Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the most common mistake made by disability claimants?
Most denials of claims for disability benefits can be reversed if knowledgeable Social Security lawyers are retained to handle the appeals. But patience and perseverance are required. As you will see from the award rates below, most disability claimants give up too soon.
1. Application level. Initial applicants for Social Security disability will wait on average 120 days to receive an answer, and for 35% it will be yes. Out of those rejected at this initial level, 52% will abandon their claims and 48% will appeal.
2. Reconsideration level. Claimants who timely filed their appeals within 60 days of receipt will wait 90 days for a decision. Only 15% will receive good news. Out of those who don’t, 30% will give up and 70% will appeal.
3. Hearing level. This is where patience and good representation pay off. National claimants will wait 15.5 months for a hearing and decision, but 55% will be awarded benefits. Of the remainder, 55% will quit and 45% will appeal.
4. Appeals Council. Another 220 days are required. Only 2% of claimants will be rewarded with benefits; about 23% of claimants will have their claims sent back for another hearing. Most of the rest will give up. Only a few appeal to federal court.
5. Federal court. Claimants wait another 540 days for a federal court decision. About half of them will have their claims sent back for another hearing before an administrative law judge. Only a small percentage are awarded benefits by the federal court.
The lesson from these national averages is to pursue your Social Security disability claim through the first three levels — application, reconsideration, and hearing. Most of those who don’t give up before the Social Security disability hearing will be awarded benefits.
2. What does a disability lawyer do?
The big-picture answer is: analyze what needs to be proven to win benefits, figure out how to prove it, and gather the necessary evidence. Some of the specific tasks are:
- Obtain reports from treating doctors that are consistent with Social Security regulations
- Refer claimants to specialists for additional reports that answer questions raised by Social Security regulations
- Obtain a vocational expert’s evaluation of the claimant’s ability to work
- Ask that a prior application for benefits be reopened
- Seek a waiver of a time limit
- Request subpoenas to insure the presence of crucial witnesses or documents
- Advise the claimant on how best to prepare for and testify at the hearing
- Object to improper evidence or procedures at the hearing
- Cross-examine adverse witnesses
- Present a closing statement
- Submit a written summary of the evidence and argument
- If the claimant wins, make sure the SSA correctly calculates benefits
- If the claimant loses, request review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council
3. What should I know and do before I go see a disability attorney?
- Gather all of your social security papers, especially the denial letters and appeal forms. Include any papers related to earlier applications
- If you have any hospital records or medical reports in your possession, bring them too.
- If you received unemployment compensation during any time you claim to be disabled, bring any unemployment records you have.
- If you have been involved in any other disability cases, such as short or long term disability or workers’ compensation, bring any papers you have that are related to those cases.
- Be careful about appeal deadlines (65 days after the date on your denial letter). If the deadline is near, file the appeal before seeing your attorney.
4. How can I tell if I am disabled enough to apply for social security disability benefits?
Social Security regulations make it easier to be found disabled as you get older. It becomes easier for a few people at age 45 (those unable to read English), for more people at age 50, for most people at age 55, and even more people at age 60.
If you are over age 55 and you cannot do any job you have done in the past 15 years, you should definitely apply. If you are over age 50 and have a severe impairment that keeps you from doing all but the easiest jobs, you ought to apply.
But even if you are a younger person, you do not have to be bedridden in order to be found disabled. If you are under age 45 or 50 and you cannot do your past jobs and you cannot work full time at any regular job, that ought to be enough.
Nevertheless, being unable to work and being found disabled by the Social Security Administration (SSA) are two different things. It is often difficult to convince SSA that someone is disabled even when he or she genuinely cannot work. But it is not impossible.
If you really cannot work, apply for disability benefits from SSA.