The first of many potential hiccups with a disability application happens at the very beginning of the application process—the wet signature requirement.  If your representative files an online application on your behalf, Social Security requires that you verify the information and provide a wet signature before they will take any further action.  Once your application is submitted online on your behalf, someone at Social Security prints off a paper copy of that application and mails it to you for you to review, verify, sign, and mail back to them.  I’m not joking.  At best, this delays the processing of your claim by at least several weeks. 

mail from Social Security Disability

And any number of things could happen that might delay the process even more: Social Security might simply fail to mail the application.  It could be sent to the wrong address.  The post office could lose the application.  Someone at your house might check your mail and stick the application in a drawer somewhere without telling you.  You might glance at the envelope, think it’s junk mail, and throw it in the garbage.  

It is crucial that if you have not received a paper copy of your application in the mail within 2-3 weeks after filing, you or your attorney must follow up with Social Security to see what’s going on because nothing else will happen with your case until Social Security gets your signed copy back. 

If enough time passes and Social Security does not receive the signed application, they close out your file and you have to start over at square one again. 

Once you do receive your paper application, we always recommend making a copy of it (if you have access to a copier or scanner) before you mail it back and that you make a note of the date and time you mailed it.

In today’s world where so much can be accomplished online, the wet signature requirement seems particularly dated and unnecessary.  It creates a pointless additional step for the claimant and slows down the process.  As of this writing in May 2020, the National Federation of the Blind and several individuals have brought a lawsuit against Social Security asking them to do away with the wet signature requirement.  They are arguing that this requirement is unfair to people who don’t have easy access to check their mail and to blind people who can’t read the application anyway.  They also argue that the requirement is unnecessary since existing federal law already allows for electronic signatures.  Our office will be following this case closely as it progresses through the court system.

Once Social Security receives your wet signature, the case gets processed to send to DDS (Disability Determination Services), which is where an initial decision will be made on your case.  Getting the application to DDS is the first big milestone in the case.  The processing and sending of the case to DDS is typically done by another arm of Social Security, the Workload Support Unit (WSU).  Unfortunately, the WSU offices tend to have high turnover rates and the quality of the service varies greatly among WSU workers.  WSU may misplace some of your paperwork or delay taking action to send your claim to DDS.  WSU employees are also sometimes difficult to reach on the telephone.  Some cases require weekly calls to DDS in order to get movement on your case.  This is another great reason to hire an attorney before you file your application—they can bug the WSU on your behalf so you won’t have to.

Once your case finally makes it way to DDS, that’s awesome!  Your file will be assigned to a DDS specialist who will obtain all of your medical records and any other information that they deem they might need to make a decision about your case.  Your DDS caseworker is someone you should make sure to stay in touch with.  Return all phone calls from them in a timely fashion and provide any requested information as quickly as possible.  Some examples of information that your DDS specialist may request from you include:

  • detailed information about your ability to function on a day-to-day basis (Function Report);
  • detailed information about your work history (Work History Report);
  • detailed information about certain conditions you might have (Cardiac Questionnaire, Migraines Questionnaire, etc.);
  • detailed information about your education history, including school records if you have a cognitive impairment or learning disability; and
  • detailed information about your drug and/or alcohol use if there is any issue about substance abuse that might affect your case.

Some of these forms are so crucial to the process that I will dedicate the next several blog posts to discussing them—their purpose as well as pointers for completing them in a way that is most beneficial to your case.

DDS exam request

Your DDS specialist may also ask you to attend a doctor’s appointment (Social Security pays for this) where your impairments will be evaluated.  This could be a psychologist, an internist, an orthopedic doctor, or several others depending on what your specialist thinks would be helpful for deciding your case.  While DDS may not request an exam on every case, it is fairly common for them to do so.  These doctor appointments are obviously very critical to your case and deserve a whole blog post too.

The takeaway here is that you can’t just sit back and do nothing once your application has been submitted—you have to constantly make sure Social Security is staying on top of your case and that nothing is slipping through the cracks.  The failure to do so could cost you valuable months.  Having an attorney that can handle the follow up for you can save you valuable time and take away some of the stress of the process.

If you have been reading along so far, you know that it takes a lot of effort and follow through to get your disability application on the desk of the person who will actually make an initial decision on it.  Chapter Four focuses on when the real work begins—when your case has made it to Disability Determination Services (DDS) and assigned to a specialist.  We will first focus on some of the paperwork that your DDS specialist will be mailing you so that they can learn more about you and your case.