- Do I qualify for Social Security Disability benefits?
The Social Security Administration uses a 5-step process to determine if you are eligible for benefits. First, the SSA looks at whether you are working now, and how much you earn. Your earnings must be below a certain threshold to show that you cannot engage in “substantial gainful activity.” Second, the SSA asks if you have a severe impairment. Only injuries or conditions that have or will impact your ability to work for more than a year constitute severe impairment. Otherwise, this standard is rarely a problem for our clients.
The third step in the process considers whether you have a medical condition on a list of recognized disabling conditions. If your disability is on the list or very similar to something on the list, you are automatically approved for benefits without reaching Steps 4 and 5. Step four looks at whether you can perform any of the jobs you have done in the past 15 years. For example, if you have worked a strenuous job like loading trucks and lose function in your legs, you will not be able to go back to your loading job, but will likely be limited to desk jobs where you sit all day. Finally, Step 5 looks at whether you can do any other jobs that are available in sufficient numbers. The SSA hires a vocational expert to testify about these considerations. This analysis is impacted by your age, education, and abilities. It is significantly harder to obtain benefits if you are younger than 50 years old.
- Can my child obtain disability benefits?
Because children do not work, the analysis is very different. To be considered disabled, a child must have at least one “extreme” or two “marked” limitations in functioning in these categories:
- Acquiring and Using Information
- Attending to and Completing Tasks
- Interacting and Relating with Others
- Moving About and Manipulating Objects
- Caring for Themselves and
- Health and Physical Well-Being
The SSA will review the child’s school records, IEP, standardized tests, and opinions from doctors and teachers who know the child well. For a child to receive benefits, the parents and stepparents who live with the child cannot have an income/resources above a certain level.
- What are the different levels of appeals?
If your first application is denied, there are many chances to appeal. At each stage, you have 60 days to file an appeal, so contact an attorney as soon as possible. If your time is running out, file the paperwork even if you are not sure you want to appeal – you can always withdraw it later. Your case will go through the following steps:
- Initial Application
- You submit an application with extensive information about your work and health and the SSA orders your medical records. You may be ordered to attend a consultative evaluation (a doctor’s appointment with a different doctor), but otherwise this process is all on paper.
- The same analysis of your paper file is done by a different examiner.
- Administrative Law Judge Hearing
- From this stage forward, it is crucial to have an attorney representing you.
- In an informal hearing, you will give testimony about your limitations. The administrative law judge will review your medical records, information from your treating doctors, and the credibility of your testimony.
- You can expect to wait more than a year and up to two years for a hearing. If you are approved for benefits, you will get paid back benefits for this time you had to wait.
- Appeals Council
- An unfavorable decision by an administrative law judge can be appealed to the Appeals Council, but the Council will not be deciding if you are disabled or you should get benefits. Rather, it looks to see if the ALJ made a mistake at the hearing level. If the Appeals Council finds a mistake, you will go back to the judge so he or she can correct their mistake.
- Federal Court
- The final chance to appeal is in federal court. This is actually a lawsuit against the Social Security Administration, and a federal judge (not a jury) will hear your case.
- How much does it cost to hire a Social Security Attorney?
If you hire a Gruel Mills attorney, we will thoroughly explain our written fee agreement and answer any of your questions. Our fee agreement has to be approved by the SSA, so you know that there is no funny business in it. If we can’t help you, you don’t have to pay for our services at all. If we are able to obtain benefits for you, the SSA pays us 25% of your back pay, up to $7,200 and no more. It will not reduce the amount of your benefit checks when they start coming.
- How much would I get if I am disabled?
For Social Security Disability benefits, the amount you will receive each month depends on how much you earned when you were working. You will also be enrolled in Medicare.
For Supplemental Security Income benefits, the monthly payment you receive will be a standard rate that is set nationally. You will also be enrolled in Medicaid.