1. How does Social Security define disability?
SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY FAQs
A disabled person is someone who is unable to work at all or can only work at a very minimal level due to a mental or physical impairment. This physical or mental impairment must have been severe for at least a year or be expected to last that long.
2. What is the difference between “Social Security (SS) Disability Benefits” and “Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Disability Benefits”?
Both are benefits paid to disabled people by Social Security.
As a general rule, the SS Disability Benefits are paid to disabled people who have worked at least five of the last ten years. These folks have paid into the system through payroll taxes which operate as a sort of insurance premium. As a result, they are entitled to a monthly benefit based on the amount paid in.
SSI Benefits are paid to disabled people whose SS monthly benefit is very low or who aren’t entitled to SS benefits because they did not contribute enough through payroll taxes. SSI benefits are paid based on need so only very low income people can get it.
3. How do I apply for Social Security benefits?
You can start the application by calling the toll-free Social Security number, 1-800-772-1213.
It is an automated system so you will need to listen carefully and follow the prompts until you finally reach a person who will take down important information about you and schedule a phone interview to gather the rest of the information. The application and other forms will be completed and mailed to you for your review and signature.
In the alternative, you can go into your local Social Security office and complete all of the paperwork at one time. You should be prepared to provide information about what type of work you have been doing for the last 15 years and where you have received medical treatment for the last couple of years. However, the wait at the Social Security office can be an hour or more.
4. How much Social Security will I get if I am approved?
This depends on how much you paid in through payroll taxes while you were working. The more money you paid in, the higher the benefit.
5. I was denied benefits by Social Security, what do I do now?
If you believe that you cannot work because of your disability, you should appeal the denial. The denial gives instructions on how to do this. You generally have 65 days from the date of the denial to appeal. Contact an attorney or your local Social Security office to get the appeal forms.
6. I know someone else who got benefits quickly and I don’t think he is half as disabled as I am, how can that be?
Many disabilities are not immediately apparent to the eye, like heart problems or mental disorders. If this person has medical records and other evidence that document a severe health problem that prevents work, then he or she is entitled to the benefits.
7. Why is the process taking so long?
Social Security is a large government bureaucracy that serves millions of people. Unfortunately it does not receive enough funding to effectively evaluate all of the claims that come before it in a timely manner. The problem has gotten worse in recent years due to budget crunches. Thousands of people are currently waiting for hearing dates in the Kansas City area and the wait can be anywhere from six months to 24 months. It is a terrible situation that has caused a lot of hardship to claimants.
8. I can’t work, why wasn’t I approved when I first applied?
Some types of disabilities are easier to prove because the medical records can clearly show how severe the condition is based on blood tests or x-rays or other medical tests. However, most people who get denied at the initial level have medical problems that are not clearly disabling based on medical records. For example, it can be difficult to prove that back pain is disabling at the initial level because there is no objective way to measure pain. It can be the same with diagnoses of mental illnesses. The severity cannot be objectively measured using a medical test.
9. Do I need an attorney?
If you are having difficulty with the paperwork or have been denied benefits, the answer is yes. Frequently claimants are overwhelmed already with trying to deal with their illness and their financial situation, the additional pressure of completing forms and meeting deadlines can be too much.
An attorney can help you with forms as necessary and make sure everything gets filed. If you have been denied, then it is likely that your medical records alone will not prove your case and more is needed.
An attorney can figure out what else is needed and help you get it. Sometimes it’s a letter from your doctor. Sometimes it is a more complete record of medical treatment. If you are facing a hearing, then an attorney can help you be prepared to present the best case possible to the judge.
10. I can barely pay my bills, how can I pay an attorney?
We can represent you under a contingent fee agreement with no money up front. That means we will not get a fee unless you are approved for benefits. If you are approved for benefits, Social Security will withhold 25% of your past due benefits as the attorney fee and pay it directly to our office. This is the system that Social Security has established and they approve the fee before it is paid to the attorney.
11. If I get a job, will it affect my Social Security claim?
It depends. If you think you can work, then you should give it a try. If you are able to return to work at a job where you earn more than $800 per month and you can keep the job for over six months, then you are probably not disabled according to Social Security. However, if you cannot earn over $800 per month or if you have to quit the job because of your disability in less than six months, then the job will not count against you in your claim.
12. Can I apply for benefits while I’m still working?
Yes. However, if you are still working and earning over $800 per month, you likely will not be found to be disabled according to Social Security rules. If you think you will not be able to keep it up for much longer though, you can start the application process while you are still working. Many folks would like to make a smooth transition from earning a paycheck to getting a Social Security check but it can be difficult the way the program is structured.