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1. What is Social Security’s definition of “disabled?”
Simply put, Social Security defines a disability as an inability to work because of a physical or mental impairment that lasts over 12 months or results in death. The impairment, of course, has to be proven by means of medical records and/or testing.
2. How do I apply for benefits?
There are four ways to apply for Social Security: in person at the local Social Security Administration, on the phone, on the internet, or with help from a disability attorney. There are benefits and drawbacks to each one. Applying in person at the Social Security Administration means one-on-one help, but it may take waiting in line for a few hours. Applying on the phone also means one-on-one attention, but you still have to have the forms sent to you and sign them, and call back if you have questions. Applying online is easy and fast, and can be done with an electronic signature, but you will still have to use the phone and mail for correspondence from then on. Applying with the help of a disability law firm means one-on-one help, an opinion on the strength of your case, and your chances of winning are often increased. However, some firms prefer to wait until you have already applied and are denied, so you have to choose a disability firm that will help you from the start.
3. What type of Social Security should I apply for?
There are two major types of disability. The first is Disability Insurance, which is for those who have worked approximately five out of the last ten years but are now disabled. The second, Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, is for disabled individuals, whether they have worked or not. Children may fall under this category. There are also other programs such as Disabled Widows’ and Widows’ Benefits, for those over 50 who are disabled or become disabled within a certain period of time after the spouse’s death, depending on how much the spouse worked during his or her lifetime. Disabled Adult Child Benefits are for children of the deceased or those who receive benefits, if the child is under 22 years old. SSI is the only program that considers current wealth rather than work credits.
4. At what point can I apply for Social Security benefits?
Technically, you can apply the same day you became disabled. In fact, with some applicants waiting months and even years to be approved, you may not want to wait too long. Just remember that the disability must be expected to last at least 12 months, or have already lasted 12 months.
5. Can I still apply if I am receiving Workers Compensation benefits?
Yes, and this is quite common. In most states, your disability benefits are offset by your Workers Compensation benefits, and in other states it is the other way around. In either case, it is very possible that you are entitled to some Social Security benefits in addition to your WC benefits.
6. I don’t have one severe disability–just a combination of minor ones that prevent me from working. Do I still qualify?
This is also common, and Social Security has medical listings that allow for these situations. One example is an applicant with back problems as well as depression. The back problems alone are not enough to qualify, and the depression is not severe enough to qualify, but perhaps the combination can tips the scale. It simply depends on level of severity. If in doubt, it is a good idea to apply, or you can ask Social Security or an attorney for an opinion on your case.
7. How does Social Security make the decision?
They gather medical records and opinions from doctors, and consider them with your age, experience, and other factors. The determination is based on whether you can do your previous job first, and if not, they determine if you can do any other type of work. A vocational expert is sometimes asked to determine which jobs, if any, you can perform.
8. What if my claim is denied?
Appeal, appeal, appeal. Most claims are denied at the initial level, and many at the level after that. It will likely take some time to have your case approved. In the meantime, complete all paperwork completely and on time, and continue to see your doctor frequently, which will provide medical evidence for Social Security to consider. This may also be a good time to get an opinion from a disability attorney to see what your case is missing and how you can make your case stronger.
9. Does my age matter in being considered for Social Security?
Yes, but maybe not as much as you would think. It is true that there are many people age 60 and over who are receiving benefits, but the program is intended for all who cannot work to support themselves. Those who become disabled at an older age have less of a chance to learn a new type of work, so their age becomes a greater factor than with the younger applicants.
10. Does a disability attorney really increase my chances of winning?
Generally, experienced representation increases your chances at every level of the process. Although many applicants successfully win their cases without any help from attorney, there are several reasons to consider hiring one. First, he or she can evaluate the strength of your claim, and will know what the judge or Administration worker will be looking for. The attorney will also know how to present your case at a hearing. Second, he or she will handle most of the paperwork and correspondence with Social Security. And third, as payment the attorney can only ask for a fourth of your back benefits, up to $5300. For example, this means that if, when you are approved, you are found to be owed $20,000 in back pay, the firm gets no more than $5,000. The only exception to this is expenses they may have paid out of pocket, such as medical record fees. For these three reasons, many applicants are turning to disability centers for help with their claims.