How do I know if I qualify for Social Security Disability benefits?
There are different types of Social Security benefits for individuals who are disabled:
Social Security Disability Benefits To qualify, the disabled or blind individual must have paid Social Security taxes to become insured for benefits. The monthly disability benefit amount is based on the Social Security earnings record of the insured worker. The individual will get Medicare coverage automatically after receiving disability benefits for two years.
Supplemental Security Income Benefits To qualify, the disabled or blind adult must have limited income and resources. The monthly benefit is based on need and varies up to the maximum federal benefit rate. The disabled individual is automatically eligible for Medicaid.
Child Supplemental Security Income Benefits To qualify as a child, the parents and the child must have limited income and resources. (A child over age 18 who had a disability that began before the age of 22 may qualify for Social Security Disability from their parent’s record. They must have a parent who is receiving benefits or who is deceased and worked long enough to become insured.)
Disabled Widow or Widower’s Benefits To qualify, you must be over 50 and have become disabled within seven years after your husband or wife died.
How does the Social Security Administration determine whether I am Disabled?
SSA defines Disability as “the 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.”
It is important to understand that SSA considers many different factors when determining whether you are disabled. Your medical evidence is very important, but SSA will also consider your age, past relevant work, educational background and any factors that may affect your ability to perform work. The combination of all of your physical and mental impairments must be assessed when making a determination of disability.
The process can be a long, frustrating and confusing one. You may have to appeal and ultimately take your case to a hearing. Some people become discouraged and give up pursuit of their claim. You may have to prepare to exercise perseverance and patience.
When should I file for Social Security Disability benefits?
Even though the definition requires that the impairment last or be expected to last at least one year, you do not need to wait to file for benefits. If you have become disabled from a serious injury or illness and you do not think you will be able to return to work within the year, you should file as soon as possible. You could lose benefits if you wait to file.
How do I apply for Social Security Disability benefits?
There are several ways you can apply for benefits:
Online: go to www.ssa.gov.
You will want to first review the Disability Checklist. Then you can complete the Disability Benefit Application. There will be additional forms to complete at that time, including the Disability Report and Authorization to Disclose Information to the Social Security Administration. (You cannot apply for SSI online.)
Telephone Appointment: Call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) to schedule an appointment by telephone.
In-Person Application: You can go to your nearest Social Security Office to apply for benefits.
Do I need to hire an attorney to get Social Security benefits?
Many people choose to apply for Social Security Benefits without hiring an attorney. It is important to understand that many people are denied at that first stage and there are strict deadlines for appealing. Attorneys with experience in Social Security law can help claimants with this process.
A qualified attorney can assist you by timely requesting reconsideration, requesting a hearing or appealing your unfavorable decision. In addition, the attorney can help you obtain the evidence that will improve your case by gathering important medical and vocational information, contacting your medical providers to request additional opinion evidence, and ensuring that the record is complete before going to hearing. At the hearing, an experienced attorney can be helpful in properly presenting your case to the administrative law judge. In addition, the attorney can cross-examine the vocational or medical experts called by SSA to testify as witnesses in your case.
If you have received a denial after hearing, and the Appeals Council has denied review of the decision of the administrative law judge, you can still appeal to Federal Court. Only an attorney can appeal your case to the Federal Court. You will want to make sure that the attorney you hire is qualified and experienced in handling Social Security Federal Court Appeals.
What do I do if I cannot afford an attorney?
You do not need to pay an attorney a fee “up front.” Attorneys who practice Social Security law should not charge a fee unless and until they succeed in winning benefits for you or your family. The fee will be no more than 25% of your past due benefits, at a maximum of $6,000.00. (Over time, SSA may increase the amount of the maximum fee.) No fee will be taken out of your ongoing benefits. In addition to fees, you may be required to reimburse your attorney for costs incurred in pursuing your benefits, such as the costs in obtaining medical records.