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Professional- Level Guidance Navigating the Social Security Disability Benefits Process

This site provides a wealth of information about the Social Security disability benefits process. Regardless of which stage you are at—application, denial, or appeal—the professional-level guidance provided here from our legal and medical authors can help improve your chances of a successful claim significantly.

Gleaned from over 400 pages of manuscript written by attorneys and other professionals, the authoritative legal and medical information here is the same used by attorneys when they assess your claim, gather supporting information, and present your case. We at James Publishing believe that you will find this information invaluable as you pursue your claim.

Common Questions about Social Security Disability Benefits

Do I qualify for benefits?

The SSA will likely award Social Security disability benefits to you if:

  1. You are not gainfully employed
  2. You have a severe impairment that will last at least 12 months, or result in death
  3. The impairment meets or equals one listed in SSA’s listings
  4. You are not able to work.

Should I apply right away, or wait?

If your disability clearly is one that is long-term or terminal, apply for Social Security disability benefits right away. Otherwise, it is better to wait 6-9 months after you stop working. To apply, call the SSA at 800-772-1213, or visit https://secure.ssa.gov/iCLM/rib.

When should I apply for disability benefits?

Unless you have an obvious long-term disability, the best time to apply for Social Security disability benefits is 6-9 months after you stop working. To apply, call the SSA at 800-772-1213 or visit www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability/adult.htm.

If my claim for Social Security disability benefits is denied, how long will an appeal take?

The following chart will give you a fair idea of completion times. Please note, however, that your appeal may not take as long, or take longer:

What happens if I don’t file my appeal on time?

The SSA requires that claimants file an appeal within 65 days of the date of the denial letter. If you miss the deadline, you will have to start the process all over with a new claim. This can result in loss of back benefits.

How may a disability lawyer help?

While you are not legally required to hire an attorney, you may well find that a professional who has experience with the Social Security disability benefits process will prove very helpful. In a nutshell, your lawyer will analyze what specifically needs to be proven in your case in order to be awarded benefits, and how to prove this. The strength of your claim depends in large part on whether the necessary evidence is gathered and provided to the SSA. Some tasks of an attorney are:

  • Obtain all reports from treating physicians that meet Social Security regulations
  • Refer you to specialists as needed in order to obtain additional reports that answer questions raised by Social Security regulations
  • Hire a vocational expert to evaluate your ability to work
  • Request that the SSA reopen a prior application for benefits
  • Seek a waiver should a deadline have passed
  • Ask for subpoenas of witnesses and/or documents
  • Help you prepare for your testimony at the hearing
  • Make objections at the hearing on improper evidence or procedures
  • Cross-examine any adverse witnesses
  • Present a closing statement at the hearing
  • Submit a written summary of your claim, including the evidence and argument
  • Ensure that the SSA correctly calculates benefits, if you win
  • Request a review of the hearing decision from the Appeals Council if you lose

What happens at the ALJ hearing?

The job of the administrative law judge is to weigh the evidence in order to to determine whether you should be granted Social Security disability benefits. As such, the hearing will take place in a small, private conference room, rather than a courtroom. Your testimony may last as little as an hour, during which time you will be asked about your work experience, education and training, symptoms, limitations, and daily activities.

How much will a lawyer cost?

Typically attorney fees include 25% of back benefits, up to a maximum set by the Commissioner of Social Security. The fee may be more, however, if the appeal continues past the ALJ hearing.

What is the biggest mistake Social Security disability benefits applicants make?

The most common mistake is to not appeal a denial. Many claimants seem to believe that if they receive a denial from the SSA, that is the last word, but in fact they should appeal to the hearing level.

For More Information

Additional information on these and other questions claimants frequently ask is available in the column on the right. We at James Publishing hope that this site will enrich your knowledge of the Social Security disability benefits process and help you make a definitive choice on legal representation in your claim.

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