Social Security Disability Benefits

Initial Interview

I find that many lawyers allow their legal assistants to complete the interview to determine if the case will be accepted. Kristy and I will both interview you. We have a questionnaire which upon completion will give us the information needed to evaluate your case. The interview can be completed in our office or by phone.

You will need the following information for the initial interview:

  • List of doctors, hospitals, therapy and any other treatment facilities that you have been to for the last 10 years. Include phone numbers and addresses, if possible
  • List of your jobs for the last 15 years including the beginning and ending date for each job
  • List of medications or you may just bring your medications; and
  • If you have already applied for disability, all of the paperwork that you have from SSA.

If your interview is scheduled by phone, just have the information with you at the time of the interview. The initial interview form is available in the contents of this website. You may review the form or actually complete the form. After obtaining all of the information, I will thoroughly discuss all issues involved with your claim. The interview will take about 30 to 45 minutes.


Attorney Fee

You will not owe any fee if I do not win your case. If you are approved, my attorney fee is twenty-five (25%) percent of the back pay. This is provided for by Social Security statute. The maximum fee that I charge is $6,000.00 which is provided by Social Security guidelines. I will request that you refund the cost I spend obtaining medical records for your case. The Social Security Administration can obtain your records at no cost to you. However, my office will need to obtain the medical records that Social Security does not obtain. The cost to obtain medical records will usually not exceed $200.00.

Also, I will have a minimum fee should your case be approved and the judge or SSA not grant enough back pay. I will discuss the minimum fee during your initial interview. The fee also applies to any back benefits that your children may receive.

  • No Fee for initial interview
  • No Fee unless I win your case
  • Fee is 25% of back pay if I win your case, and
  • Costs for getting records from medical providers must be refunded to me even if we lose your case.


Types of Benefits

Defining Disability

In order to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you must be determined legally disabled. By law, Social Security has a very strict definition of who is considered disabled. To be found disabled:

  • You must be unable to do any substantial work because of your medical condition(s); and
  • Your medical condition(s) must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least 1 year, or be expected to result in your death.

For your child to be found disabled:

  • The child must have a physical or mental condition(s) that very seriously limits his or her activities; and
  • The child's medical condition(s) must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least 1 year or result in death.

Social Security Disability Insured (SSDI)

Since 1956, SSDI has been an effective social security insurance program that helps individuals whose physical or mental disabilities are so severe that they cannot work. The inability to work, along with extraordinary disability-related expenses, can make meeting basic financial needs nearly impossible.

Key Facts

  • More that 8 million American workers depend on SSDI for life-sustaining funds
  • Funded from payroll taxes as established by the Federal Insurance Contributions Act, SSDI requires individuals to have contributed payroll taxes to be eligible (Payroll taxes that are withheld from your checks while you are working)
  • Individuals must meet specific requirements for disability benefits
  • Disabled Adult Children, and disabled widows and widowers can receive disability benefits
  • Children and spouses can receive auxiliary benefits on a disabled wage earner's account; and
  • Average benefits are modest: Individuals average $1,132 a month or about $13,584 a year. For a family the average is $1,919 a month.

By keeping this program strong for people who have paid into the system, it prevents serious burdens such as homelessness brought on by foreclosures, evictions and bankruptcies.

Supplement Security Income (SSI)

If you are poor enough, you can qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if you are disabled, even if you have never worked in the past.

Signed into law by President Nixon in 1972, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) works with Social Security to protect low-income seniors and people with severe disabilities. The modest income support from SSI gives seniors and people with disabilities who have limited income and resources the ability to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, and pay for needed, often life-sustaining medications.

Key Facts

  • SSI provides vital income support to more than 8 million Americans - including 1.2 million children with severe disabilities
  • There are strict requirements to qualify for SSI. Assistance is reserved for people who are blind; age 65 or older; or have a severe disability - and who meet very strict income and asset limits.
  • Benefits for SSI are extremely modest with monthly benefits of about $700.00 at this time.

Widow or Widower Benefits

Benefits may be payable to a widow or widower with a disability if he or she meets all of the following requirements:

  • The widow or widower meets the definition of disability for adults.
  • The widow or widower is between ages 50 and 60;
  • The disability started before the working spouse's death or within seven years after death.
  • The deceased must have paid in social security taxes and earned enough credits; and
  • Parties must have been married 10 years or more even if divorced at the time of death.

Disabled Adult Child Benefits

It is also possible to quality for Disabled Adult Child benefits on the account of a parent if you became disabled provided the following requirements are met:

  • Must qualify for disability under the same rules as adults; and
  • The adult child must be determined disabled before the age of 22.
  • One parent must be deceased or receiving retirement or disability benefits.
  • Parent must have sufficient Social Security earnings record.
  • The adult child must be unmarried, age 18 or older and disabled before age 22.


Application Process

Applying for Social Security siability benefits can be a difficult process. While a person can apply on their own, I find that most people become very frustrated with the long process and paperwork. My office will assist you with completion of all the forms and paperwork.

Application Steps

Apply immediately if you have become disabled and expect to be disabled for more than a year.

There are three ways that you can apply for disability as follows:

  • Online - My office will assist you with the application process online.
  • In Person - at your local SSA Office. If you wish to apply in person, my office will assist you in locating the most convenient SSA office for you.
  • By Phone - You may apply by phone also. If you apply by phone, you must make the first call to the Social Security Administration to start your application process. Thereafter, my office will assist you with completing all the forms and lead you through the process.

Initial Application Phase

After filing the application, the Social Security Administration will make the initial decision on your case. This generally occurs within about four months. Almost always your claim will be denied at this point.

Reconsideration Phase

In most areas, the next step is the reconsideration phase. This decision is usually made within another four months. Generally claims are also denied at this phase of your application.

Request for Hearing

The next step is to request a hearing before a Social Security Judge. If your claim is approved it will generally be approved at this phase of the process.

If the Judge does not approve your case, you have other options of appeal etc. (The denial options are explained in the "Judge Denial".)

The time period from your initial claim being filed until the hearing with Judge varies greatly with each office. However, a general timeframe is from 1.5 - 2.5 years.


Amount of Benefits

Social Security Disability Insured Benefits (SSDI)

Assuming the Judge determines you are disabled and you have enough credits, you will receive SSDI. The amount of your back pay and monthly check depends on how much you have worked and earned in the past. During the time you worked, the government collected social security taxes from your checks and your employer paid benefits. You earned credits from those taxes paid and that determines the amount of benefits. However, your credits generally run out about five years after you are unable to work. Therefore, it is to your advantage to apply for disability as soon as possible after you are unable to work. Under SSDI, the average benefits for an individual is about $1,100. For a family, the average is about $1,900.

Supplemental Security Income Benefits (SSI)

Assuming the Judge determines you are disabled and even if you do not have any earned credits from your prior work to qualify for SSDI, you may still be eligible for SSI benefits. SSI is based on financial need. In general, you cannot have property valued over Two Thousand and No/100ths Dollars ($2,000.00) excluding the value of your home. Also, you cannot qualify for SSI if you have over a certain amount of household income. Household income includes the income of all people living in the home. Generally, a couple cannot have over about One Thousand One Hundred and No/100ths Dollars ($1,100.00) per month income. This amount is increased for children in the home and other factors. The amount of benefits may be reduced based on income of the household and depending on the number of children in the household and living arrangements.

Children under the age of 18 may qualify for SSI benefits, if determined disabled. However, the financial need requirements applies. Under SSI, the maximum benefit for 2013 is $710 per month for an individual, but the typical beneficiary receives less. Benefits average $527 per month for an individual, a little more that $17 per day.

Widow's or widower's benefits

For disabled widow's and widower's benefits, the amount depends upon how much the late husband or wife worked and earned.

Adult child benefits

For disabled adult child benefits, the amount depends upon how much the parent worked and earned.


Hearing with Judge

Questions about Judge

Most claims are denied throughout the process until your hearing with the Social Security Disability Judge. The Disability Judge is a federal judge that only hears disability cases. Therefore, the judge will not be from your local courthouse. His(Her) office is generally located in the hearing office for the Social Security Administration. Since the judge only hears disability cases, he(she) will have a general format for the hearing. You should know the name of your judge before the hearing. It may be that I have had hearings previously before your judge. This may allow me to help you prepare for the particular hearing. However, each judge will ask the same general questions. I always advise clients to just tell the judge the health problems you have and why you cannot work. The judge is not attempting to trick you. I advise all clients to answer his/her questions with 2 or 3 sentence answers. The Judge will ask more questions about the issue if he wants more details. Always be truthful.

Informal Hearing

The hearing will be very informal compared to the court cases that you have seen on TV. You will go into a room about the size of a large conference room which is about 15 x 20 feet. The judge will generally sit at a desk at one end of a long table and you will sit at the other end of the table. I will sit beside you. The court reporter will generally sit close to the other end of the table with the judge. In most cases, a vocational expert will also be in the room. The vocational expert is someone that may answer questions concerning jobs he/she believes that you can perform. Therefore, generally only five people will be in the hearing room including you, the judge, the court reporter, the vocational expert and myself. A microphone will be located in front of you for recording the hearing. It will not amplify your voice. So make sure to speak up.

Witnesses

I am often asked if a family member or friend may be in the hearing room. The judge will generally not allow this. Most of the time, the notice that advises you the date of the hearing will indicate for you to bring a witness. However, I find that almost all judges do not wish to hear any testimony from anyone other than you.

Length of Hearing

Your hearing will last about thirty minutes to one hour. I find that many of you are concerned that this is such a short time to make a decision that so drastically affects your life. Yet you must consider the heavy case load that each judge must handle. The judge will have reviewed your file before the hearing and you will be surprised with the knowledge he(she) has of your medical records. I think you will find this sufficient time for a judge to make a decision on your case.

Video Hearing

Many hearings are held by video. A video hearing is done with the judge at another location. You would be able to see the judge on a screen and the judge will be able to see you on a screen. At this time, a claimant may object to a video hearing. Unless objecting to the video hearing will seriously delay the hearing, I always object to video hearings. I feel that an "in person" hearing with the judge just allows for more interaction and is more convenient for last minute medical records for your file.


Judge Denial and Appeal

If you are denied by the Social Security Judge, you have the right to appeal to the Appeals Council with the Social Security Administration. The Appeals Council is a panel of SSA Judges that reviews the decision of the Judge. They will not have a new hearing that you will attend. They only review the record and your file. The Council may reverse the denial of your claim. They practically never overturn the Judges denial. However, at times they will send your case back to the Judge if they think more information is needed. Yet, they seldom even send the case back to the Judge.

If you disagree with the decision made by the Appeals Council, you can file a civil action suit in the United States District Court, and then appeal to the Circuit Court. A Social Security disability claim could go all the way to the Supreme Court. Every one or two years, the United States Supreme Court hears an appeal involving a Social Security disability case.

The appeals process is a long and lengthy process which may take a year or more just for the appeals process not including any suit filed. Unless your insured date expires, I almost always advise clients to just file another application and identify things that can be done to increase your chance for approval. This may also involve you attempting to work or going to a doctor that is a specialist.


Medical Coverage

You will be eligible for medical coverage insurance (Medicare) if you are approved for disability. If you are approved for insured benefits, you will be eligible two years and five months after the date you are determined disabled. The eligible date is not from the date of the hearing, but the date the judge determines you actually become disabled. If you are approved for SSI, you will be eligible for medical coverage two years from the date you are determined disabled. Your children may also be eligible for medical coverage.


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