Q. What is Social Security Disability (SSD)?
A. The Social Security Disability program is administered by the Social Security Administration and funded by the FICA taxes that you pay when you work. If you become unable to work before you are old enough to retire and collect Social Security, you can apply for SSD benefits. This program ensures that you will have a minimal monthly income if you are unable to work at your job or at any other job for at least one full year.
Q. What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?
A. Supplemental Security Income is a federal benefit program available to those who are totally disabled and whose income and assets fall within certain limits. No previous work history is required for SSI. In some cases, children can obtain SSI benefits.
Q. Will SSD/SSI replace all of my lost income?
A. No, it will not. It is only a safety net. As of August 2009, the average SSD benefit amount was $1,064 per month, although you can receive up to a maximum of approximately $2,449 per month, depending on your past earnings. If you have a family, they could receive additional benefits, up to 50 percent of your own monthly benefit amount.
Q. Do I qualify for SSD benefits?
A. You qualify if the SSA determines that you meet its definition of Disability: you have been unable to work at your job or at any other job for at least one full year, and you have worked and paid into the program (mandatory payroll taxes) for five of the last ten years.
Q. What is the SSA’s definition of “Disability”?
A. The SSA will consider five things: whether you are currently working; the severity of your medical condition (mental or physical); if your medical condition is on its “List of Impairments;” your ability to do the work you did before; and your ability to do any other type of work.
Q. When should I apply for disability benefits?
A. As soon as you become disabled. Most people are turned down on their initial application, and it can take up to two years to go through the hearing and appeals process to get your benefits.
Q. Is it difficult to get SSD benefits?
A. Yes. SSA denies about 60 percent of the people filing initial applications.
Q. Do I need to hire an attorney?
A. You can apply without an attorney; however, statistics show that claimants who retain attorneys have a better chance of getting their benefits. Firms like Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys PLLC, which has obtained benefits for more than 15,000 individuals and families, understand the system and can get your case settled in a timely manner.
Q. How will I know if I’ve been denied or awarded benefits?
A. A state agency, the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, will notify you by mail. If you are awarded benefits, the letter that you receive will give you the monthly amount of your benefits and the date they will begin.
Q. What do I do if my application is rejected?
A. If you are not approved at the initial application stage (60 percent of applications are denied at this stage), you go on to the Hearing stage. If you are denied again, then we can appeal to the Appeals Council, and, beyond that, you can file a lawsuit in Federal Court. However, at Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys, we have a high rate of success at the Hearing level.
Q. Should I apply for SSD, Title II benefits or SSI, Title XVI?
A. You should apply for both in case you are turned down.
Q. I got a denial notice three months ago, but I was in the hospital for the last two months. Is it too late to appeal?
A. You generally have 60 days to submit an appeal after receiving a denial notice. However, under certain circumstances the Social Security Administration will accept a late appeal. Some reasons for filing a late appeal are: having a serious illness or being hospitalized during the 60-day appeal time; having limited mental capacity to understand the appeal process; and not having received written notice of the denial. If your reason for appealing late is not accepted as “good cause,” you can still file a new application and request reopening of the prior application. Unfortunately, you will be starting the process over, but the good news is that if your claim is approved and the reopening is granted, your back benefits may extend as far back as they would have with the original application.
Q. Does my age make a difference?
A. Yes. The SSA has four different age categories: 18- 29-year-olds are considered young workers; ages 50 to 54 are “closely approaching” advanced age; 55 to 59 is “advanced age;” and 60- to 64-year-olds are considered closely approaching retirement age.
Q. Does my education level make a difference?
A. Yes. There are four different educational levels: up to sixth grade is considered “marginal;” up to 11th grade is “limited;” a High School Graduate or person with a GED is “High School;” and College is ”more than High School.”
Q. I don’t have a family doctor whom I see regularly. How will the Social Security Administration (SSA) get the medical reports they need for my claim?
A. It is important to see a doctor so that your medical problems can be documented for the Social Security Administration. The more the doctor treats you for your disability-related problems, the better your chances of winning your claim. If you have limited financial resources, you may be able to obtain treatment through one of your local hospital clinics.
Q. My doctor thinks I can work, but I don’t believe that I can because of my problems. Should I switch doctors?
A. You should consider at least consulting with another doctor. It is extremely important for your claim to have your doctor’s support. However, you also have to consider what is best for you medically. You must weigh the possible benefit of switching doctors against any medical risk you might be taking.
Q. Can a child receive disability benefits?
A. There is a specific set of criteria for children; however, children can sometimes receive SSD benefits based on their parent’s earnings record, or they can get SSI if there is no earning record, and some may get a combination of the two.
Q. If I have a significant amount of money in the bank can I still apply, or should I wait until the money is gone?
A. Don’t wait. It doesn’t matter how much you have in the bank. You can also apply if you are receiving or applying for Disabled Widow’s or Widower’s benefits or Disabled Adult Child benefits.
Q. What happens during a Social Security Disability Hearing?
A. The people present will be you, your attorney (if you have one), the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), and a secretary who operates a tape recorder. Your lawyer or the ALJ may also invite a medical professional or vocational expert to testify. Hearings are typically very informal.
Q. What are my chances of winning at the Hearing stage?
A. About 50 percent of claimants are awarded benefits at the hearing level.
Q. If I am awarded benefits and my health improves, can I go back to work?
A. Social Security encourages people to return to work. In fact, Disability Insurance, Disabled Widow’s and Widower’s benefits, and Disabled Adult Child benefits may continue in full for up to a year after you return to work. Should your health deteriorate, you can work for up to three years and return to receiving benefits without having to file a new claim.
Q. What if I was out of work due to disability, but I’ve since returned to work? Can I get benefits for the time I was off?
A. Social Security requires that you be disabled from working for at least a full year in order to collect benefits. (This doesn’t mean you can’t apply before the year is up. But if you do, your doctor has to support your claim that you will be out of work for at least a year due to disability.) If you return to work later, you may still qualify for benefits at least for the period you were off due to disability (minus the five-month waiting period for SSD). This is called a “closed period of benefits.” You might even be able to collect while you are attempting to return to work, depending on circumstances.
Q. How do attorneys get paid, and what is their typical fee?
A. We do not receive a fee unless you are awarded benefits. Then we receive 1/4 of your back benefits, an amount which is limited by the SSA.
Q. Do people who are addicted to either drugs or alcohol qualify for benefits?
A. Congress prohibits Social Security from awarding disability benefits based on addictions; however, people who suffer from other, additional medical conditions and become disabled may be eligible.
Q. I was awarded Workers’ Compensation benefits. Will the Compensation Board’s decision improve my chances of winning Social Security Disability benefits?
A. Winning Workers’ Compensation benefits will have little or no impact on Social Security’s decision to award or deny you Disability benefits. However, if your SSD claim is approved, the amount that you receive could be affected by the amount of your Workers’ Compensation benefit.
Q. I am receiving Social Security Disability. If I take a lump sum settlement from Workers’ Compensation, how will my Social Security benefit be affected?
A. Depending on how the Workers’ Compensation Board structures your lump sum settlement, the Social Security Administration may prorate the amount of your settlement over a specified length of time. Your SSD benefit would then be adjusted as if you were still receiving weekly Workers’ Compensation benefits until the specified length of time expires. If you are in the process of structuring a Workers’ Compensation lump sum settlement, and you are also applying for SSD, consult your attorney about your situation before deciding on the terms of your Workers’ Compensation settlement.
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