Need to know why your Social Security disability claim was denied? It might have something to do with how you filled out your “activities of daily living” form back when you applied for benefits.
Each question on the form is a potential pit-fall. If poorly answered, they can undermine the medical evidence in your case and sabotage your claim. You need to answer them honestly, but with enough context to help Social Security get it right.
Do not use the activities of daily living report to tell Social Security what you think they want to hear. Exaggeration will not help win your claim. In fact dishonesty and exaggeration are likely to hurt, rather than help your claim.
- when the form asks “what do you do during the day,” it would be a mistake to answer “Nothing” - even if you do far less than you used to; and
- when the form asks “Do you drive," it would be a mistake to say “No” if you have a license, own a car, and drive yourself to the disability office for a hearing - even if you don’t drive very much.
Often to get disability you must convince a hearing judge that your limitations are as bad as you say they are. If you exaggerate on the activities of daily living form, you’re going to destroy your credibility with the judge.
Answer the question you want to be asked.
While you shouldn’t exaggerate how your medical conditions affect you - don’t let Social Security’s form limit your answers. Your goal is to explain how your conditions prevent you from doing the things others can or that you did in the past. Therefore, answer the questions you want to be asked rather than the one on the form.
- When asked “what do you do in a day,” imagine the question asked “Tell us how your disability limits what you can do during the day.”
Your answer might include everything from “I wake up on the living room because I had to move my bed” or “because I can now only sleep in the recliner” to “I had to install handrails for when I use the bathroom” to a description of pain, rest, or exhaustion after doing what used to be regular tasks like taking out the garbage or vacuuming. Turn the question around and use it to explain what you can no longer do - rather than what you can.
- When asked “Do you drive,” imagine the question asked “How has your disability limited your ability to drive?”
Many people on disability still have the ability to drive but many have limits now. Tell Social Security how your conditions have limited your ability to drive yourself around. Your answer might include details about how you don’t or can’t drive at night or in the rain. It might describe how you can’t drive (or ride) for more than [however long or far] without experiencing pain. If there are places you’re no longer comfortable driving to - tell them. If you used to drive to church every week, but now you don’t - let them know.
Context is key.
In addition to answering the question you want to be asked, the biggest favor you can do is to add context to your answers. For example, if you can only walk for 15 minutes before you have stop or pause an activity don’t say so once - tell Social Security in every relevant question.
Using the claimant with the 15 minute limitation as an example, if they can still do some housework, cook meals, or go shopping - but only in 15 minute increments, then they need to tell Social Security on each answer how they can:
- Cook a quick meal so long as it takes less than 15 minutes;
- Do some household chores, but only 15 minutes at a time; and
- Go shopping, but only one store at a time and for no more than 15 minutes.
And don’t stop there. If you can partially do a task - housework, cooking, shopping, etc., tell them how you feel after. If you’re in pain, exhausted, unable to do anything else for a period of time, let them know.
Don’t be constrained by the short space they give you to answer the question. Providing context about your limitations may take more space than the form gives you. Use the “remarks” at the end of the form and/or attach more sheets to your answers.
Other ways to improve your claim:
Read Disability Alabama’s warnings about how a lack of medical records might be hurting your case;
Read our warning about how failing to follow up with your doctor’s recommendations might be hurting your case;
- Hire a lawyer to help with your case and select the right one with the help of these questions;
- Use Disability Alabama’s disability calculator for an estimate of your benefit. While you do not need any special information to complete the calculation you may want to take a moment to think about your average yearly income and current household income before using the disability calculator; and
- If you’re in Alabama, give Disability Alabama a call or contact us online.