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Social Security Disability: Common Questions

Frequently asked questions about Social Security Disability


  • What are Social Security Disability benefits? 

    Social Security Disability benefits are received from the Social Security Administration by disabled workers (and in some cases their dependents as well), similar to the benefits received by retired workers. 
  • Who qualifies for Disability benefits? 

    To qualify for benefits under the Social Security Disability program, you must have a physical disability or mental health problem (or a combination of problems) that is severe enough to prevent you from working at any regular paying job for at least one year.

    The test isn't simply whether or not you are able to go back to your old job, nor whether or not you have been able to find a job lately.

    The test is whether you are capable of doing any job available in the national economy. By using a huge set of rules and regulations, the Social Security Administration takes into account your medical condition, your age, your abilities, your training, and your work experience when deciding your case. 
  • What happens if I am found eligible for Social Security Disability benefits?

    If you are found eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, you'll receive retroactive benefits starting 5 full months after you became disabled, but only for a maximum of 12 months before you applied for the Disability benefits. See the information below concerning the duration and amount.
  • How much money will I receive if I'm approved for Disability?

    A disabled claimant will receive the same monthly benefit amount that he/she would receive had he/she retired at full retirement age. The sum of money received depends on the claimant's previous work record. 
  • How long will I be able to receive my Social Security Disability checks?

    You will receive Social Security Disability benefit checks as long as you remain disabled and unable to work. Your benefits will never run out simply because you didn't contribute enough into the Social Security system while you were working. 
  • When should I apply for Social Security Disability benefits?

    You should apply for Social Security Disability benefits right away after you become disabled and unable to work. You do not need to wait a year to apply! Your disability need only be expected to last for at least one year or to result in your passing. 
  • What is the procedure for applying for Social Security Disability benefits?

    You can fill out a Social Security Disability benefits application at your local Social Security office or by telephone. You can get the address and telephone number of your local Social Security office by calling 1-800-772-1213.

    When applying, you must be prepared to give Social Security a list of the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of all the doctors, hospitals, or clinics who have treated you for your disabling condition. You also need to bring along a list of all the places where you have worked in the past 15 years. 

    You must also provide Social Security with an original or certified copy of your birth certificate, your last earnings documents (W-2, last pay stub, etc.), and copies (keep the originals) of any medical records you may be able to get your hands on. 

    Be aware, however, that you shouldn't delay filing for Disability benefits just because all documents aren't immediately available.
  • What can I do if my application for Disability benefits is denied?

    File an appeal! Many Social Security applicants become disheartened and frustrated after they receive a disability benefits denial notice and don't bother to appeal. This is quite often a mistake.

    Nationally, about 3/4 of all applicants are denied initially and about 9 out of 10 are denied at the first appeal stage: Reconsideration. But many of these same people ultimately receive their benefits, about 70% nationally! 

    What is often very frustrating about applying for Social Security Disability benefits is the process itself. Those who apply are often made to feel like they are asking for something that they don't deserve, and nothing could be further from the truth.

    Social Security Disability is not a welfare program. These benefits are paid for by you and were intended to act as a financial buffer in case you or a family member became seriously ill or injured. Therefore, if you're unable to work, but you have been denied benefits, you should certainly appeal!
  • Do I need to consult an attorney? 

    You have the right to hire an Attorney to represent you in your Social Security Disability case. Statistics have shown that claimants represented by Attorneys have been much more successful than people without representation.

    I would suggest that you seriously consider the advantages of having an Attorney represent you by examining what an Attorney would do in your Social Security Disability case. 
  • What would my attorney do while representing me in my Social Security Disability case?

    Every Disability case is different, and your Attorney's role will depend on the particular facts of your case. However, a few of the things your Attorney may do are: 
    • Gather medical and other essential evidence to support your disability claim
    • Analyze your case in light of the Social Security Regulations 
    • Contact your physician to obtain a medical report consistent with the Social Security Disability regulations
    • Obtain pertinent documents from your Social Security Disability file
    • Request that a prior application for Disability benefits be re-opened
    • Advise you how to best prepare yourself to testify at your Disability hearing
    • Protect your right to a fair hearing by objecting to improper evidence and procedures
    • If you win, make sure that the Social Security Administration calculates your Disability benefits correctly
    • If you lose the appeal, request a review of the hearing decision by the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council
    • If necessary, represent you in a Federal Court review of your Social Security Disability case
  • How much does it cost to hire an attorney?

    Most Social Security Disability Attorneys will accept your case on a contingent fee basis of 25% of past-due benefit or $5,300, whichever is less.

    In other words, there is no fee if you lose, although you will be obligated to pay any out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the Attorney for your representation.

    Such expenses usually involve charges for photocopying and payments to doctors and hospitals for medical records and reports, and other miscellaneous charges. Total expenses usually are less than $100.
  • When should I contact an attorney? 

    As soon as possible, preferably immediately after your initial application is denied. An Attorney will then be able to start assisting you in determining if you are disabled according to the definition explained by the Social Security Act.

    You'll then be able to decide whether or not you want to pursue the first appeal stage - Reconsideration. Your Attorney can begin developing ways to prove to the Social Security Administration that you really are disabled. 

    Attorneys in Social Security Disability cases do much more than just sit in at a hearing and ask a few questions. A lot of pre-hearing preparations, analysis, and evidence gathering go into adequate representation for your case.

    This is why you shouldn't wait until a week or two before your hearing to contact an Attorney. The earlier an Attorney is able to start working on your case, the better your chances of winning your appeal. 

    Please note that not all Attorneys regularly handle Social Security Disability cases. You'll be better served if you seek out an Attorney who is familiar with the complex Social Security Disability regulations and the somewhat unusual Social Security Disability procedures.

About the author:

Sheri R. Abrams is an Attorney who specializes in Social Security Disability Law in Virginia, DC, and Maryland. She graduated from the George Washington University Law School and the Boston University School of Management. Visit Ms. Abrams at http://www.sheriabrams.com.

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