If a disability or medical condition leaves you unable to work, social security disability benefits can be a lifeline. Disability benefits replace a portion of your lost income and provide a measure of relief from the financial uncertainties that come with being unable to work.
Whether your disability is disabling enough to qualify for disability benefits depends on whether it meets the criteria outlined in the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Blue Book. The Blue Book contains more than 100 medical conditions the SSA considers severe enough to warrant payment of benefits, provided an applicant meets those stringent criteria.
Those criteria, however, are written in complex medical terms that can leave many people feeling confused. The application process itself is also time-consuming, requiring you to complete multiple forms and collect and submit all medical records that can support your disability claim. All of this can leave people feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and wondering whether applying is worth their time.
For this reason, it’s wise to seek the assistance of a social security attorney. While you can apply for social security disability benefits on your own – which many people do – having an experienced attorney on your side greatly increases the chance that your application will be approved. Here’s how.
Avoid technical denials
Most SSD benefits applications are rejected for technical reasons that have nothing to do with your disability status.
Eligibility for disability benefits requires more than simply having a recognized disability. To be eligible for disability benefits, the disability must last, or be expected to last, 12 months or longer or to result in your death. It must also interfere with your ability to work – specifically, it must prevent you from earning more than $1,260 per month, known as substantial gainful activity, or SGA. You can meet each of the SSA’s criteria for your specific disability, but your application will be denied if you earn more than the SGA amount.
Eligibility also requires that you have earned sufficient work credits, and that you worked recently enough.
While a social security lawyer can’t help you win benefits if you don’t meet the income or work credit requirements, meeting with one will save you the time and trouble of submitting an application that will be rejected based on technical reasons. And long-term, a meeting will help you be prepared to apply when you meet the remaining criteria.
Ensure the SSD application is submitted correctly
The majority of social security disability benefits applications are denied at the initial application phase. Many of those denials have nothing to do with whether the applicant is disabled or has sufficient work creds. Instead, the denials are due to simple clerical errors – an applicant failed to submit all of the required paperwork, completed the forms incorrectly, or missed a deadline.
Because the SSA is a federal government agency, applying for social security disability benefits means rules, regulations, and strict deadlines. These requirements become even more stringent as the process progresses, for example if you appeal your denial to an administrative law judge. Because social security lawyers deal with these claims every day, they understand the rules and have processes in place in their office to ensure the appropriate paperwork and medical evidence is submitted correctly and on time.
Prepare for appeals
If the SSA denies your disability benefits application, you have the option to file an appeal. There are four levels of appeal:
- Reconsideration. During a reconsideration review, a new disability examiner conducts a second review of your application. Because this is essentially the same as the initial review, the vast majority of these appeals are denied.
- Administrative hearing. An administrative hearing is held before an administrative law judge. You are allowed to give testimony regarding your medical condition and its impact on your ability to work. The administrative law judge (ALJ) and the SSA’s attorney may also ask you questions about your medical condition, how it affects you and your ability to work, and anything else in your medical history. Though held before a judge, administrative hearings are less formal than traditional court proceedings.
- Appeals Council Review. The Appeals Council is comprised of administrative appeals judges, appeals officers, and support personnel. The Appeals Council will either grant, deny, or dismiss the request for review; if it grants the request, the Council can make a decision regarding benefits on its own or it will remand (send back) the case to the ALJ for a new hearing.
- Federal Court appeals. The final stage in the appeals process is an appeal to Federal District Court. This is an actual, formal, court proceeding that follows traditional court rules.
Having a social security attorney on your side during the appeals process, particularly starting at the administrative hearing level, can greatly increase your chances of winning disability benefits. Testifying in front of a judge, even during a semi-informal process like an administrative law hearing, can be intimidating. Many people tend to share irrelevant information or talk too much, thinking that the more they share, the greater the chance that the judge will approve their application.
However, in most cases this has the opposite effect. Without an attorney to keep them on track, many people inadvertently say something that hurts their case – for example, minimizing the disability’s impact on their ability to work due to pride or saying they are not currently in treatment without also explaining the reasons why treatment was stopped.
A social security attorney can help avoid these potential pitfalls by helping prepare you ahead of time for the questions the ALJ or SSA attorney may ask. Practicing your testimony ahead of time will not only help you feel more comfortable when testifying at the hearing, but will also ensure you don’t inadvertently say – or fail to say – something that will hurt your case. A social security attorney also knows the type of medical evidence that will best prove your case and, if it isn’t already included in your medical file, knows how to elicit it from your doctor. All of this can greatly increase the chance that the ALJ or appeals officer approves your disability benefits claim.
An experienced social security disability attorney can help you navigate the process and gather the appropriate information to best support your disability claim. Consider the Good Law Group for your representation – call (847) 577-4476.