You do not have to wait until you’ve been denied Social Security Disability before you can seek the help of a lawyer. You are entitled to legal representation throughout the entire process, and statistics by the Social Security Administration (SSA) indicate that an applicant is more likely to be approved when represented by legal counsel than when going at it alone.
There are actually two different forms of Social Security disability:
- Social Security Disability Income (SSDI): This program can pay benefits to you and qualifying family members if you meet the criteria for medical disability, have worked long enough, and have paid enough into Social Security taxes.
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI): This program is entirely different, designed to meet basic needs of people with little to no income, which includes people who are disabled, blind, and/or aged.
You may have heard horror stories about SSDI and how long it took to process claims and how often these claims get denied. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of truth in those stories. Although no one can predict how long it will take for a particular Social Security process, well-documented paperwork with timely filing can help your chances significantly.
How a Social Security Attorney Can Help
Here’s more about the often complicated and confusing SSDI process, along with how having a Social Security attorney at your side from the start can be a smart move.
At an initial consultation with your attorney, you can discuss the specifics of your medical condition, whether physical or mental, and the attorney can help you determine if you fit within the parameters of SSDI’s qualifications. As just one example, the medical condition must cause you to be unable to work for at least one year or be expected to ultimately result in death. SSDI is not intended as a short-term, stop-gap form of financial relief or to supplement income when someone has a partial disability. The question then becomes, “How disabled do I need to be to qualify for SSDI?” The short answer is that it depends upon where you fall upon the Social Security grid. If you have a certain level of back problems, for example, you might be eligible. At a slightly less significant degree, you might not be eligible.
Social Security law is a unique form of law that uses a grid system to determine SSDI eligibility. The grid makes computations based on your age, level of education, work history and skills, along with your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC); the last component might be determined to be sedentary, light, medium, or heavy work.
A Social Security attorney can guide you through how all this applies to you. It’s important, when sharing information with your attorney, that you provide insight into the complete spectrum of medical conditions you have. Why? It’s possible that although no one medical condition qualifies you for SSDI, you may qualify when all of your medical conditions are reviewed in total. So, this might mean including your arthritis, your high blood pressure, and your history with depression, even if none of those are the main medical condition that’s leading you to seek SSDI.
If after this initial consultation it’s determined that the attorney will represent you in your quest for SSDI, the next step is the actual application process. There is a significant advantage to having your Social Security attorney as part of this process from the start:
- As mentioned earlier, more applicants get approved with an attorney than without.
- If you do get rejected in your initial appeal, your attorney is fully up to speed on your unique case, able to smoothly move into the appeals process with you.
It can help to have an experienced attorney fill out the necessary paperwork and ensure you have the appropriate medical documentation. Because the attorney understands the SSDI process, your claim will be presented in a way that clearly describes and documents your disability, which reduces the risk of the claim being rejected because of lack of medical evidence. Processes may vary somewhat from one state to another, and your attorney will know what’s right for you, and can also check in with SSA for you for updates.
It may take three months or more for your application to be reviewed; at this point, it can be approved or denied. If the former is true, then your goal has successfully been reached. If not, then it’s time for the next step in the process.
If your initial claim has been denied, you have 60 days to file an official appeal with the SSA, which is called a “request for reconsideration.” This means that the application will be returned to the SSA for a second review. If approved, then the goal is accomplished. If, however, it’s denied for a second time, then the next step is your SSDI hearing.
You’ll have 60 days from the denial of your reconsideration request to ask for your SSDI hearing. This hearing takes place in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ). At your hearing, you would physically appear in front of the ALJ—and with your Social Security attorney, if you have one—and the judge can ask questions of you to make his or her determination.
Your Social Security attorney, in preparation for your appeals hearing, will likely be collecting crucial medical evidence to support your claim, and submitting it accordingly. This may include having conversations with medical professionals who have treated or are treating you. Plus, your attorney can prepare you for the types of questions that the judge may ask.
The judge may want to discuss your job background, dates of employment, whether you worked full-time or part-time, why you left your job, and whether your medical impairment played a role. He or she may ask you about relevant exertion levels, including the heaviest amounts of weight you needed to lift, for how long, and how far carried. How much sitting did you do? Standing? Bending?
Environmental limitations may play a role in your case—whether noise or fumes, heights or temperature/humidity—so the judge may want to discuss those. You might be asked about your skill levels, technical training, supervisory experience and capability, stress tolerance for speed or complexity, or when needing to meet deadlines. You’ll likely be asked why you can no longer do the job you once did.
You may be asked details about the medical professionals who are currently treating you, along with their specialties. How long have you seen each one? What specific condition does each one treat? What treatments are you undergoing? What medications do you take—at what dosages, when, and how often? How much does it help, and for how long? What about side effects? And, if treatments aren’t being given, why not? When did they cease and why? If you haven’t tried a certain treatment, why not?
You may be asked questions about your pain, levels of it, what provides relief, and so forth. The same is true with fatigue, or with whatever other symptoms are relevant to your case. You may be asked about limitations in daily living, how well you remember what you need to do that day, other memory, concentration and/or attention issues, your ability to maintain a schedule, and more.
After the hearing with the ALJ, your claim may or may not be approved. At this point, you have the option of appealing to the Appeals Council and after that, the Federal District Court.
Choosing the Right Social Security Attorney
You’ll want an experienced attorney who will help you:
- File your SSDI application at the appropriate time.
- Appropriately disclose all physical and mental conditions.
- Meet all Social Security deadlines.
- Appeal any claim rejections, if applicable.
- Prepare you for your Social Security hearing, if applicable.
If you need to discuss your Social Security claim, no matter where you are in the process, we invite you to contact Harrell & Harrell, P.A., for a free consultation. We’ll gather the basic facts of your situation and offer initial guidance on potential next steps. Our attorneys have extensive experience in gathering information and presenting your case in a way that’s most helpful to you. We understand the ins and outs of the Social Security grid, SSDI requirements for approval, and more.
The earlier you contact us, the better—and, since the initial consultation is free, there’s nothing to lose. If you’re interested in having us evaluate your Social Security compensation claim at a free consultation, call Harrell & Harrell, P.A., today at 904-251-1111 or toll-free 1-800-251-1111 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with our Social Security disability lawyers.