Don't Let a Disability Derail Your Life
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FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

Contents
Q:

When do I apply for Social Security disability?

A:

You should apply for disability benefits as soon as you become disabled. The law requires that you be disabled for 12 consecutive months to be eligible, but if your medical provider supports your application, it is better to start now. Claims can always be withdrawn, but it is better to start the process early. Get legal help at the outset.

It can take a long time to process an initial application for disability benefits, three to five months. Over 72% of initial applications are denied nationally, which underscores the benefit of having experienced legal help before you even begin the process.

If you apply for Social Security, disability benefits will not begin until the sixth full month of disability, and only after a lengthy application process. Supplemental Security Income (SSI), SSI disability benefits are paid for the first full month after the date you filed your claim, or, if later, the date you become eligible for SSI. There is a 24-month wait for Medicare eligibility, it begins in the 25th month after your onset date as determined by Social Security. Medicaid or MediCal begins immediately for SSI recipients.

The final award rate for disabled-worker applicants has varied over time, averaging nearly 45 percent for claims filed from 2000 through 2009. The percentage of applicants awarded benefits at the initial claims level averaged just 28 percent over the same period and ranged from a high of 37 percent to a low of 26 percent. The percentage of applicants awarded at the reconsideration and hearing levels are averaging 3 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Denied overall disability claims at all stages have averaged nearly 53 percent.

Q:

Can I get SSDB if I expect to get better and return to work?

A:

You have to have been disabled or expect to be disabled, for at least one year to be eligible. So, if you expect to be out of work for one year or more on account of illness or injury, you should file for Social Security disability benefits. Do NOT wait until the year has elapsed before you begin. Get legal help at the outset.

The final award rate for disabled-worker applicants has varied over time, averaging nearly 45 percent for claims filed from 2000 through 2009. The percentage of applicants awarded benefits at the initial claims level averaged 28 percent over the same period and ranged from a high of 37 percent to a low of 26 percent. The percentage of applicants awarded at the reconsideration and hearing levels are averaging 3 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Denied overall disability claims at all stages have averaged nearly 53 percent.

Q:

How do I apply for Social Security disability benefits?

A:

Legal Help

While it is possible to apply on your own, we recommend seeking legal help at the outset. Our social security lawyers serving Chattanooga can help make the difference between a well-presented claim that is successful, and one that is denied and must go through many months of appeals. We will assist you with filing your initial application for benefits and with filing any subsequent appeals. We make sure to be transparent with all our clients, working closely with you to present the best case on your behalf.

Contact Us Today

We focus exclusively on Social Security disability cases and are ready to give you superior representation when the time comes to apply for benefits. Contact our social security lawyers serving Chattanooga for an initial consultation today.

The Process

To apply for Social Security disability benefits, you will need to complete an application for Social Security Benefits and the Disability Report. You can also print the Disability Report, complete it, and return it to your local Social Security office. Social Security may be able to process your application faster if you help them by getting any other information they need.

Call A Representative

You can also apply on your own by calling this toll-free number: 1-800-772-1213. A representative from the Social Security office can help you make an appointment for your application to be taken over the telephone. You may also consider visiting your local Social Security office to conveniently fill out an application in person. People who are deaf or hard of hearing may call the toll-free “TTY” number, 1-800-325-0778, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Monday through Friday.

What Do You Need?

If you are getting ready to apply for Social Security disability benefits, there are a few things you’ll need, such as specific documentation. Some information you should have readily available includes:

  • Your Social Security number and proof of your age at the time of application

  • All the information in regards to your doctors, caseworkers, hospitals, clinics, and more that took care of you and the dates in which you visited—this will also include medical records and test results

  • Information about your medication including the names and the amount you take

  • A summary of your past job and what kind of work you did at said job

  • Your most recent W-2 form or a copy of your federal tax return if you were self-employed

Q:

How do attorneys who help Social Security disability claimants get paid?

A:

Cases are generally handled on a contingency basis. That means the representative receives a fee only if you win your case. Normally the fee is 25% of your back benefits and must be approved by Social Security. This fee is set by federal law.

If you do not win your case there is no fee. There are also costs in each case for which you may be responsible. These costs are charges paid to doctors for medical records and will be discussed in detail with you before we agree to work together.

Q:

How does the Social Security Administration define disability?

A:

Social Security defines disability as the:

“…Inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”

While this is the hard line of the law, there are many variables. Please read the FAQ's below for the rules that help many workers with their claims at age 50, 55 and 60. We would be happy to discuss your individual situation with you.

Q:

How does the Social Security Administration determine disability?

A:

Here Are the Questions Social Security Asks:

Are You Working?

If you are working and your earnings average more than a certain amount each month, you generally will not be considered disabled. The amount you can earn changes each year, in 2021, this amount for people who are not blind is $1,320 per month. If you are not working, or your monthly earnings average the current amount or less, only then will the Social Security Administration (SSA) look at your medical conditions.

Is Your Medical Condition “severe”?

For the Social Security to decide that you are disabled, your medical condition must significantly limit your ability to do basic work activities—such as walking, sitting, and remembering—for at least one year. If your medical condition is not that severe, the state agency will not consider you disabled. If your condition is that severe, the state agency goes on to step three.

Is Your Medical Condition on The List of Impairments?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) maintains a List of Impairments that describe medical conditions that are considered so severe that they automatically mean that you are disabled at this step. If your condition (or combination of medical conditions) is not on this list, SSA looks to see if your condition is as severe as a condition that is on the list. If the severity of your medical condition meets or equals that of a listed impairment, SSA will decide that you are disabled. If it does not, the process goes on to step four.

Can You Do the Work You Did Before?

At this step, the Social Security Administration (SSA) decides if your medical condition prevents you from being able to do the work you did before. If it does not, SSA will decide that you are not disabled. If it does, the process moves on to step five.

Can You Do Any Other Type of Work?

If you cannot do the work you did in the past, the Social Security Administration (SSA) looks to see if you would be able to do other work. It evaluates your medical condition, your age, education, past work experience, and any skills you may have that could be used to do other work. If you are age 50, 55 or over 60, special rules may apply that make proving disability significantly easier than if you are under age 50. Read our special FAQ's for workers in these age ranges. For advice on your particular situation contact us with the contact form or call us today. We have a toll free number if that helps! 1-877-966-1212.

Q:

Can I file a Social Security benefits claim before my Workers’ Compensation ends?

A:

You do not have to wait until the workers’ compensation ends, and you should not wait that long.

An individual can file a claim for Social Security disability benefits while receiving workers’ compensation benefits. Offset calculations are made to equalize any overpayment from either program.

Q:

Can I get Social Security disability benefits for a combination of lesser problems that add up?

A:

Social Security must consider the combination of impairments that an individual suffers from in determining disability.

Many, perhaps most claimants for Social Security disability benefits have more than one health problem and the combined effects of all of the health problems must be considered.

Q:

If I am approved for Social Security benefits, how much will I receive?

A:

For disability insurance benefits, it all depends upon how much you have worked and earned in the past. The national average is $1,259.

For disabled widow’s or widower’s benefits, it depends upon how much the late husband or wife worked and earned. For disabled adult child benefits, it all depends upon how much the parent worked and earned.

For all types of SSI benefits, there is a base amount that an individual with no other income receives. Other income that an individual has reduces the amount of SSI which an individual can receive. Social Security used to send a paper report of benefits to workers but now to get your benefit amounts you need to set up a "My Social Security Account" with SSA.

Q:

If I am found disabled, how far back will Social Security pay benefits?

A:

Benefits can be paid for up to one year prior to the date of the claim if the medical records support this. For a Disabled Adult Child, benefits begin as of the onset date, but benefits cannot be paid more than six months prior to the date of the claim.

If there have been prior applications, skillful legal help may allow you to reopen that old application and reach back for more benefits. The medical records must support this and other criteria must be met. This is one of the most critical differences between having an attorney and doing an application on your own. Social Security will not be suggesting avenues to reopen old applications. Our experience and skill in crafting your case argument could result in an earlier onset date.

SSI benefits begin at the start of the month following the date of the claim. For Disability Benefits and for Disabled Widow’s and Widower’s Benefit, the benefits begin five months after the person becomes disabled.

Please contact us as early as possible so we can be sure you get all the benefits you deserve.

Q:

If Social Security tries to cut off my disability benefits, what can I do?

A:

You should appeal immediately. Getting legal help is essential.

If you appeal within 10 days after being notified that your disability benefits are being ceased, you can ask that your disability benefits continue while you appeal the decision cutting off your benefits. You may also want to talk with an attorney about representation on your case, but you should file the appeal immediately.

The question in a disability review is whether there has been “medical improvement.” Getting a letter from a treating physician is very important, and that is essentially what the letter needs to say, that there has not been medical improvement.

Q:

Is it hard to apply for Social Security benefits?

A:

There are several ways to apply for a Social Security disability claim. The first is to go to the Social Security District Office and file the claim in person. Now applications can also be made online at https://ssa.gov/. Another way is to call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213. They will make an appointment for a telephone interview for you. Once the interview is finished they will send the necessary forms for you to fill out. All the basic information will have been collected during the phone interview.

Although a claimant may apply on his own, it is important to understand that over 72% of initial applications are denied. The final award rate for disabled-worker applicants has varied over time, averaging nearly 45 percent for claims filed from 2000 through 2009. The percentage of applicants awarded benefits at the initial claims level averaged just 28 percent over the same period and ranged from a high of 37 percent to a low of 26 percent. The percentage of applicants awarded at the reconsideration and hearing levels are averaging 3 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Denied overall disability claims at all stages have averaged nearly 53 percent.

Getting legal help at the outset of the claim could make the difference between winning, or being denied and spending many months or years appealing.

Q:

Is it necessary to hire a representative to file my Social Security disability claim?

A:

While it is not a requirement of Social Security's for you to have a lawyer to begin the process, we meet with people at no charge all the time to explain to them individually exactly what we believe they will need to show given their individual circumstances to prove disability. If you do not know what you are likely to have to show to prove your claim, it is like trying to find your way out of a cluttered basement with no light. You may find the doorknob eventually, but probably not before some trips and falls. Talking to us to learn what you need to prove is free, and it really is like turning the lights on in that cluttered basement.

Also, success rates are significantly different for represented and unrepresented claimants.

The final award rate for disabled-worker applicants has varied over time, averaging nearly 45 percent for claims filed from 2000 through 2009. The percentage of applicants awarded benefits at the initial claims level averaged just 28 percent over the same period and ranged from a high of 37 percent to a low of 26 percent. The percentage of applicants awarded at the reconsideration and hearing levels are averaging 3 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Denied overall disability claims at all stages have averaged nearly 53 percent.

Q:

My doctor says I am disabled, so why is Social Security denying my claim?

A:

Social Security’s position is that it is not up to your doctor to determine whether or not you are disabled. Proving disability to SSA is a legal determination, not a purely medical one. This means that a simple statement from a doctor saying a person is disabled is not enough. Social Security wants to see the diagnosis, the supporting symptoms, signs, and laboratory tests, and then it will make a decision about whether the condition fits into its own legal framework for disability.

Framing the case so that it fits into the language and technical requirements of Social Security is the most valuable skill we offer clients.

Q:

The VA says I am disabled, so why is Social Security denying my disability claim?

A:

Great question. It is Social Security’s position that VA decisions are not binding upon them, although the criteria are essentially identical.

Social Security and VA have similar standards for approving disability claims, but the VA has many partial disability programs. For Social Security disability, one must be totally disabled from any kind of work.

Q:

What do I need to file a Social Security disability or SSI claim?

A:

The claims process for disability benefits is generally longer than for other types of Social Security benefits. It can take up to six months at each of the disability application and appeal levels. The wait for a hearing has grown as the backlog of cases grows – in many cities, it is well over a year. Our office will help you gather this information and file it.

To complete the application, you should gather the following information:

  • Your Social Security number;

  • Your birth certificate or other evidence of your date of birth (if you do not have a birth certificate, you may request one from the State where you were born);

  • Your military discharge papers, if you were in the military service;

  • Your spouse’s birth certificate and Social Security number if he or she is applying for benefits;

  • Your children’s birth certificates and Social Security numbers if they are applying for benefits;

  • Your checking or savings account information, so your benefits can be directly deposited;

  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of doctors, hospitals, clinics, and institutions that treated you and dates of treatment;

  • Names of all medications you are taking;

  • Medical records from your doctors, therapists, hospitals, clinics, and caseworkers;

  • Laboratory and test results;

  • A summary of where you worked in the past 15 years and the kind of work you did;

  • A copy of your W-2 Form (Wage and Tax Statement), or if you are self-employed, your federal tax return for the past year;

  • Dates of prior marriages if your spouse is applying.

The documents presented as evidence must be either originals or copies certified by the issuing agency. SSA cannot accept uncertified or notarized photocopies as evidence since they cannot verify their authenticity. Do not delay filing for benefits just because you do not have all of the information you need. The Social Security office will be glad to help you.

If you are applying for Supplemental Security Income benefits you also need the following:

information about the home where you live, such as your mortgage or your lease and landlord’s name;

  • payroll slips;

  • bank books;

  • insurance policies;

  • car registration;

  • burial fund records;

  • and other information about your income and the things you own.

Q:

What is the difference between Medicare and Medicaid?

A:

Medicare is a federal medical insurance program. It attached to Social Security Disability Insurance claims. You must be an insured worker with an earnings record for this to cover you. For the disabled, after a claim is favorably decided, Medicare will begin the first day of the 25th month after the established onset date.

Medicare is a state-funded insurance program for the indigent. You must have less than $2000 in assets to be eligible for SSI and for Medicaid. If you are married the asset limit is $3,000. A person found disabled under the SSI program is immediately eligible for this coverage.

Q:

What kinds of Social Security disability benefits are there?

A:

There are several kinds of Social Security disability benefits for which a person can be eligible.

Depending on the facts, you may be entitled to one of these benefits, or you may be entitled to more than one. The medical rules are the same for all categories, you must be just as disabled to qualify for one as for another. The non-medical requirements are different for each category.

Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB)

You are only eligible for these benefits if you have paid a certain amount of Social Security tax over a period of time, enough to have disability insurance coverage in force. In general, you must have paid at least a certain amount of Social Security tax (the FICA deduction on your paycheck, or your Social Security tax if you’re self-employed) in at least twenty calendar quarters during the forty calendar quarters before your total disability began. In other words, you must have worked and paid Social Security tax for about five out of the last ten years before you became totally disabled.

There is a different, easier rule for people whose disability began before age 30. Everyone must prove the disability began while disability insurance coverage was in force or they are not entitled to benefits, no matter how serious the medical condition is now. If your DIB claim is approved, the monthly payment you will receive is set by your earnings (and Social Security tax payments) during your working career. There is no minimum rate, and the rate a person can receive at this time can be calculated here: https://ssa.gov/planners/calculators.htm There is a cost-of-living raise in the monthly payment at the start of most years. In many cases, your spouse and dependent children will also get benefits in addition to your own.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI is an entitlement program and can be paid whether or not a person has paid in enough Social Security tax to get disability insurance benefits. You must be disabled under the same rules as for disability insurance, or be blind, or be over 65. You must also have very little income or property, assets under $2000, because this benefit is based on financial need. Social Security looks at all other income and property in the household you live in, not just your own, and also the value of any support (like free room and board) you may get from others, to determine whether you are financially eligible for SSI. Social Security does this in addition to deciding if you are disabled. Also, some children 18 or younger with a severe disability can get a monthly benefit if their family income is low enough.

Disability Widow/Widower Benefits (DWB)

This is a special disability benefit for certain widows and widowers, based on the Social Security tax paid by his or her deceased spouse. In order to qualify, you must be between the ages of 50 and 60 and have been married for at least 10 years to the person who was covered under Social Security at the time of his or her death. Also, you must have proof that your disability was severe enough to meet these rules within seven years of your spouse’s death, with some exceptions for those already receiving other kinds of Social Security benefits. If you are awarded DWB benefits, your monthly rate is determined by your spouse’s income and Social Security tax payments. However, a surviving spouse’s pension can usually be paid at the age of 60, regardless of any disability.

Disabled Adult Child Benefits (DAC)

In order to be eligible, you must be a child of a person already receiving Disability Insurance Benefits or Retirement Benefits or a worker who died while covered for Social Security. You must be at least 18 years old, and you must prove your total disability began before the month you turned age 22, and is continuing. The monthly benefit rate is based on a percentage of your parent’s rate. Therefore, it is different in each particular case.

Q:

When can I file for Social Security disability benefits?

A:

You can file for Social Security disability benefits on the day that you become disabled if you believe that you will be out of work for one year or more.

Sometimes social workers can help you and your family make the initial contact with Social Security. Our office is always ready to help with an initial application. Having the case framed properly from the outset can make the difference between winning at the initial application, or enduring many months of appeals.

Although an applicant can proceed unrepresented, the success rates are significantly different for represented and unrepresented claimants. The final award rate for disabled-worker applicants has varied over time, averaging nearly 45 percent for claims filed from 2000 through 2009. The percentage of applicants awarded benefits at the initial claims level averaged just 28 percent over the same period and ranged from a high of 37 percent to a low of 26 percent. The percentage of applicants awarded at the reconsideration and hearing levels are averaging 3 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Denied overall disability claims at all stages have averaged nearly 53 percent. Social Security does its best to process cases, but the backlogs are well known. A good attorney will gather all the necessary information THE FIRST TIME, and increase your chances for success.

Q:

What do I have to prove if I'm under age 50?

A:

We tell our clients under 50 to explain to us why they could not perform the easiest job that exists somewhere in the United States (even in small numbers) given what their problems are. To be found disabled, most of our clients under 50 must show that they would either not be able to be successful in attending within the relatively strict tolerances of competitive employment, or that they would not be able to reliably complete full 8 hour work shifts for specific and understandable medical reasons. Disability cases for those under age 50 are usually complex and getting our advice early is usually very important. Use the contact form on this site for a no cost reserved time to discuss your situation or call us toll free 1-877-966-1212.

Q:

What do most workers have to prove if they are over 50 but not yet 55?

A:

For many workers at age 50 they can benefit from special Social Security Administration rules to start their Social Security and Medicare early via the disability program. The rules generally do not help workers from age 50 to 54 who have performed full time seated or sedentary work in the last 15 years. The rules also generally do not help highly educated or highly skilled workers. However, for many workers over 50 who performed work primarily on their feet or work that was harder, and who do not have skills from either recent education or from their work , those workers can very often be found disabled at age 50 if they have something that limits them to work primarily sitting most or many days. So people with bad knees, hips, ankles, feet, and low back problems who can't do their past harder work but who could sit most of a work day are generally helped by these rules. You should contact us to talk about your particular circumstance. Use the contact form or call us toll free 1-877-966-1212 for a no cost reserved time to talk about your situation.

Worker's with work on their feet that was skilled or who have recent or high levels of education, generally will not be helped by this special age 50 rule unless they have some reason they can no longer perform skilled work and are also limited to work off their feet. Workers in that situation who we have worked with in the past include those who could not perform skilled work because of a brain condition or injury, side effects of serious pain or other medications or mental problems. If you think this may be your situation, use the contact form or call us toll free 1-877-966-1212 for a no cost reserved time to talk about your situation. After 55 different rules also apply and make getting benefits easier even for skilled workers.

Q:

What do most workers have to prove if they are over 55? Or even over 60?

A:

For most workers 55 and up there are added special rules that make obtaining your Social Security and Medicare early through disability easier still. If a worker did hard physical work and not easy physical work in the last 15 years and they do not have recent higher education, disability benefits may be available even if they are found able to do light level work. Light level work, for example, is what you see a cashier doing.

For skilled workers the test for transferability of their skills changes at age 55. We tell people that hospital Registered Nurses with a bad knee or hips or ankle or low back tend to lose their disability claims with Social Security at age 50 -54 because the government takes the position that they can take those skills and perform desk work with an insurance company or the like. However the test for transferability changes at age 55 to a very demanding one that is rarely met. The other work must be "so similar to your previous work that you would need to make very little, if any, vocational adjustment in terms of tools, work processes, work settings, or the industry." The same skill level shift happens at age 60 for those skilled workers who had skills that would be otherwise transferrable to light work from their past skilled Light, Medium, or heavier work.

SSA's rules get better for those who have done only very hard labor and who have a hard time reading or writing. We have represented people successfully with that type of a background who can be awarded disability even if they are found to be able to perform as much as Medium level work.

Disability cases are often complex and getting our advice early is usually very important. Use the contact form on this site for a no cost reserved time to discuss your situation or call us toll free 1-877-966-1212.

Q:

Do I need a Social Security Disability attorney?

A:



Q:

When should I meet with you about a disability claim?

A:

Call me as early as possible, I can help you understand the application process, I can tell you what you have to prove to significantly increase your chances of approval.

Q:

Should I go to my disability hearing without an attorney?

A:

Nobody should go to disability court without an experienced attorney. I’ve represented other lawyers and even doctors and nurses in disability claims. If they needed my help, you do too.