SSD benefits application

Qualifying for social security disability (SSD) benefits isn’t easy. In 2020, slightly less than half – 45.22% – of all SSD applications were approved; that means 54.78% of people who applied for SSD benefits didn’t receive them. Approval rates are slightly higher in Illinois, at 49.6%, but still, one-half of applicants don’t get the benefits they need.

There are many reasons why an SSD application may be denied:

  • Technical denials: These denials occur when you can perform substantial gainful activity or you have insufficient work credits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn’t even consider whether your medical condition qualifies as a disability, because you failed to meet basic eligibility requirements.
  • Lack of medical evidence: This means that the medical records you submitted don’t support your claim of disability. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the SSA doesn’t think you’re disabled; it simply means that they cannot decide based on the information you provided.
  • Lack of a qualifying disability: The SSA Blue Book contains more than 100 medical conditions it considers disabling. Each listing includes criteria that must be met before the SSA will approve an application. Often, an applicant’s medical condition doesn’t support a disability finding.

One often overlooked reason that SSD applications are denied has little to do with the extent of the disability. Instead, these applications are denied because the applicant chose to represent themselves, rather than hire a social security disability attorney. While hiring a disability attorney isn’t required, doing so can vastly improve the chances that you are approved for benefits. That’s because social security disability attorneys are knowledgeable about SSA regulations, have experience handling SSD claims, and understand not just what information is needed for the SSA to properly evaluate your disability claim, but the best way to present it as well.

Properly presenting your disability claim

As discussed above, the SSA often denies disability benefits applications for reasons that have nothing to do with your disability, and everything to do with what you failed to include in your application. For example, many applicants don’t realize that they should submit medical records when they apply for benefits. Instead, they think the SSA will request those records from their doctor. But claims examiners are extremely busy and may overlook important records or may not follow up with physicians who don’t respond to their requests. This can ultimately lead to your application being wrongly denied.

A social security disability attorney understands what medical evidence will best support your claim. This may include evaluations from treating physicians and specialists, X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and other imaging records, medication history, and therapist notes. A disability attorney can also get your doctor to provide information not often included in medical records, such as how the disability affects your ability to perform work-related tasks, in a medical source statement.

Sometimes your disability or medical condition, by itself, may not be severe enough to meet the SSA’s criteria for that particular listing. In these cases, a social security disability attorney will review your entire medical history and see if the combined effect of all your conditions are disabling enough to qualify for SSD benefits. For example, you may have diagnoses of anxiety, depression, and kidney disease. Individually, these conditions may not meet the applicable SSA criteria. Taken together, however, the effects may be disabling enough to qualify for SSD benefits.

If there are other potential problems with your application, such as you have insufficient work credits or your earnings are too high, a disability attorney can help you understand the requirements and/or confirm that your work history and earnings are being accurately reported.

The SSD appeals process

If the SSA denies your benefits application, all is not lost. The SSA has a three-level appeals process for applicants who believe they were wrongly denied benefits – reconsideration, an administrative hearing, and a hearing before the Appeals Council.

A social security disability attorney can help with every stage of the process.

Once you receive notice that your benefits application was denied, you have just 60 days to file for reconsideration, the first phase of the appeals process. If you miss this deadline, you will have to begin the entire SSD application process over. Disability attorneys are aware of these deadlines and can ensure your reconsideration paperwork is submitted on time.

Most applications for reconsideration are denied, which means you’ll have to request a hearing before an administrative law judge. You are much more likely to have your benefits application approved following an administrative hearing. However, your chances will increase even further if you have a disability attorney representing you. Though the administrative hearing is less formal than a court trial, you must still answer questions from the administrative law judge about your disability, your work history, and how the disability interferes with your ability to perform work-related tasks. A vocational expert hired by the SSA – and who is therefore not looking out for your best interests – will also testify regarding what work you can still perform despite your disability.

A disability attorney is extremely helpful during an administrative hearing. Most people won’t know how to successfully challenge the vocational expert’s recommendations. Applicants are often so nervous during the hearing that they provide too much information when questioned by the judge or share information that doesn’t help their case. All of this can result in the judge denying their benefits application.

A disability attorney’s experience can be the difference between application approval or denial. Their experience means they know how to challenge a vocational expert’s findings, know how to best present the medical evidence, and know what questions the judge is likely to ask during the hearing. This allows them to explain the process to you ahead of time, even holding mock hearings so that you can become more comfortable answering questions before the judge.

Roughly half of all applications that are heard by an administrative law judge are approved following the hearing. If the application is still denied, you can file an appeal with the Appeals Council or, if that is denied, file a claim in federal court. A social security disability attorney can help with these appeals as well.

The Good Law Group offers a free, initial consultation to evaluate your disability claim. And we only collect payment if you are awarded benefits. Call us at 800-419-7606 to schedule a consultation.