The rules and regulations associated with obtaining Social Security Disability benefits can be a confusing and frustrating mess to navigate – especially when you or a loved one are sick or hurt and need these benefits the most. It’s important that you contact an attorney here at Goodrich & Associates as soon as you make the decision to apply so that we can help make this difficult time and confusing process easier for you. In this article, we will answer some of the most common questions regarding disability benefits. For more information or if you have additional questions, you should call Goodrich & Associates for a free consultation.
Q: What’s the difference between SSDI and SSI?
Both SSDI and SSI are programs run by the Federal Government to provide monetary benefits and Medicare to individuals who cannot work due to a medical disability.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI or SSD) is a program that working individuals pay into via taxes deducted by your employer and paid to the government from your pay check. While you are working, you pay into the system and accrue what Social Security calls “work credits.” When you stop working, you stop paying into the SSDI system. Work credits have an expiration date – typically about five years after you last worked. In order to make a successful claim for SSDI benefits, you will need to prove that you became disabled before the date your credits expired (this is known as your date last insured). This can be done using medical records, reports and eye witness testimony, but the further away from your date last insured you get, the more difficult this can become.
If your date last insured is in the past when you apply, it can be more difficult to obtain benefits, so contact us as soon as you decide you want to apply – don’t wait! SSDI benefit amounts are based on your wage history.
Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, is a program for individuals who do not have sufficient work credits to qualify for SSDI benefits, who are medically disabled and who have very few assets. In order to qualify for SSI, you must be disabled and you must have less than $2,000 in assets as an individual or less than $3,000 in assets if you are married. It is possible to qualify for both SSD and SSI if you made low wages at all of your past jobs. If you qualify for SSI, you will receive a maximum of $733.00 per month in the year 2015. This may be adjusted in future years as the cost of living increases.
Q: I had an accident and will be out of work for about six months – can I get Social Security benefits?
SSDI and SSI are long term disability benefit programs, so you can only obtain benefits if you have been or expect to be disabled for at least 12 months. That means if you will only be off work for six months, you do not qualify. However, if you suffer a setback in your recovery and it looks like you will be off longer than expected it may be worthwhile for you to apply.
Q: How do I apply for benefits?
There are a few ways that you can file an application for SSDI and SSI benefits. We recommend that you contact us as soon as you make the decision to apply so that we can help you with this process. We can file your application for you online once you fill out some preliminary paperwork for us. If you choose to file on your own, you can go in person to your local Social Security office or file online. You can complete the entire application process for SSDI benefits online; however, you will need to speak with a Social Security representative to complete the SSI application.
Q: I hear everyone gets denied – what are my chances?
It is true that many people are denied SSDI benefits the first time they apply. However, that does not mean that you have no chance or that you shouldn’t bother with this process. We have successfully obtained SSDI and SSI benefits for many people that have been denied.
The most important thing you can do to increase your chances of obtaining Social Security benefits is to treat regularly with your doctors for the conditions you allege are disabling you. If Social Security sees that you haven’t treated for a condition in years, they will assume that it means that the condition is not particularly serious. If you’re treating regularly with physicians who know you well and know just how much your conditions impact your life, that doctor can be a wonderful asset in explaining to Social Security why you cannot work and deserve benefits. Furthermore, if you have a condition that can be treated by a specialist, don’t put off going to that specialist. Social Security, unfortunately, doesn’t always give great weight to the opinions of family physicians when they are treating people for conditions that could or should be managed by a specialist. This is especially true in the mental health setting.
Q: I got denied, now what?
If you’ve been denied SSDI or SSI benefits, call us right away. We can help you file an appeal online and keep your case open and in line for a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Someone at Goodrich & Associates will personally sit down with you and file your appeal online while you wait with us. Please be aware that you only have 60 days from the date of your denial letter to file your appeal. If you do not file within those 60 days, you will need to start the application process all over again.
Q: How long will I have to wait for a hearing?
Unfortunately, the wait time for a hearing before an ALJ is currently 12-18 months. There is very little that can be done to speed up this process in most cases. If you are in a dire financial situation (foreclosure, eviction, utility shut offs), it may be possible to get a hearing more quickly, but the wait time will still likely be at least six months. During the wait for a hearing, you should continue treating regularly with your doctors and updating your attorney about any changes in your medical conditions. Your attorney will request copies of your medical records and keep Social Security updated.
We at Goodrich & Associates can discuss your options with you while you wait. We can help with other legal problems that may emerge, and if necessary, can help put together the information Social Security needs to try to speed up your hearing.
Q: 12-18 months is a long time to wait – can I work while I’m trying to get benefits?
You can work while you’re pursuing Social Security benefits, but you cannot earn more than approximately $1,000 per month before taxes and still qualify for benefits. Social Security reevaluates what they call Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) every year, so the precise amount you can earn changes, but $1,000 is a good rule of thumb. If you earn above SGA even one month while you are pursuing or receiving benefits, it can have a negative impact on your claim.
Q: What happens at a Social Security hearing?
Social Security hearings are held in administrative office buildings, not your local courthouse. In most hearings, your attorney will make a brief opening statement to the judge giving her an idea of why you need disability benefits. Typically the judge will then ask the claimant a series of questions and the attorney will have the opportunity to ask questions thereafter. Once the claimant is done testifying, the judge and the attorney will ask questions of an individual known as a vocational expert about what kind of jobs – if any – someone with the claimant’s limitations would be able to perform. The hearing will end shortly thereafter. These hearings typically last approximately one hour. In most cases, the judge will not issue a decision that day, but rather a written decision will be sent in the mail 8-10 weeks after the hearing.
I hope this brief introduction to Social Security Disability benefits helps explain the process and what you can expect moving forward. If you have any other questions, please to not hesitate to contact us – It’s risk free. No money, no fee.