If you are under the age of retirement and have a mental or physical impairment that has rendered you or is expected to render you unable to work for at least 12 months, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits – money that can be used for food, rent, groceries, etc. Most people are eligible to apply for disability benefits. Eligibility comes from having a good past work record, being in financial distress, or both. Even more, your child may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits if he or she has an impairment that interferes with his or her ability to function. Lastly, you could be eligible for benefits if a deceased spouse was unable to work for at least 12 months because of an impairment.
Despite the number of people that are eligible for disability benefits, the Social Security Administration often denies individuals disability benefits because the applicants did not adequately articulate the symptoms they experience and obtain necessary medical records. When filing out the adult function report as part of the initial application, it is important to detail all the ways that your impairment(s) affect you, without exaggerating. Exaggerations will hurt your credibility. So, be thorough but honest. Moreover, collect all medical records from all of your health care providers and submit them into the record. The person that is reviewing your file will lean heavily on these records. Also, if possible, ask your health care providers to opine why you are unable to work, not just that you are unable to work, and submit these opinions into the record. Opinions from doctors are relied on more heavily than other professionals’. But any opinion could help. Also, submit statements from family, friends, and teachers detailing the effects of your or your child’s impairment(s).
As for the application process, your initial application is viewed by State Disability Determination Services (DDS). If you are denied at the initial level, you can appeal the denial and DDS will review your application again. You can appeal to an Administrative Law Judge if denied a second time. After which, you have the opportunity for another appeal. As you go through the appeals process you can submit additional records. These additional records show how your disability continues to affect you.
Everyone that applies for disability benefits can seek the help of an attorney at any point in the process. Attorneys will not get paid, unless you receive benefits. Because the money owed to the attorney will come from past due benefits, it is easy to budget for an attorney. Social Security regulations dictate that an attorney, without applying for a special exception, is entitled to no more than $6,000 dollars or 25 percent of past due benefits whichever is less. Since benefits accrue as the appeals process continues, the earlier in the process that you receive a favorable decision, the less you have to pay an attorney.
In sum, a good initial application will help you obtain benefits and reduce attorney fees.
-Phillip Chalker, Esq. is an attorney who practices Social Security disability law and provides affordable legal representation to low-income clients. If you have any questions, his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org or you can call him at (443) 961-7345 .