Those filing for Social Security disability benefits for the first time may find the process overwhelming—but it doesn’t need to be.
When you become disabled and are transitioning away from the workforce, this major life event requires much consideration. It can, understandably, be stressful and take time to adjust.
Yet it may be helpful to know you aren’t alone.
An estimated 65 million people will receive over a trillion dollars in Social Security in 2020, according to The Social Security Administration (SSA). Many more will have applied for benefits and been denied, or they are still in the early stages of their cases.
Maybe you haven’t applied for your benefits yet. If so, don’t worry. Every claimant has had to start from exactly where you are now: the beginning.
The right Social Security disability attorney can guide you through each step of the way and maximize your chances of winning your benefits.
Here are the basic steps for applying for Social Security benefits:
- SSDI or SSI? Which Is Right for You?
- Applying: Where and How
- You Were Denied. Now What?
- Why You Should Call a Social Security Disability Attorney
SSDI or SSI? Which Is Right for You?
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are both disability benefits programs administered by the SSA. Whether your disability medically qualifies you for benefits is determined the same way for both programs.
You must either:
- Meet one of the SSA’s strict disability listings, or
- Use medical evidence to prove you can’t work in the U.S. economy, based on “Residual Functional Capacity” (RFC)
However, these programs are different in many ways, and it’s important to know which is appropriate for your claim.
SSDI is an earned benefit when you acquire work credits. You get work credits, or “quarters,” when you earn employment or self-employment income. You can receive a total of four quarters each year.
According to the SSA, to qualify for SSDI: “Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years, ending with the year you become disabled.”
SSI is a needs-based benefits program for those who are 65 years old or older, blind, or disabled, as well as blind or disabled children. It’s for those with little or no income to cover necessities such as food, shelter, clothing, and medicine.
To qualify, you must meet these criteria:
- For 2020, make no more than $1,260 per month for non-blind persons (known as Substantial Gainful Activity, or SGA). Other forms of income or assets may also be considered to determine eligibility. Discuss your SGA requirements with your disability lawyer.
- Be able to medically prove a physical or psychological disorder which causes more than a minimal impact on your ability to work.
- Be either a U.S. citizen or meet very narrow requirements based on your permanent residency, military service, or political asylum-seeker or refugee status.
Applying: Where and How
There are several methods of applying for SSDI or SSI benefits. Most people prefer to apply directly on the SSA website.
This is the easiest and fastest method, and the process is secure.
However, the SSA offers several other ways to apply:
- Call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778)
- Visit or call your local Social Security field office.
To apply, you must be: 18 or older; not currently receiving Social Security benefits; unable to work due to a medical condition that will last at least 12 months or result in death; not denied disability benefits in the last 60 days.
During the application process, you will be asked to provide:
- Personal information – name, date of birth, Social Security number, family information, and banking information.
- Medical information – detailed information about your medical illnesses, injuries, or conditions, including medical records and contact information from doctors, a list of current medications, hospitalizations, treatments, imaging and testing, and written doctors’ opinions showing your disability prevents you from working in the U.S. economy.
- Work information – detailed information about your employment history. A few examples of what the SSA will ask for include:
o Your earned income last year and this year
o Information about your most recent employers
o A list of up to 5 jobs you’ve held in the past 15 years before you became unable to work
o U.S. military service information, if applicable
You Were Denied. Now What?
If your initial Social Security benefits claim is denied, step one is not to panic. Being denied happens to the vast majority of benefits applicants.
The next step is to appeal this decision. Appeals must be made typically within 60 days of a claim denial and may involve scheduling and attending hearings.
The stages of appeal include:
- Reconsideration by the SSA
- A hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
- Reconsideration by the Appeals Council
- Federal court
Statistically, you are most likely to win your benefits when you have a hearing with an ALJ.
Why You Should Call a Social Security Disability Attorney
For Social Security disability cases, you typically aren’t required to pay an upfront attorney’s fee. Your attorney will collect a federal regulated percentage of your initial earnings – if you win your case. If you don’t win your benefits, you will not owe a fee.
Thus, it can be crucial to consult an attorney early about your case. They can guide you through the application process and the SSA’s expectations, such as medical evidence, income information, and other documents or information you might need.
They can also help you prepare for appeals hearings and advocate on your behalf during these hearings.
In extremely specific situations, they may be able to help expedite your case – such as in cases of dire need, terminal illness, or those who are disabled Military Veterans.
A qualified attorney will be able to answer any questions you might have and ensure you know exactly what to expect throughout each stage of your case.
If your Social Security claim has been denied, or you’re thinking about filing and don’t know where to start, Affleck and Gordon can help. We’ve been helping people in Georgia just like you for over 40 years. Sign up for a free case evaluation here, or call us (404) 990-3945.