, Attorney at Law,4648 E. Shea Boulevard, Suite 150,Phoenix, AZ 85028 – “Representing Social Security and Long-Term Disability Clients Nationwide”

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