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The following questions and answers will help you with several general questions you may have about SSD and SSI. Please contact us with any other questions you may have by clicking here.
1. Do I need to hire a representative to assist me in my claim for disability benefits?
No, but represented claimants tend to win their cases earlier and more often than those who are not represented. Social Security authorizes both attorneys and non-attorneys to represent disabled claimants, and all representatives are required to follow Social Security's Standards of Conduct (see http://www.ssa.gov/representation/fr632.htm).
2. I have been told that only attorneys can represent disability claimants; is that true?
No! In fact, a study conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2008 confirmed that non-attorneys participating in the current Demonstration Project are more experienced than attorneys and are as effective (if not moreso) in most areas of disability representation. The Demonstration Project began in 2005, after Congress passed a law extending fee withholding and direct payment for representation in disability claims to eligible non-attorneys. I am very proud to have been in the first class of non-attorneys to participate in the Demonstration Project. Click here for the full report.
3. How much will it cost to hire a representative?
Social Security authorizes representatives to charge a fee of 25% of the retroactive benefits awarded to the claimant and his/her dependents, to a maximum of $6,000.00 for work performed through the Appeals Council level on all claims. This fee is contingent on the outcome of the claim; if you do not win your claim, you do not owe your representative anything in fees. Out-of-pocket expenses (i.e., for obtaining your medical records, for a physician to complete a functional assessment form, or for certified mailings) are handled separately, and are not contingent on the outcome of the claim. This should be explained fully by your representative, and outlined in detail in the fee agreement that you both sign. Many states have laws governing the cost of copying medical records. In Georgia, pursuant to O.C.G. §31-33-3, providers may not charge for medical records used to support a claim for disability benefits.
4. How do I find a qualified representative to help me with my Social Security disability claim?
In finding this website, you just did! You can also contact the National Association of Disability Representatives www.nadr.org (NADR, of which I am the Vice President) for a referral to a qualified representative in your area. You may call NADR at 1-800-747-6131.
5. How does Social Security define disability?
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." Research conducted by Herbert M. Kritzer, a professor of political science and law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, indicates that non-attorneys can be even more effective than attorneys in representing claimants before the Social Security Administration (Legal Advocacy: Lawyers and Nonlawyers at Work (November, 1998); and "Para-Lawyers," in the International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences (Elsevier Science Ltd., 2001), pp. 11027-11031). This position has also been supported by the American Bar Association ("NONLAWYER PRACTICE IN THE UNITED STATES: SUMMARY OF THE FACTUAL RECORD BEFORE THE AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION COMMISSION ON NONLAWYER PRACTICE," discussion draft for comment (Chicago: American Bar Association, April 1994), A.TX-2.). It is a good idea to ask any potential representative to provide you with his or her background, number of Social Security claims handled and general success rate, to be sure you are hiring a well-qualified and experienced representative.
6. How do I apply for Social Security disability benefits?
There are several ways to apply for Social Security disability benefits, however I prefer to complete applications either over the phone or in person, via the internet. Online applications are fairly simple, and we can usually complete the forms within two hours. Afterwards, the packet is sent to the claimant to sign the forms, and Social Security has a protective filing date in the computer system, as of the date the information is transmitted. Please note, this method is not currently in place for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability applications. A telephone appointment with Social Security is usually required, and is requested with the submission of the forms, on a concurrent application (when a claimant is eligible for both Social Security Disability and SSI Disability benefits).
A claimant can also go to the Social Security District Office and file the claim in person (which usually will mean waiting in line for several hours), or a claimant can call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 and schedule a telephone interview with a Claims Representative.
7. Can I get Social Security disability benefits if I have gotten better, expect to get better, or have returned to work?
Social Security has a durational requirement for disability benefits: a claimant must have been disabled for at least one year, expect to be disabled for at least one year, or have a terminal illness. If the 12-month duration requirement has been satisfied, even if you are no longer disabled, you should consider filing a claim for Social Security disability benefits (referred to as a "closed period" of disability).
8. Do I need to be disabled for a certain period of time before filing for Social Security disability benefits?
No, as long as you believe that your disabling condition(s) will last for at least one year, you can file for Social Security disability benefits on the day that you become disabled.
9. If I win my claim, how much will I receive, and for what period of time?
A claimant's monthly benefit amount is dependent on many factors. For Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Disabled Widow's and Widower's Benefits (DWB), the benefit amount is determined largely by the earnings posted to the claimant's or wage earner's record over his or her lifetime. A claimant's dependents may be eligible for additional benefits, once a claim is approved. For DIB and DWB, there is a waiting period of five full calendar months following a claimant's date of disability before benefits become payable. For example, if a claimant's established onset date is 1/1/03, the claimant's entitlement to benefits under these programs would be 6/1/03; if the onset date was 1/17/03, entitlement would be 7/1/03. In addition, benefits cannot be paid retroactively any further than one year prior to the date of application (however, previous applications that were not appealed may be subject to reopening and revision, which could result in benefits going back even further).
Other types of claims have different rules regarding benefit amount, entitlement and retroactivity. For SSI benefits, the monthly benefit amount is currently $674.00 per month for an individual claimant, there are no additional benefits payable for dependents, there is no waiting period, nor are there any retroactive benefits (again, unless a prior application can be reopened). Benefits usually begin at the start of the month following the date of the application or the month following the month disability is established, whichever is later.
10. Social Security has denied my claim for disability benefits; now what should I do?
You should file an immediate request for reconsideration of your claim(s), no later than 60 days following receipt of your denial notice. You should also consider hiring a qualified representative to help you with your appeal.
11. How long will it take Social Security to process my application and/or appeal?
Processing times can vary widely, depending on where you live and the circumstances of your claim(s). Unfortunately, this is not a quick process, and claimants should explore all financial avenues to survive while their claim(s) are pending. There are certain ways, however, to have claims expedited at all levels. Call us for current average processing times for your area and to find out whether or not your claim satisfies Social Security's criteria for expedited handling.
12. I have been receiving disability benefits, and have just received a notice that Social Security is performing a Continuing Disability Review (CDR) on my claim. What is this, and what do I need to do?
For starters, don't panic. CDR's are routinely performed, but do not often result in a cessation of a claimant's benefits. Comply with Social Security's requests for information, and contact a qualified representative IMMEDIATELY if you receive a notice that your benefits are being terminated. As with other claim denials, you have 60 days to file your appeal following receipt of the denial, but you must do so within 10 days for your benefits to continue during the appeal process.
13. How can I obtain more information about Social Security's disability programs?
Call us at (770) 995-6009 to discuss your claim, send us an e-mail at either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, complete our contact form, or visit Social Security's website at www.ssa.gov.