BALIN LAW is here to help. We want to provide as much information as possible, so we’ve created a list of answers to the most commonly asked questions regarding Social Security Disability Insurance and other related claims.

What is the definition of disability used by Social Security?

Under the Social Security Act, "disability" means "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.”

How many different types of Social Security disability benefits are there?

There are at least five major types of Social Security disability benefits.

Disability Insurance Benefits is the most important type of Social Security disability benefits. It goes to individuals who have worked in recent years (five out of the last 10 years in most cases) who are now disabled.

Disabled Widow's and Widower's Benefits are paid to individuals who are at least 50 and become disabled within a certain amount of time after the death of their husband or wife. The late husband or wife must have worked enough under Social Security to be insured.

Disabled Adult Child Benefits go to the children of persons who are deceased or who are drawing Social Security disability or retirement benefits. The child must have become disabled before age 22.

For Disability Insurance Benefits, Disabled Widow's or Widower's Benefits and Disabled Adult Child benefits, it does not matter whether the disabled individual is rich or poor. Benefits are paid based upon a Social Security earnings record.

Supplemental Security Income benefits, however, are paid to individuals who are poor and who are disabled. It does not matter for SSI whether an individual has worked in the past or not. SSI child's disability benefits are a variety of SSI benefits paid to children under the age of 18 who are disabled. The way in which disability is determined is a bit different for children.

How do I apply for Social Security disability benefits?

You can now apply for Social Security disability benefits online at the Social Security website. Another way to file a Social Security disability claim is to go to the nearest Social Security office in person and wait to see someone to file the claim in person. In the alternative, a person may contact Social Security by telephone and arrange for a telephone interview to file the claim.

How long do I have to wait after becoming disabled before I can file for Social Security disability benefits?

Not even one day. You can file for Social Security disability benefits on the very same day that you become disabled. Many individuals make the mistake of waiting months and even years after becoming disabled before filing a Social Security disability claim. There is no reason to file a Social Security disability claim if one has only a minor illness or one which is unlikely to last a year or more. However, an individual who suffers serious illness or injury and expects to be out of work for a year or more should not delay in filing a claim for Social Security disability benefits.

I got hurt on the job. I am drawing worker's compensation benefits. Can I file a claim for Social Security disability benefits now or should I wait until the worker's compensation ends?

You do not have to wait until the worker's compensation ends and you should not wait that long. An individual can file a claim for Social Security disability benefits while receiving worker's compensation benefits. It is best to file the Social Security disability claim as soon as possible because otherwise there may be a gap between the time the worker's compensation ends and the Social Security disability benefits begin.

Can I get both worker's compensation and Social Security disability benefits?

Yes. There is an offset, which reduces Social Security disability benefits because of worker's compensation benefits paid, but in virtually all cases, there is still some Social Security disability benefits to be paid. In a few states the offset works the other way - worker's compensation benefits are reduced because of Social Security disability benefits.

Do you have to be permanently disabled to get Social Security disability benefits?

No. You have to have been disabled for at least a year or be expected to be disabled for at least a year or have a condition that can be expected to result in death within a year.

How does Social Security determine if I am disabled?

Social Security is supposed to gather your medical records and carefully consider all of your health problems, as well as your age, education, and work experience. In general, Social Security is supposed to decide whether you are able to do your past work. If Social Security decides that you are unable to do your past work, they are supposed to consider whether there is any other work which you can do considering your health problems and your age, education, and work experience.

Why does Social Security consider my age in determining whether I am disabled?

Social Security has to consider age, because that is what the Social Security Act requires. As people get older, they become less adaptable, less able to switch to different jobs to cope with health problems. A severe foot injury, which might cause a 30-year-old to switch to a job in which he or she can sit down most of the time, might disable a 60-year-old person who could not make the adjustment to a different type of work.

What can I do to improve my chances of winning my Social Security disability claim?

Be honest and complete in giving information to Social Security about what is disabling you. Many claimants, for instance, fail to mention their psychiatric problems to Social Security because they are embarrassed about them. In almost all cases, individuals who were slow learners in school fail to mention this fact to Social Security, even though it can have a good deal to do with whether or not the Social Security disability claim is approved.

Beyond being honest and complete with Social Security, the most important thing that you can do is just keep appealing and hire an experienced person to represent you. It is important to appeal because most claims are denied at the initial level, but are approved at higher levels of review. It is important to hire an experienced person to represent you because you do not understand the way Social Security works. Statistically, claimants who employ an attorney to represent them are much more likely to win than those who go unrepresented.

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

For disability insurance benefits, it all depends upon how much you have worked and earned in the past. 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.

How far back will they pay benefits if I am found disabled?

For Disability Insurance Benefits and for Disabled Widow's and Widower's Benefits, the benefits cannot begin until five months have passed after the person becomes disabled. In addition, benefits cannot be paid more than one year prior to the date of the claim. For a Disabled Adult Child, there is no five-month waiting period before benefits begin, but benefits cannot be paid more than six months prior to the date of the claim. SSI benefits cannot be paid prior to the start of the month following the date of the claim.

What do I do if Social Security denies my claim for Social Security disability benefits?

First, do not be surprised. Only about 40% of Social Security disability claims are approved at the initial level. If you are denied at the initial level, unless you have already returned to work or expect to return to work in the near future, you should appeal, that is, file a request for reconsideration. You should also consider employing an attorney to represent you.

What is Reconsideration?

When a claim for Social Security disability benefits is denied at the initial level, the claimant may then request "reconsideration" of that decision. The case is then sent to a different disability examiner for a new decision. In Ohio, about 90% of the time the reconsideration decision is the same as the initial decision - a denial.

How long does it take to get a hearing on a Social Security disability claim?

There is much variation around the country. In the Cleveland area, the average time it takes to get a hearing is currently a year to a year and a half.

What is the Social Security hearing like?

The hearings are fairly informal. The only people likely to be there are the judge, a monitor, the claimant, the claimant's attorney, and anyone else the claimant has brought with him or her. In some cases, the Administrative Law Judge has a medical doctor or vocational expert present to testify at the hearing. There is no jury nor are there any spectators at the hearing. There is no attorney at the hearing representing Social Security trying to get the judge to deny the disability claim.

What are my chances of winning at a hearing?

Statistically, around half of the claimants who have a Social Security disability hearing win.

If the Administrative Law Judge denies my claim, can I appeal any more?

Yes. You can appeal to the Appeals Council which is still within Social Security.

What is the Appeals Council?

The Appeals Council exists to review Administrative Law Judge decisions. The Appeals Council is located in Falls Church, Virginia, and neither the claimant nor the attorney sees the people at the Appeals Council who are working on the case.

Can I appeal a case beyond Social Security to the Federal Courts?

Yes. After being denied by the Appeals Council, it is possible for a claimant to file a civil action in the United States District Court, requesting review of Social Security's decision. 

How do lawyers who represent Social Security disability claimants get paid?

Up to the ALJ level, the attorney receives one-quarter of past due benefits up to a maximum of $6,000, but only if the claimant wins. If the claimant loses, there is no legal fee due at all.

I am already on Social Security disability benefits, but I am worried that my benefits will be stopped in the future. What are the chances of this happening?

Social Security is not supposed to cut off disability benefits for an individual unless his or her medical condition has improved. When Social Security reviews a case of someone already on Social Security disability benefits, they continue benefits in the vast majority of cases. In recent years, Social Security has been doing few reviews to determine whether or not individuals already on Social Security disability benefits are still disabled. This is changing and Social Security should be doing far more reviews in the next few years. However, the vast majority of individuals who are reviewed will see their Social Security disability benefits continued.

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

Social Security's position is that it is not up to your doctor to determine whether or not you are disabled. It is up to them and they will make their own decision regardless of what your doctor thinks.

I am disabled by mental illness. Can mental illness serve as the basis for a Social Security disability claim?

Yes. Mental illness is a frequent basis for awarding Social Security disability benefits.

How long does it take for Social Security to make a reconsideration determination on my Social Security disability claim?

In most case Social Security makes the reconsideration determination within four months.

What is the difference between Medicare and Medicaid?

The short answer is that Medicaid is a poverty program and Medicare isn't. Many disabled people who get Medicaid get it because they are on Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This is called “categorical” Medicaid eligibility. To get SSI and thereby get Medicaid you have to be poor and disabled. Medicaid pays doctors at very low rates. People who have only Medicaid can have a hard time finding doctors willing to take them on as patients. Medicaid does pay for prescription medications. Medicaid can go back up to three months prior to the date of a Medicaid claim. Note that it is possible to apply for Medicaid directly - through a local Medicaid office - without having a companion claim for SSI.

For Medicare it does not matter whether you are rich or poor. If you have been on Disability Insurance Benefits, Disabled Widows or Widowers Benefits or Disabled Adult Child Benefits for 24 months you qualify for Medicare. The good thing about Medicare is that it pays doctors at a higher rate than Medicaid. Almost all doctors are happy to take Medicare patients. The bad things about Medicare are that it does not begin until after a person has been on cash disability benefits for two years and that it generally does not pay for prescription medications.

If I get Social Security disability benefits will I get Medicare?

If you are approved for any kind of Social Security disability benefit other than SSI you will get Medicare after you have been entitled to Social Security disability benefits for two years.

If I get Social Security disability benefits will I get Medicaid?

If you are approved for SSI you will get Medicaid. It is possible to get both Medicare and Medicaid if you are entitled to SSI and some other type of Social Security disability benefit.