You have the burden of proof

To prove disability you need:

  1. Documentation.
  2. Documentation.
  3. Documentation.

Knowing you’re disabled and proving you’re disabled to a judge are two VERY different things.You may have very serious medical issues that affect your ability to work. But if your conditions aren’t written down by your doctors, you’re not likely to get approved for disability benefits.

“Anyone can come in here and tell me a story.”

As one judge in our local hearing office likes to say, “anyone can come in here and tell me a story.” The most important factor is whether you have enough proof to back up your testimony. Documentation is how you prove a disability case, because the judge won’t just take your word for it. And the Social Security Disability system’s favorite type of proof is medical records. How well your disabilities are documented by your doctors has a major impact on your chances of winning.

As Julia Mariani recently put it:

If I were to ask you, “what did you have for breakfast last Friday morning?” And, then when you tell me, I ask you to prove it. Go ahead – prove it.


Do you have witnesses to what you ate? Will I believe those witnesses? Do you have a photograph of empty dishes? How do you prove what was in an empty bowl that has been washed? How do you prove it was yours? How do you prove when the cereal was in the bowl? How do I know that photograph is of last Friday’s breakfast? Prove it. How would you prove you ate nothing?

Proving a disability case is a lot like proving what you had for breakfast on any given day – incredibly difficult. This is a major issue that we wrestle with at our disability law firm. How can we prove that our clients cannot work at any job if they have little or no documentation? The answer is that we do everything we can to get documentation.

You say your back hurts – prove it. Can I find a reason for your back pain in your medical records? Do you have an MRI? Has a medical doctor thoroughly investigated the cause of your back pain?

Do you  have a specific diagnosis, such as a herniated disk, broken vertebrae, or spinal stenosis, that a judge would believe causes the kind of pain you describe?

If you don’t have proof in your medical records that documents your problems and how they affect you, you are not likely to get approved for Social Security disability benefits.

What can you do to improve the chances of winning your disability case?

  1. See a doctor. Many people feel that seeking medical attention, especially mental health treatment has a stigma attached to it. But if you don’t get regular treatment, you have a slim chance of getting approved. There are also people who’ve been told “there is nothing more we can do for you,” and so they stop going to the doctor. Even if this is the case, you still need to see a doctor, so that your conditions and problems are documented.
  2. Make sure your doctor knows about all of the conditions and problems that prevent you from working. Fill out and bring a patient update form with you to all of your appointments so that your doctor has a written summary they can put in your file.
  3. Get copies of your medical records so you can see what your doctor is writing down about you. And talk to your doctor if you feel that your conditions are not adequately addressed in your records.

Just remember that when you apply for disability, the people who decide whether or not to pay you benefits will spend more time with your file than they will talking to you. You can never have too much documentation. But you certainly can have too little.

The Social Security Administration holds more than 750, 000 hearings per year. The Agency employs over 1700 ALJs in 170 hearing offices and each judge will try nearly 500 cases yearly.

That means that the Administrative Law Judge on your case will have between three and four hours to review your exhibit file, hold a hearing, and issue a decision.  The average exhibit file is anywhere from 500-900 pages long (some can even be as big as 1,500 pages).

Being prepared and having the right evidence can make all the difference. And your attorney should be able to point the ALJ to the evidence that proves you are disabled.



Need Help Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits?

by Patrick Spencer September 4, 2013

We can help you apply for disability! Our attorney has helped thousands of people get the Social Security disability benefits they need. We can help you too. We can help you apply for disability benefits if: You can’t work because of a physical or mental disability. You’re not currently working, or are working some, but aren’t […]

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Ask A Lawyer: Medicare and Social Security Disability

by Patrick Spencer June 27, 2012
Ask a lawyer about Medicare and disability

Q: Is there a way that Medicare should be picking up medical bills from the time an application is sent for review to the time one can be approved for Medicare? A: Once you are approved for Social Security disability benefits, you do become eligible for Medicare. But you, like most people, will have to […]

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SSA Puts the Kaibosh on Internet Searching

by Patrick Spencer June 20, 2012
Thumbnail image for SSA Puts the Kaibosh on Internet Searching

We’ve warned readers about protecting your online profiles on Social Media sites. You could be blindsided by an ALJ who questions you at your hearing about something that appeared on Facebook. It has already happened to some claimants. Even federal courts have cited internet-information that it found about a plaintiff in a Social Security appeal […]

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I Am on SSI, Can I Get SSDI Too?

by Patrick Spencer March 23, 2012
Can I get SSDI benefits?

We had a recent question from a reader: Q: I have been approved for SSI, but I really would like to get on disability instead. A: Unfortunately, unless you are insured for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (SSDI), there is nothing an attorney can do you get you on SSDI. There are certain requirements that […]

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