Questions & Answers
- Am I Eligible for Social Security Disability Benefits?
When a person works, a percentage of his or her wages is paid into the Social Security fund. Most people realize that this provides benefits for them when they reach retirement, but this fund also provides disability insurance coverage. Generally speaking, you must have worked five out of the ten years immediately prior to becoming disabled for you to be fully insured under disability benefits. If you are covered by Social Security disability insurance you may be able to receive a monthly check and you may be eligible for Medicare if you are unable to work because of a physical or mental impairment.
Even if you have not worked enough years to be covered by Social Security disability, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) may be available. The SSI program provides a small monthly benefit for disabled individuals and also provides Medicaid health insurance for those who have not worked or have not worked for a long enough period to be covered by Social Security disability. To qualify for SSI you must be disabled and your entire household income and available resources must be under a certain limit.
Other technical requirements may apply to your case, as these vary depending upon the specific circumstances. You should contact Social Security to find out if you qualify and seek the advice of a certified attorney if the answer Social Security gives you does not appear accurate or you do not understand.
- Should I Hire an Attorney?
You do not have to retain an attorney in order to get Social Security benefits. However, your chances of winning your case are greatly improved if you have an attorney that understands disability law. Attorneys who limit their practice to Social Security disability are more familiar with the complex regulations and the process of disability claims. Much like physicians, attorneys tend limit their practice to a few select areas of the law. In the same way that you would not want your family physcian to perform a coronary artery by-pass, you don't want an attorney who has only a vague familiarity with Social Security to represent you in your claim.
The Social Security Administration does allow you to be represented by an individual who is not an attorney. Usually these non-attorney representatives charge the same fee that an attorney would charge. You should use caution in choosing a non-attorney representative. If the non-attorney loses your case, he or she will not be able to represent you further should you appeal to the Federal District Court. It is, therefore, usually better to hire an attorney at the beginning so that he or she can follow your case through to the end.
- When Should I Consult with an Attorney?
How soon your retain an attorney to represent you is entirely up to you. Many people seek legal advice as soon as they think they have a disability that is likely to last one year or longer. We represent claimants at all levels of the appeal process. However, we generally recommend that you file an application for benefits with Social Security and see if you are initially denied. The local Social Security office has people who will help you with the application. If you are successful without a representative, you will have saved the attorney fee. If you are denied, then you should contact us for an initial free consultation.
If you have not already filed for benefits, you can contact Social Security toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 to set up an appointment to file an application. To find the Social Security District Office nearest to you, click here. We also have a packet of information that we will send to you free of charge that will assist you in the filing of your application and give you some answers to some of the most commonly asked questions. In addition, the National Organization of Social Security Claimant's Representatives (NOSSCR) website may provide answers to some of your questions.
If you have already been denied benefits, or if you previously applied and were denied, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible. You should carefully read any correspondence from Social Security and pay close attention to any appeal deadlines that they give you. If you miss an appeal deadline, you could lose back pay or even worse have to start all over with your claim.
We strongly suggest that you hire an attorney before you proceed to a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. These hearings can often be very intimidating. You need an attorney to present your medical evidence and legal arguments properly. An attorney will also help gather your medical evidence and obtain opinions from your treating doctors about your disability and related limitations. Hiring an attorney early in the process gives more time for your case to be prepared as thoroughly as it can be in time for the hearing.
- What If I Do Not Have Money to Hire an Attorney?
Like most attorneys, we handle Social Security disability cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that if we do not win your case, you do not owe us a fee. The initial consultation is free. If you decide to retain us to represent you, our fee is 25% of the back benefits that we obtain for you and/or your family.