Applying for Social Security disability benefits is difficult at the best of times, but when you need help because your fibromyalgia is incapacitating, proving you are disabled can be particularly difficult because doctors don’t yet have a completely objective way to establish the presence or severity of the condition.
Fortunately, when you know how the application process works and follow the guidance of professionals, you can chart a path that is more likely to lead to success and relief.
Prove You Have an MDI
While you may find it obvious that your pain and other symptoms are incapacitating, the SSA still requires you to submit medical evidence. Under current standards, to receive support from the SSA, people with fibromyalgia need to first prove that the condition counts as a medically determinable impairment, or MDI, and then show that the condition prevents them from working.
For fibromyalgia to count as an MDI, your widespread chronic pain has to have lasted for at least three months. You’ll also need test results showing that you don’t have another condition, such as multiple sclerosis. On top of that, you’ll need to show that you have at least 11 of the 18 common tender points and that you have continual issues with at least six of the common fibromyalgia symptoms.
Document Your Symptoms and Limitations
Once you prove you have an MDI, you’ll need to show that the MDI prevents you from working. To prove your disability, have your doctor fill out Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) documentation. This paperwork will be your core medical documentation concerning how well you can focus, sit for long periods, lift objects, and so forth.
In addition to medical documentation, you may want to ask supportive family members and friends or former coworkers and bosses to provide written testimony detailing how fibromyalgia impairs your performance. For example, a former coworker’s or boss’s account of how you were a great employee until your fibromyalgia prevented you from contributing fully to your team could be invaluable.
You may also want to keep a symptom log so you can show the SSA the effects on your life in detail. For example, you might rank the intensity of your symptoms on a scale of one to ten each day and jot down notes about how symptoms like pain, fatigue, “fibro fog,” headaches, or depression have affected you.
You could also keep notes about your efforts to alleviate your symptoms. For example, if your doctor advises you to meditate and commit to a gentle stretching routine, then a journal tracking how you implement that advice can show the SSA that you’re doing your best to have the greatest health possible.
See a Specialist
If you can, you should acquire an officially recorded diagnosis from a specialist, such as a rheumatologist or a neurologist. A specialist’s support can be particularly helpful because of fibromyalgia’s reputation as a catch-all diagnosis. While the syndrome is certainly a real condition, some professionals misdiagnose patients with the illness. A specialist’s opinion can show the SSA that your diagnosis is valid.
Since you will be talking about fibromyalgia as a physical health condition, you should avoid using a diagnosis and evaluation from a psychiatrist or other mental health professional as the core of your medical evidence.
While depression is a common element of fibromyalgia and of chronic pain in general, a specialist trained to evaluate diseases of the nervous system or of soft tissues will likely provide evidence the SSA finds more compelling.
Confirm Your Doctor’s Support
Of course, your RFC paperwork and your doctor’s opinion will be some of the most important information the SSA will look at, so you need to make sure your doctor is both supportive and qualified to comment on your condition.
Hire an Attorney
In a perfect world, the SSA would always be able to identify those who need assistance and help them, but unfortunately, the application process is not that simple. You may be perfectly deserving of disability benefits and still have your application denied because you didn’t provide all the necessary evidence or simply filled out the paperwork incorrectly. In fact, on average, over 70 percent of applicants are initially turned down.
An attorney trained to help others attain Social Security disability benefits can make sure you collect all the evidence you need, fill out your paperwork correctly, and present a strong case. If you have been turned down already and need to file an appeal, a lawyer’s help can mean the difference between an acceptance and a denial.
For professional legal help in the Chicagoland area, contact Horn & Kelley, PC. We have plenty of experience helping residents of Illinois and Indiana gain Social Security disability benefits, and we’ll be happy to meet with you to discuss your case.