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Remember that each individual claim is different, and this information should not be considered as a complete explanation. Click on a question below to see the answer. Many of the questions you have will likely be answered in your free consultation with Helen Zane.

Q. Am I eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits?

A. If you've worked most of your life and are disabled, you are most likely going to meet the Social Security disability eligibility requirements. You must have worked ten years in your lifetime and five years out of the last ten at the time you became disabled for SSDI eligibility. Disability-insured workers must have earned at least 20 Quarter-of-Coverage “credits” during the last 10 years. If you are under the age of 31, there are different standards if you have not worked a full ten years. 

Q. Am I eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits?

A. If you are poor enough and disabled, you can qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), even if you have never worked in the past. For SSI benefits, there is a maximum income limit, and there is a limit on the amount of assets that you are permitted.

Q. How long do I have to wait after becoming disabled before I can file for Social Security disability benefits?

A. You can file for Social Security disability benefits on the same day that you become disabled. If you are suffering a serious illness or injury and expect to be out of work for a year or more, you should not delay in filing a claim for Social Security disability benefits. There is no need to wait months or years before applying for benefits, and it would most likely be a mistake to wait. However, there is no reason to file a Social Security disability claim if one has only a minor illness or an illness which is unlikely to last a year or more.

Q. What is the definition of disability?

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." In order to be found disabled, you must be unable to perform a full-time job in a regular competitive work environment due to a physical or psychiatric problem or a combination of physical and psychiatric problems that a doctor feels prohibits your ability to work. The test is not whether or not you can do the job you did but whether, considering your age, education and work history, you would be able to perform any job that exists in the national economy on a full-time basis. There are special Social Security regulations which take into account that claimants over the age of 50 are considered to be less adaptable, so eligibility for Social Security Disability benefits is generally more lenient to those who are over 50 and more strict for those under 50.

Q. Do I need to have a doctor to be found disabled?

A. There must be medical evidence in order for the Social Security Administration to make a finding of “disabled”. It’s very important that you are under medical supervision, and that your medical providers adequately document your condition and treatment. Social Security may send you to a doctor of their choosing to do an evaluation. In order to obtain Social Security Disability benefits, a doctor must essentially state that you are disabled "by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory findings". Unfortunately, many genuinely disabling conditions are difficult to diagnose by objective testing. In cases like that, an attorney can help to present your doctor's reports properly, and to convince the government that you deserve your benefits.

Q. I am disabled by mental illness. Can mental illness serve as the basis for a Social Security disability claim?

A. Yes. Mental illness is a frequent basis for awarding Social Security disability benefits.

Q. How far back will they pay benefits if I am found disabled?

A. For Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (SSDI), there is a five month “waiting period”, so the benefits cannot begin until a full five calendar months have passed after you become disabled. In addition, benefits will not be paid more than one year prior to the date of the application. For Supplemental Security Income (SSI), there is no five month “waiting period” but benefits will not be paid prior to the start of the month following the date of the application.

Q. Can I get both worker's compensation and Social Security disability benefits?

A. If you are receiving Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits, your Social Security benefit amount will not be affected by your worker’s compensation benefits. In most cases, if you are receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI), your benefits amount will be reduced/offset by the amount of worker's compensation benefits paid.

Q. I’m presently collecting early retirement. Does being disabled entitle me to collect Security Disability Benefits and/or SSI?

A. If it can be proven that you became disabled before you elected to retire, then you could be eligible to collect a differential between your retirement benefits and SSDI and/or SSI benefits.

Q. What do I do if Social Security denies my claim for Social Security disability benefits?

A. First, do not be surprised. The vast majority of Social Security disability claims are denied at the initial level. If you are denied at the initial level, unless you have already returned to work or expect to return to work in the near future, you should appeal. Second, if you don’t already have an attorney, it is certainly best to obtain one to assist you in your appeal. Contact us immediately, because an appeal must be filed within 60 days of the date on your denial notice. If you are late in filing your appeal, you may lose the right to appeal unless you can prove good cause for the late filing. Let us worry about getting your paperwork in on time!

Q. How long does it take to get a decision on my initial application?

A. Expect that it will take approximately 4 months to get a notice of decision.

Q. How long will it take to get a decision on my request for reconsideration?

A. Expect that it will take 3-4 months to get a notice of decision.

Q. How long will it take to get a hearing in front of judge?

A. There is unfortunately a very long backlog. Once a Request for Hearing is filed, it may be a year or longer to get a hearing.

Q. How does having an attorney help me win my Social Security Disability and/or SSI claim?

A. Statistically, claimants that are represented by an attorney are much more likely to win their claim. An experienced attorney knows what proof the Social Security and SSI disability system requires and is able to develop the legal strategy to present that proof in a way that will support your claim. Using an attorney eliminates both the necessity of waiting in long government lines and the chance that a government clerk’s incorrect notation on your condition will jeopardize your claim.

Q. What would my Social Security Disability attorney to do represent me?

A. Every case and every client is different, so the role that your attorney will play is very much dependent on the strengths and challenges associated with your situation. Depending on where you are in the process, your attorney may assist you in your application for disability and submit your application. After the initial applications, your attorney may need to file subsequent appeals, obtain documents from your Social Security file, ask that a prior application for benefits be reopened and analyze your case under Social Security regulations. Your attorney will most likely be actively involved in gathering and reviewing medical and other evidence, obtaining statements from doctors regarding your health, and may contact your doctor and explain Social Security regulations to obtain a report consistent with those regulations. If you are required to go to a hearing, your attorney will prepare legal briefs to submit to the judge, advise you on how best to prepare yourself to testify at your hearing. During your hearing and while your case is pending, your attorney will protect your right to a fair hearing by objecting to improper evidence and procedures while making persuasive legal arguments to the judges regarding approving your disability claim and paying your case. After your hearing, your attorney may even draft a decision for the judge, if asked to do so.