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Q. How is the term “disability” defined by the Social Security Administration?
A. Under the Social Security Act, “disability” means “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”
Q. How should I apply for Social Security disability benefits?
A. The best way to file a Social Security disability claim is to go to your nearest Social Security office and apply in person. However, you can also call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 and arrange for a telephone interview. At that time, they can also direct you in applying through the Internet
Q. When is the best time to file for Social Security disability benefits?
A. The best time to apply for benefits is as soon as possible. You should apply on the day you become disabled or you believe you will be out of work for at least a one year period of time. Remember, it is to your advantage to file for benefits as soon as possible, since oftentimes the process can take 12 – 18 months. You should not, however, wait until you have been disabled for 12 months before you apply.
Q. Do I need to hire an attorney prior to applying for Social Security disability benefits?
A. No. Any claimant can represent himself in his claim for Social Security disability benefits. However, claimants who are represented win more often than those who are not represented, and all cases are handled on a contingency basis, meaning the attorney only receives a fee if you win your case. All fees must be approved by Social Security Administration. There is no fee if you are not successful in obtaining benefits.
Q. How are SSD/SSI benefits calculated?
A. SSD/SSI benefit amounts are determined by a formula which is based upon your earnings record. The formula allows for yearly increases in order to adjust for cost of living. The amount of your benefits will be based on your average earnings for all of the years you have been working, not just your most recent salary. Somebody awarded SSD benefits is automatically eligible for Medicare 24 months after the onset date they were found to be disabled.
Q. Can my children get benefits if I am disabled?
A. Minor children of a disabled worker can receive auxiliary benefits. This amount varies but is approximately 35 – 45% of the disabled worker’s monthly payment amount.
Q. What are the factors Social Security uses in determining disability?
A. The Administration uses a step-by-step process which is as follows:
- Are you currently employed? If your earnings average more than approximately $700 per month, there is a presumption that you are not disabled.
- Is your condition severe? Your impairments must be severe enough that they interfere with basic work-related activities for your claim to be considered disabling.
- Is your condition found in a list of disabling impairments? There is a list of impairments the Administration keeps for each of the major bodily functions that automatically entitles you to disability. If your condition is on this list and is of equal severity to an impairment on the list, your claim is approved. However, if it is not, you still may be eligible for benefits.
- Can you do the work you did previously? If your condition is severe but not at the same or equal severity as an impairment on the list, a determination must then be made as to whether it interferes with your ability to do the work you previously did in the last 15 years. If it does not, your claim will be denied. However, if it does, your claim will be further considered.
- Can you do any other type of work? If you cannot do the work you did in the last 15 years, the Administration will then look to see if there is any other type of work that exists in significant numbers in the National economy based upon your age, education, past work experience, and transferable skills.
Q. If I was injured on the job and am receiving workers’ compensation benefits, can I still file a claim for Social Security benefits?
A. You do not have to wait until workers’ compensation ends in order to apply for disability benefits. An individual can file a claim for disability benefits while receiving workers’ compensation benefits and it is advantageous to do so as soon as possible; otherwise, there may be a gap between the time the workers’ compensation ends and the disability benefits begin. In addition, while there may be an offset, it is always advantageous if possible to be awarded both benefits.
Q. Do I have to be permanently disabled to get Social Security disability benefits?
A. No. Rather, you must have a condition that you expect to be disabling for at least a one year period of time. At a future date, you may no longer be disabled and return to work on a full or part-time basis.
Q. What is the hearing before the Administrative Law Judge like?
A. The hearing before the Administrative Law Judge is fairly informal. The parties present will be you, your attorney, the Administrative Law Judge, and in most cases, a vocational expert and often a medical expert. There is no arbitration panel or jury and no attorney from the Administration. Testimony will be given by you, as well as a vocational expert and medical expert, and your attorney will have an opportunity to elicit information from you and cross-examine both the medical expert and vocational expert. Statistically, more than 60% of the claimants who ultimately get benefits win at this level.
Q. If I lose at the hearing level, can I still possibly get benefits?
A. Yes. Your case can be appealed to the Appeals Council and thereafter to Federal Court. In addition, you may file a subsequent application at a later date.
Q. If I am disabled but have never worked or have not worked in a number of years, can I possibly still get benefits?
A. Yes. If you live in a household under a certain economic level and have less than a certain amount of assets, and are found to be disabled, you may still qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits even if you have never worked or have not worked in a number of years. It is also possible to qualify for disabled adult/child benefits on account of a parent if you became disabled before age 22 or for disabled widow/widowers benefits based upon the work history of a deceased spouse.
Q. How can I improve my chances of obtaining Social Security disability benefits?
A. It is important that you be as complete as possible in providing information to Social Security when applying for benefits. It is important that you document all of your conditions, the effects and limitations those conditions may present, as well as be as complete and thorough in providing the names, addresses, phone numbers, of all healthcare providers. It is important that you do not minimize the severity of your conditions. Remember, if you are denied initially (statistically, most claimants do not receive benefits based upon the initial application), you should always make sure you appeal and request a hearing within the 60 day period allowed. It is important that you hire an experienced Social Security representative so that your chances of receiving benefits are greatly increased. Statistically, claimants who employ an attorney to represent them are much more likely to win than those that are unrepresented.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]