Many people are just learning about a government-backed program to provide financial and other vital assistance to citizens with (proven) disabilities. These benefits exist under the umbrella of services provided by the Social Security Administration (SSA), a long-standing federal program widely known for providing income to people who have retired or have lived past a certain age.
A person who thinks he or she is eligible to receive Disability Benefits under the current Social Security system needs to know a few things before taking step one. First, such a person should expect the application paperwork to be extensive. Secondly, due to the large number of applications the agency receives, the denial rate at the initial stages of application are currently more than 60 percent.
In addition, an applicant needs to know that a rejection by the Social Security Administration (SSA) is not the end of the line. There are several built-in levels where one can appeal a rejection and try again. The system is set up so that one level (in the process) has authority to overturn a decision made at another level. In other words, if a person is denied benefits from the first level to review the application, a higher level might rule favorably to validate the person’s situation and grant benefits.
Can a lawyer help the process?
The short answer is yes. Yet the reasons for bringing a lawyer into the process are many, and important. A lawyer can help you fill out the complex application paperwork, help you stay on schedule for meeting deadlines, and present your case at a hearing using their professional expertise. Representation for Social Security Disability is provided on a contingency basis; legal services are paid with a percentage of your benefits – but only if your application is approved, otherwise, there is no cost for your Social Security Disability attorney. If you are interested in having a lawyer on your side during the Social Security Disability process, contact our office to have an experience trial attorney represent you today.
To qualify for disability benefits under Social Security you must have worked in jobs or positions covered by Social Security, and you must have worked a sufficient amount of time, and recently enough, to qualify for disability benefits. “Under Social Security” means that a percentage of your paycheck was taken out and paid towards Social Security.
Additionally, you must suffer from a medical condition that meets the definition of a disability under Social Security standards. As for the desired outcome of most applicants, monthly cash benefits are provided if they are unable to work for a year or longer due to their disability.
Usually, benefits will continue until the disabled recipient is able to go back to work again on a regular basis. While transitioning back to work, fortunately there are several special rules, known as “work incentives,” that provide health care coverage and other extended benefits to help the person make a transition back to gainful employment.
When you reach the full retirement age (currently 66) and you choose to be considered “full retirement” while receiving Social Security Disability benefits, your disability benefits will automatically convert over to retirement benefits, and the amount of your benefits will not change.
A system of ‘credits’ was designed by our government to grant applicants the currency they need so that Social Security can assess how much to grant each person.
- Work credits are based on your total annual wages or self-employment income. Each applicant can be allowed to earn up to four credits per year.
- The number of work credits you’ll need to qualify depends on how old you were when you became disabled. Generally, you need a total of 40 credits and 20 of those need to have been earned within the past 10 years – and that span must end within the first year a person became disabled.
- The amount necessary to earn each credit alters or adjusts every year. Here’s a recent example: In 2018 you can earn one credit for each $1,320 of wages you received. This same amount applies for self-employment as well. So, once you’ve earned $5,280, you’ve earned your four credits for the year.
According to the Social Security Administration’s website, it is important to keep this much in mind: Whatever your age might be, you must earn the necessary amount of work credits within a specific period that ends with the time you became disabled. And, if you qualify for benefits now but stop working under Social Security, you may become disqualified for disability benefits or not qualify for them in the future.
The Social Security program carries a different definition of disability than other programs. To qualify for help due to disability, the agency pays only for total disability. People with partial disabilities or short-term disabilities are not eligible for benefits.
Social Security rules considers an individual to be disabled if:
- You cannot do the same work/job you did previously.
- The disability has remained or is expected to last for at least one year, or it can be expected to lead to death.
- The agency decides that you are unable to adjust to other kinds of work because of the medical condition you have.
Although the above rules may appear to be strict, the agency assumes that most working people and their families have access other alternatives of financial support during difficult periods of disability. These other options include insurance, savings, workers’ compensation, and investments.
Social Security uses a 5-step process for determining a person’s disability status:
- Are you working, even part time? For instance, in 2018, if a person’s earnings can be averaged as greater than $1,180 per month, he/she will not be considered ‘disabled’ by Social Security’s evaluation.
- How severe is the applicant’s condition? The condition in question must clearly interfere with the most basic, work-related activities that applicant needs to perform to keep his job. If it doesn’t interfere, the agency will assess that the applicant is not disabled.
- The agency keeps a list of medical “conditions” so they can compare it to the various diagnoses of every applicant for benefits. Most of these conditions are so severe that they automatically mean the person is disabled. If an applicant’s condition is not on the list, a committee decides if it can be considered as severe as those found on the list.
- Can a person do the same work he used to do? Social Security decision-makers must figure out if the condition is not as severe as those on the list of medical conditions accepted. If it isn’t as severe, then they try to decide if the condition interferes with the kind of work a person did before. If it doesn’t interfere, the applicant’s claim will get denied. But if it does interfere, the process goes to step 5:
- Can the applicant do any other form (or type) of work? If the applicant cannot do the same work he did previously, the agency checks into whether that person can adjust and take on a new form of work (tasks).
The Social Security Administration has established guidelines for special situations involving various needs, for instance:
- If a person is blind or experiences low vision
- If someone is the worker’s widow or widower
- Situations that call for benefits on behalf of a disabled child
- Benefits for veterans and wounded warriors