Considerations When Filling out the Disability Report Appeal (Form SSA-Adult Function Report SSA-3441-BK)
When and if it comes time to appeal a Social Security denial, whether it be filing an appeal for reconsideration (following an initial denial of your application in the State of Maine or the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, or an appeal for hearing before an Administrative Law Judge following an initial denial of your application the State of New Hampshire) or the filing of a Request for Hearing following a reconsideration denial in Maine or Massachusetts, the guidance of a skilled Social Security disability lawyer is helpful so as to understand the risks/pitfalls that lie hidden in the forms required by the Social Security Administration (SSA).
The Disability Report Appeal form (which is typically filled out online by the claimant or their attorney, but may also at times be addressed in paper format by addressing Form SSA-Adult Function Report SSA-3441-BK) is designed to allow SSA to get an update of what has transpired since the time they last completed a disability report: whether this be the initial Adult Disability Report on line when one initially applied for benefits, or the previous Disability Report Appeal that may have been completed after an initial denial on reconsideration (once again, the State of New Hampshire does not have a reconsideration process, and given this fact, one proceeds directly to hearing when appealing an initial denial in New Hampshire). Thus, the report is intended to allow SSA to determine what medical providers have been seen since, what treatment has been undertaken since, whether the individual has worked since the time of the prior report and/or whether the individual has undertaken vocational rehabilitation training and/or additional schooling since the last time they provided such information to SSA.
Our experience has taught us that two (2) of the sections to the form provide potential pitfalls to claimants. First, Section 3A of the form asks: “[s]ince you last told us about your medical conditions, has there been any CHANGE (for better or worse) in your physical or mental conditions?” Section 3B of the form, in a slightly different wording asks: “Since you last told us about your medical conditions, do you have any NEW physical or mental conditions? “ Unfortunately, we see that many claimants take this as an opportunity to reemphasize how poorly they are doing, thinking that this will cause SSA to take another hard look at the problems they are experiencing. What claimants fail to recognize is that by stating that their condition has worsened since the time of the last report, they are in fact making a statement to SSA that their condition was not as bad when they previously applied or appealed the prior denial. Claimants many times fail to remember that it’s only been ;a few months since they last filled out a disability report. Another consideration that many claimants fail to take into account is that while their condition may temporarily wax and wane over the course of some weeks or months, the condition as a whole has remained the same in the sense that it continues to have the same ups and downs as before. This, then, is not a change in one’s condition. Rather, filling out the report when one is having a good day or a good week does not represent the overall state of their condition or, for that matter, a change for better or worse with their condition as is meant by the question.
Likewise, many claimants may mistake the fact that they have received a new diagnosis as suggestive of the fact that they have a “new medical condition or illness.” For example, a chronic pain syndrome that one has been experiencing for a lengthy period of time may suddenly be provided a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia by a rheumatologist. This does not translate to a new condition, nor should the claimant be indicating such to SSA. Rather, the claimant has simply received an answer as to what their constellation of symptoms is being caused by: that is to say, they’ve received a clarifying diagnosis that further explains what has otherwise been a longstanding condition. One would not want to set forth the condition as a new one as it remains the condition from which they’ve been suffering from all along: only now they have an answer to what the condition is; that is, they have a working diagnosis of the condition.
These are the types of issues an experienced Social Security disability lawyer should be reviewing for you as part of handling your disability appeal. Unfortunately, we find that many lawyers fail to take the time to properly advise their clients regarding such distinctions.
These are just some of the considerations that need to come take place when filling out your appeal forms to ensure that your words are not misconstrued by those who will be deciding your claim. With this in mind, if you or someone close to you is in the midst of pursuing a Social Security disability claim and is failing to much headway, you would be well advised to contact an experienced Social Security lawyer who works hard to ensure that the appropriate care and attention is handled to each claim they handle. Contact the Law Offices of Russell J. Goldsmith at 1-800-773-8622.