This question comes up very frequently on my Facebook Groups and other groups I participate in:
How to fix damaging statements in a Social Security Disability claim?
The short answer is: avoid them, to begin with!
What is Considered Damaging Statements and
How Do They Make it to the Social Security File?
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Damaging statements are usually found in a few documents and levels in your disability claim:
- Your medical records (See my post about Medical Records and my course on How to Read Your Medical Records Like the Pros)
- The Adult Function Report forms (learn more about Completing Forms here).
- Social Media (Check my post about Social Media in a disability claim).
- What you say at your hearing (Check my post about Preparing for a Hearing and other links from that post)
Some examples of damaging statements:
1. Damaging Statements that are typically found in medical records:
“I hurt my back while helping a friend move“.
Or “My back hurts after volunteering in a rummage sale at church“.
“I went on a 3-week vacation to Italy and now my back hurts“. And the most recent one I saw:
“Patient works on his farm taking care of his livestock”:
Here is a scary example and why you need to be so careful:
In a previous post (link below), I mentioned the example of a client who was just joking with her doctor about going downhill skiing while treated for a broken neck.
The doctor wrote that in the medical records that his advice was to avoid those types of activities. The doctor never got that it was a joke!
Undoing this damaging statement took a lot of work and 4 years appealing this case until the claimant finally won.
This was completely unnecessary stress to all parties involved. That is why I emphasize how important it is to watch what you say.
Read my post about doctors and what they do to hurt your case and what to do to avoid these pitfalls.
Another point about telling your doctor about your activities:
You don’t want to lie.
But do you think a doctor has time to filter what is relevant for your condition(s)?
In the “vacation” statement above, how important is it for the doctor to know about your trip to Italy?
Do you think that a judge seeing this will have any sympathy for you?
He probably hasn’t had a vacation in ages and you claim to be disabled and you are going on vacations?
It is ok to go on vacations but really: Does your doctor need to know about it?
Also, about taking care of livestock: If you have a bad back “why are you doing this”?
Finally, the doctor would not know about these vacations and farming activities unless you told them.
So, why are you telling the doctor about these things?
You have to be very careful because as honest as you want to be, volunteering certain activities even if they would not amount to a job, could be interpreted as you being more active than you truly are. Also, realize that it is very difficult to fix these statements once they are out in the world.
Even your doctor may doubt your disability if you keep talking about vacations or strenuous activities like caring for a farm.
Please watch what you say!
2. Damaging Statements typically found in the Adult Function Report:
The Adult Function Report is a form that will go over all your daily activities and your physical and mental abilities.
If not answered correctly, your activities could be interpreted as the ability to do a job.
Remember that all Social Security has to prove is that you can do “a job”. Even if you are not trained for it and even if it doesn’t pay the same you used to get in your previous job.
Below are some examples of questions that if not answered correctly, could lead to a denial of your claim:
What are your hobbies?:
“Needlepoint, crafts, sewing“.
Or “Hiking, camping, fishing“.
Or “grocery shopping twice a week for two hours“.
What do you do all day?:
“I play video games (or watch TV) all day long because it’s all I can do.
Or “I talk with my friends on the phone all day long because it’s all I can do (or because I can’t leave the house)”. And finally, one of the most damaging ones:
“I check my emails and do computer work because it’s all I can do“.
Why do I say these statements are damaging?
Because all these activities could be interpreted as the ability to work.
They don’t care that you can only check your emails for 5 minutes. Or that you need to take 2-hour naps in between sewing projects.
If you are not careful how you complete these forms, those statements can and will be used against you in your claim.
So remember to check my post about completing the forms properly to avoid these pitfalls.
I am still working on writing a book about the forms. I hope to publish that this year. But while that does not materialize, the forms post above will help you get started for now.
3. Damaging Statements and Actions found in your Social Media:
Social media is now taking over our lives.
While it is nice to have at least something to do while resting in bed or when you have nothing else to kill time, your posts can come back to bite you.
I cite many examples in my Social Media post.
Please, take a close look at the post because judges are more and more interested in your online activities to see if you are really disabled.
4. Your Statements Made During Your Disability Hearing:
You must be very careful about how you answer the judge’s questions.
While this is an obvious statement, it is not uncommon to see claimants tripping over their answers during their hearing. Either because they are nervous or simply don’t know how to answer these questions.
Open-ended questions like, “describe a typical day” can lead to rambling, volunteering statements you shouldn’t talk about or statements that could be misinterpreted.
Or worse: you forget about important facts of your day that could be relevant in assessing your disability.
The Number One Thing You Want to do before it’s too late:
Hire an Attorney!
Your attorney will run practice questions with you and will make sure all your forms are completed correctly throughout the case. Even doctor letters, as well intended as they are, may contain statements that can hurt your case.
So having an attorney will ensure that all your bases are covered.
If your answer to the judge is open for interpretation, your attorney will make sure your statement is corrected properly right there and then.
If You Decide To Go Unrepresented
Be sure to prepare yourself and your statements as best you can. Writing your possible answers is a good way to start.
Please, also check my post about Arguing your case with the judge.
The post contains information on what goes on during a hearing. You will also get a bonus sheet where you get a list of typical questions a judge will ask you in a disability hearing. The post also contains links to other posts you need to read about the hearing process.
This is a good way to prepare yourself and avoids rambling statements, misstatements and other issues that may occur during the hearing that you are not prepared for since you are going without an attorney.
Fixing Damaging Statements You Made to Your Doctor
As mentioned at the beginning of the post, the best way to fix these statements is to avoid making them in the first place. But this is not always possible if the “damage” is already done.
How do you fix these statements then?
While there is no guarantee, the best thing you can do is to always request a copy of your records after so many visits.
You want to make sure you read and understand these records to see if there are any statements or entries that could potentially hurt your claim.
This is a good start learning everything you need to know about understanding your medical records.
You will also want to speak with your doctor about these mistakes.
Bring the record you want to be changed to your doctor’s visit and discuss the issue during your consultation with your doctor.
Since your doctor is already sitting on the computer, he is more likely to make those changes right away. If you request these changes on a phone call or to a secretary or assistant, you will never get that done.
Your doctor may refuse to change these damaging statements.
If that happens, you have to see what exactly each statement says and see if you can introduce a new statement that could “neutralize” the damage.
Notes that mention the use of marijuana.
Say, for example, you told your doctor you are smoking marijuana to deal with the back pain.
Since marijuana use is approved only by state law and Social Security is a federal entity, a judge may see you simply as someone who wants to smoke pot on the government’s dime.
They don’t care about the benefits studies are showing about medical marijuana use for pain.
All they care about it’s that it is still illegal in the federal arena.
It is particularly bad if you end up with an older judge who is against marijuana use.
So to “neutralize” the statement you may want to tell your doctor that you tried and it didn’t work for you.
This statement will help the judge realize that your pain is so bad you were willing to try anything and yet it didn’t work.
Note that any use of pot in mental cases will automatically cause a denial unless you have stopped over 6 months before and you have lab tests to prove it.
On a happier note: Judges love a story of recovery from any type of addiction. So if you have any gambling, alcohol or drug problems, find a rehab program and start working on that now.
Documents that mention activities inconsistent with your impairments:
For example, a bad back.
Let’s say you mentioned to your doctor that you helped your friend move the weekend before and now your back hurts. In another consult (hopefully closer in time to that other visit) you want to mention that all you did was sit for a few minutes with a lot of rests in between.
You can add that you helped your friend to sort small things in a drawer or deal with some of his papers or file folders. You can mention that you never lifted any weights at all. Also, mention that you sure “paid for it” and that you needed to rest for several days.
Your goal with a “neutralizing” statement is to clarify how difficult things are and how limited you are in your activities.
There are tons of other examples but you get the gist how to fix some of these statements.
- Be careful about your statements and where they can be noted: medical records, forms, etc
- Hire an attorney for your claim. It will help you sort out if your records contain glaring mistakes that can cost your case before it’s too late!
- Always order your records and read them to make sure there is nothing damaging or incomplete in the notes
- Correct any statements by requesting your doctor to make those corrections during a consultation
- If your doctor refuses to change your statements, try to “neutralize” them by offering a better statement clarifying the damaging statement.
I hope this post helps you understand the importance of your statements and why you should be very careful what you say to others including your doctors.
Remember to sign up for my Facebook Group to ask questions about the disability process.
Until next time,
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Courses by Realtactics4disabilityclaims.com
You just learned that you should be careful about what you say to your doctors and judges. Also, you just learned that a lot of what you say to your doctors will be shown in your medical records. That’s why you should work to improve your medical records for a better chance at winning your claim (even if it takes longer than you expected) by learning how to read them to see if they are actually supporting your disability.
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