This story from Jo is a real life experience that can prevent your social security disability application from being lost, and avoid months if not years of delay! Thanks for the contribution Jo
—-story starts here——-
I live in the most heavily populated, fastest growing state east of the Mississippi. Since my claim is based on traumatic orthopedic injuries, my onset date is clear. I first applied for Benefits in early 2003. At that time, my orthopedic injuries were making it almost impossible for me to work; I just could not do the 100 miles of daily driving required for my job, I had very limited range of motion in my arms and wrists, and, to be blunt, I just plain hurt.
So I gathered my records and turned them over to the SSA only to be told that I first had to liquidate and old, quite small pension. I did so, losing 40% of it to taxes and penalties. I was then told I also had to spend down my state pension since I was not vested in it yet. I did this as well. I made copies of what records I had and made a very foolish mistake: I assumed that SSDI/SSI, in fact, that all of the SSA worked for us, the disabled.
Orthopedic injuries are common where I live. I was naive and trusting. As time dragged by, I grew more and more concerned. I found The Disability Digest and got a heavy dose of reality. By my calculations, I should have already been denied once and be stuck in the Reconsideration process. With a sinking feeling, I called my local office. They had “no records” on me at all. Nothing. That was one of my mistakes. Make sure you keep a copy of everything.
Fortunately, I had kept all my mail from the SSA. I thought I could prove that I had filed in early 2003. According to the very pleasant intake interviewer, my mail was not enough to prove I had applied. This woman very patiently explained that this particular office is overrun with orthopedic cases – so many, in fact, most are reviewed by outsiders.
This makes no sense to me. My area does have lots of orthopedic cases – the number of working farms and factories make orthopedic injuries common: in a town of 20,000 people, we have over 20 orthopedic specialists. Why would the SSA need to send out my file?
And then I got it. By “losing” my file and claiming it had never existed, the SSA could invoke its policy of only providing back benefits for the previous 18 months. That saves the SSA money. But even more important, by denying I had ever filed, the SSA could make much of the long wait just disappear. And with a backlog of 750K cases, something has to be done. As the outside auditors found out, the intake interviewers and first Adjudicators are simply overwhelmed. One (former) SSA employee said he and his co-workers just boxed hundreds of applications, slapped a “settled” sticker on them and let them be hauled away to an unknown place. It sounds about as convincing as my dog ate my homework.
I thought I had done a creditable job of self- representation. I had full reports from all the major figures, surgeons, physical therapy records, my family doctor and a psychologist. But using the Disability Digest’s Mini-Course and Jonathan Goldberg’s book, I found at least two major mistakes I had made. In the Daily Activities report (which the interviewer had to fill in as both my arms were in casts) I said I could drive. I lost my case right there. Though it was clear I could not actually drive, my answer immediately meant I could work. I also ruined my chances by saying I could sweep a floor. Dealing with the SSA is like nothing else I have ever experienced. If you have the patience of Job, the watchful eye of a hawk, and are up for it physically, you can win, with help, on your own. I did not interview a representative last time. Big, big mistake.
It took me almost 3 years to get any answer to anything about my case. Without the guidance of The Disability Digest, I probably still would not know that I had a creek and no paddle. What I learned shocked me. Thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of applications might be lost. “Lost” translated into SSA-speak means applications hidden away, not really lost. One estimate is that as many as 300K applications are “lost” every year.
I can’t face the stress of doing all of that again. Even my chief orthopedic surgeon is outraged for me. He told me to have my lawyer write to him and tell him what to say and he would follow all instructions. My doctor, in other words, got so angry with the SSA that he is determined I will win at the listing stage. I want my life back and now know that no matter how trite a legal issue might be, there is truth to the old saying that only a fool represents his or herself.
Fain, aka Jo