Preparing Your Disability Case

Advice by patients


What you don't know could be fatal to your claim!

This is a guest article by disability attorney Scott E. Davis.

Unfortunately, obtaining disability benefits based on Acoustic Neuroma (Vestibular Schwannoma) sometimes can be similar to dealing with Godzilla. Why? In part due to a lack of education at the Social Security Administration (SSA) and human bias against claimants who appear to be "healthy" compared to those afflicted with a more understood and obviously disabling diagnosis.

However, the good news is AN claimants can and do obtain benefits with proper preparation of their case coupled with an understanding of how the system may view them. Why? Because the SSA has a framework within which disability claims such as AN are evaluated, and ignoring it could be fatal to your claim:

1. You or your attorney will need to obtain opinions from your doctor regarding your inability to work.  So involve your treating physician! Tell your doctor as soon as possible that you have filed a disability claim. If he/she is lukewarm to the idea, try to find another doctor. An unsupportive or uncooperative physician can create real and sometimes unsurmountable obstacles to winning your case. Why?  Because you can bet SSA will have its own doctor who will tell the administrative law judge (ALJ) that you are able to work. AN support groups are a good place to find a referral to a supportive doctor.

Unfortunately, there are many doctors who could care less about a patient's legal issues. Do not get stuck with one! As an attorney, nothing is more frustrating than a doctor with no backbone; or worse, when he/she refuses to be involved at all. 

2.  It is critical that all examinations, such as neuropsychological tests, be performed as a part of confirming the disability.  Without documentation, the diagnosis is subject to attack.  

As a part of your documentation, it is your job to be a very detailed historian with your doctor regarding the severity, frequency, and nature of your symptoms. I tell clients to convey information regarding pain, fatigue, sleeplessness, inability to do simple daily activities, and brain fog problems. Tell your doctor you want the information in your records.

3. There is an "exhaustion of remedies" requirement that you have to satisfy.  Was the claimant referred to physical therapy or a pain clinic for treatment?  I always counsel clients to undergo and at least try any treatment the specialist prescribes, including non-traditional treatment. Why? Because you do not want to be at a hearing before an ALJ who is wondering whether your condition would be as severe if you had followed your own doctor's instructions. Moreover, SSA's doctor will usually tell the ALJ that your symptoms would improve (of course, allowing you to work) if you would undergo some type of treatment. Don't give the ALJ an open door to deny your claim.

Exhausting each type of prescribed treatment is good for your health and your disability case. After doing so,  your testimony will be more credible because nothing exists to alleviate the severity of your symptoms.  Moreover, the severity of your condition will be supported by the fact that you have tried everything to find relief.

4. Hire an attorney who has experience handling AN cases! During initial meetings with some AN clients I sometimes say to myself, "If I didn't know better, I'd say this 40-year-old woman looks perfectly capable of working!"

Through understanding comes compassion and the ability to convey the effect the diseases have on a client's life to SSA or a judge. Your attorney should at least be familiar with the relevant SSA criteria and be able to talk intelligently with your doctor.

Remember: people can obtain disability benefits  based on ANs. Do not quit, keep fighting! Use this article as the cornerstone to preparing and hopefully winning your case.

Scott E. Davis


Scott E. Davis is a disability attorney.  He invites your questions and comments and can be reached by mail at 5040 East Shea Blvd., Suite 151, Scottsdale, AZ, 85254; by phone at (480) 367-1601; or by email at harris.davis@azbar.org

Last Edited: Friday, November 01, 2002