I have a dear friend who used to work for the Department of Social Services - I used to work there too, once upon a time as a medicaid caseworker, afdc caseworker, and food stamp caseworker. Well, she just filed for title II benefits today. For those who aren't aware, title II benefits are social security disability benefits A. K. A ssd ssdi, rsdi, title II, and dib, or disability insurance benefits (leave it to the federal government to make even nomenclature a fuzzy proposition).
My friend called me up after her phone interview and was a combination of all the following: indignant, irritated, and incredulous. Want to know why? Here's my recreation of the conversation we had this afternoon (I'm no script writer, but I think I can recall most of the salient points).
Me: So, you did the application?
MyFriend: Yes, and I can't believe some of the things that woman said.
Me: What do you mean? Was she rude?
MyFriend: No, she was very nice.
Me: That's good. Take it from me. That's not always the case.
MyFriend: She was very nice and helpful. But if I hadn't talked to you about filing for benefits, I would have actually believed all the stuff she said.
Me: Like what?
MyFriend: Oh, god, you should have heard her. Everything she said to me, she was acting like I was going to get it (approved for disability) for sure. And I would probably get an answer in a few weeks, and she even started talking about what would happen when I got approved, some five month thing-
Me: -The five month waiting period.
MyFriend: Yeah, she talked about that and she kept saying I wouldn't have a problem at all. Which is not even close to what you and I discussed.
Me: Yep, I've heard this before. The problem is, these people at social security who take disability applications don't WORK ON THEM. All they do is take the application and send it to DDS where the decision is made. Most of these social security field office people don't even have a clue how a case gets approved or denied.
MyFriend: I remember you telling me that before. But why she did say all this stuff, like I won't have to worry and I'll get it for sure.
Me: Because for one, they are clueless. Second, they want to make you feel good. I'm sure with all the disability apps they take, they got a lot of crying and anger, and the easiest way to deal with that is to give out this spiell that has nothing to do with reality. I mean, hey, you MAY get approved on your initial application, but, statistically, the numbers say you probably won't. And how the heck is a claims rep at the social security office going to know if you will or won't get approved? They don't work on your case. They don't order your medical records. They don't read them. But the real problem with them giving out these rosy predictions is that people absolutely take them at their word. And I've talked to a lot of people who just blindly assumed that their claim was going to get approved, just like that.
MyFriend: I know it. And that's how I would have felt if we hadn't talked so much about me filing for benefits. I just would have believed that, with my condition, I should have nothing to worry about.
Me: And maybe it will turn out to be the case that you really don't have anything to worry about. You could be one of the fifteen percent (in some states) that gets approved on the initial application. But, if I were applying, I would want to be told what my chances, statistically, really are. So I could at least prepare. Mentally and emotionally, maybe even financially.
MyFriend: Yeah, if we hadn't talked, I would have just believed everything she said. In fact, I kept correcting her. Everytime she said “when you get approved", I said to her “you mean ‘if’ I get approved, right?". I think finally I just said to her “How do you know I'll get approved?"
Me: What did she say?
MyFriend: She said it sounded like I had a good case.
Me: I think you do have a good case. Your cane is prescribed and it sounds like your docs will fill out medical source statements for you. The thing is, though, the claims rep has no way to know what will happen with your medical decision. And chances are, she doesn't even know what happens in a medical evaluation. The claims reps at the social security office don't really know squat about disability. They just take the application and pass it on to DDS where it gets worked on by an examiner.
MyFriend: Well, I'm just going to assume that I'll get denied. And if I actually get approved, that'll be a nice surprise.
Me: That's my advice. Assume the worst. Then, if the worst doesn't happen, it'll feel like a bonus.
And that's basically how the conversation went. And the moral of the story is: don't believe everything that the social security office tells you. And here's some extra advice: always check behind them and never assume that they really did what they were supposed to do. I know for a fact that they are understaffed and have a TON of work in these field offices. But if you're filing a claim for benefits, those are not your concerns. Your only concern is what gets done ON YOUR CASE. And since social security disability and ssi disability are fundamentally red-tape bureaucratic creations, you're simply better off not trusting them and following behind them every step of the way.
The author of this article is Timothy Moore, who, in addition to being a former food stamp caseworker, medicaid caseworker and AFDC caseworker, is a former disability claims examiner. He publishes a helpful FAQ on the disability process at http://www.disabilitysecrets.com/questions.html