Good morning. My name is Winslow Butts, and I’m an attorney at Gardberg & Kemmerly in Mobile, Alabama. Today I’m here to talk with y’all a little bit about the process of what happens when you file for Social Security, what you can expect, and what the next steps are. The first question I normally get when I have a new client is, “How do I file for Disability?” There’s a few different ways. I think the easiest way is to call Social Security, your local Social Security office, and to make an appointment. You can also go down to Social Security, but usually Social Security sees a lot of lines early in the morning of people that don’t have an appointment. To avoid this, I think it’s easier just to call Social Security, have them get you on the schedule, and then come in. Usually they get you in within about two or three weeks.
You can also file for Social Security Disability online on Social Security’s website. Their website is www.ssa.gov. The only problem with that is, I think people have a little bit of difficulty if they’re not very tech savvy. Sometimes people will file for Disability online, think that their application has been processed, but it could be that they forgot to do the final page, or they didn’t hit submit, and so their application never actually gets to Social Security. If you think you have a good firm grasp with the internet, then I would say online is also a suitable option. Normally what happens once you file online is, Social Security will call you if they didn’t get any information just so that they can tell you what they’re still missing from your online application.
The normal process right now for once you file your initial application for Social Security is about three to five months. Throughout that process Social Security will assign you a caseworker. Some people’s caseworkers call them a lot. Some people, they never really hear from their caseworker except maybe one or two times. But normally your caseworker will reach out to you within the first few weeks of you filing for Social Security, and they’ll ask you some basic questions. A big thing they’ll ask is your work history. Where have you worked within the last 15 years? Fifteen years for Social Security is what they call the Relevant Period. Even if you’ve worked jobs for a while, but they were 20, 25 years back, Social Security isn’t necessarily concerned with those jobs. It’s only jobs within the first 15 years.
The caseworker will tell you that she or he is going to send you some forms, and then they will expect you to get them back within 10 days. The first set of forms that they’re going to send you is called your Function Report. What this is, is just a packet of different questions from Social Security that asks you how you function each day. They’ll ask you what you do from when you wake up, until when you go to bed. What activities you do outside your house. Do you socialize? Do you do yard work, grocery shopping, that sort of stuff. The main thing with Function Reports is to just make sure that you are completely honest when you’re filling out the Function Reports, because sometimes people are either embarrassed, or they don’t want other people to know just how bad off they are because of their disability.
But Social Security is going to use these reports when deciding if you are disabled or not, so it’s very important that when you’re completing your Function Reports that you are completely honest with what problems you’re having. If you’re having problems doing laundry, or if somebody is having to come to your house to clean because you can’t do it anymore, you need to make sure that you put that on your Function Reports. It’s okay if you need to take more space than what they actually give you. Normally, Social Security only gives you a few lines to answer a question. If you need more space, always add in additional paper. I also would recommend making a copy of the Function Report, a blank copy first when you first get it, just in case you make a mistake, and you want to go back and fill it out again.
They also might send you what’s called a Third Party Function Report. What that is, is just the same thing as what you fill out, but they want somebody close to you to fill it out for you. Either a spouse, a friend, a child, if they’re an adult child, a parent, somebody that knows you and knows how limited you are because of your disability. They usually have somebody that they will ask to fill that out for you. Just make sure whoever fills it out, it’s the same thing, that they are completely honest with the problems that you are having. You don’t want to understate your abilities because you’re embarrassed of what limitations you actually have from your disability, because Social security is going to use that in their decision-making process. They’re also going to use whatever your spouse fills out, or your parent fills out, to decide if you are disabled or not.
The other thing with the Function Reports is, normally Social Security gives a person 10 days to complete the Function Report. Sometimes when people get it, the deadline is almost already up because it doesn’t actually get mailed on the date that it’s dated. Check the date as soon as you get a Function Report, and make sure that you have it within the 10 days, or call your caseworker if you are not going to be able to have it completed within the 10 days. Definitely throughout this process, if you have questions about how it goes, always contact an attorney. I’ll get into that a little bit later, but the Function Report is one of the first things that Social Security sends you.
They also in that packet will send you a Work History Report. That is when they want to go into all the jobs that you’ve done within the last 15 years. It will have you describe how you performed that job, how much you made, how long you were standing, how long you were walking, did you have to lift any amount of weight, were you a supervisor, did you have any special duties that you had to do as part of this job? Again, it’s important when you’re filling out this report to sit down and think about it before you fill it out because it’s very important, especially the standing, walking and lifting limitations. If you were lifting say 50 pounds as part of your job, make sure that you put that in your Work History Report because Social Security is going to use this to classify your job.
Also, a lot of people when they ask about the supervisors and their supervisory task, people sometimes they weren’t actually supervisors, or they were working supervisors. You need to make clear the distinction if you were a supervisor, or if you weren’t. Could you hire and fire people? Did you make people’s schedules? Did you do inventory? It’s very important that you write down exactly what you did, and you don’t have to be overly simplified even though they only give you a few pages. Again, if you need more lines, you’re always allowed to add an extra piece of paper to thoroughly describe your work. They’ll want you to do that for any job you’ve had in the last 15 years. Right now that would go back to 2004. So your Function Report, your Work History Report.
Another thing Social Security might do when you first apply is, they might want to send you to one of their doctors. These are called Consultative Examinations, or CEs. What that is, is just a doctor that Social Security will pay for. You don’t have to pay for it. Social Security will. You just have to go, and you have to bring your ID, and you have to cooperate with the doctor. Most of the time Social Security will send you a letter telling you when your doctor’s appointment is, where it is, and if you need to bring your medication list. That will all be on the letter.
The doctors range from psychologists, to orthopedists, neurologists, pulmonologists. They can also do X-rays. They can do pulmonary function tests, blood work. There’s a whole bunch of different options that Social Security has on these CE appointments. The only thing they can’t do is MRIs, but Social Security, your caseworker, will order these examinations if they feel like they need more to decide your claim. If you’re not seeing a lot of doctors on your own, or if there’s two differing opinions from your doctor, Social Security might send you to one of their doctors. I always let my clients know when they go to these CE appointments, is to do everything that the doctor asks you to do.
If the doctor asks you to bend over and touch your toes, make sure to do that because they want to see what your limitations are, and what you’re not able to do. At least try everything that the doctor asks you, and make sure you give your best effort, because if you don’t, they might say that you’re not cooperative. That usually comes along, I would say two to three months within the process of filing. Normally, sending somebody to a CE is one of the last things that Social Security does before they make a decision. Your caseworker will also want to know who your doctors are, and when you last saw your doctors.
When you file for Disability, just take a second beforehand and write down who your doctors are, what their addresses are, when the last time you saw them. When was the last time you were in the hospital, or the ER? Did you have any testing done? If so, where was that testing done? Because you want to make it the easiest as possible for Social Security to get all of your information. If you go ahead and get all of your doctors’ information for them, then you’ve done the work on the front end. We’ll put it like that. But just also, exactly when you went to your doctors. That’s a big thing. A lot of times clients can’t remember how long it’s been since they went to the doctor, or they don’t remember their doctor’s names.
That is very important when getting your medical records, because if Social Security can’t find where your doctor is, or when you saw them, then they’re not going to get the records, and that won’t be able to be used to see if you’re disabled or not. But your a caseworker, besides the Function Reports, the Work History Reports, they might send you other questionnaires. Sometimes it’s a Pain Questionnaire, or it can be a Migraine Questionnaire where it’s just different questions from Social Security about a certain problem asking you to give them more detail. “How often are you in pain? What would you rate your pain?” For the migraines it’s, “How often do you have a migraine? What do you do when you have one? Does your medicine help? Do you have any side effects to your medications?”
Those questionnaires can also be sent either with the Function Reports, or separate and apart from the Function Reports that Social Security will send you. That’s normally their process when they’re making a decision. Like I told you before, it usually takes about three to five months to get that decision with Social Security, and they will mail you a decision in the mail. For Alabama, which is where we practice, Social Security just re-introduced a new step starting October 1st of this year. That step is called Reconsideration. Normally, for the last 10, 15 years from Alabama, Social Security would make a decision at the initial level, and then if the person was denied, it would go to a judge to have a hearing. However, with this new Reconsideration step, Social Security will make the initial decision.
They’ll do what’s called Reconsideration, which means they will just reconsider all of the evidence they had the first time. They might send you to more doctors at this point. They might have you fill out more forms, but they will reconsider the evidence before making another decision. If you are denied at that point, then it will go to a judge for a hearing. The entire country has been practicing Reconsideration for the last 10 years or so. They were doing a test run to see if that step was necessary in the State of Alabama, but they’ve decided that it is, and so they are reintroducing Reconsideration into Alabama starting October 1st. So that is part of the process now for those who are applying in Alabama, and that normally I would say takes about three months or so to get your decision.
If you are denied at that point, like I said, you would appeal it again, and at that point it would go to a judge for a hearing. The wait time right now in Alabama for a hearing is about 14 months. It is getting faster, but again, 14 months is pretty standard from the date of your appeal before they can get you in front of a judge for a hearing. A lot of clients, or potential clients will say, “When do I need to reach out to an attorney? At what stage in the process should I get an attorney?” You are allowed to have an attorney at any stage in the process, and I would say the earlier the better. They’ve actually made it so we can help people file their initial application, which I think is great because we can help you get all that information.
A lot of times clients, they can’t get the paperwork. They don’t know their doctors’ names because of pain, because of their illness, whether mental or physical, or they just don’t have the ability to get it. They don’t have a car to go see where their doctors are. We can help them get that information, and actually help file that initial application. I would say most of our clients come to us after they’ve received their initial denial from Social Security, and we appeal it for them at that time. But there’s no set point in the process where you can go and have an attorney. I would say the earlier the better. Definitely, I would not recommend going in front of a judge for a hearing without having an attorney.
It’s a very complicated process. There’s a lot of steps. There’s a lot of paperwork that you need to make sure you have in your claim so that the judge can get a full picture of your disability. That’s what we can help with is making sure everything is needed for the judge to decide your claim, or for your caseworker when you initially apply with Social Security to decide your claim. If you have more questions on applying for Disability, or the process, or anything regarding Social Security Disability, please give us a call. Our number is (251) 343-1111, or you can visit our website, which is GardbergLaw.com. Thank you.