How To Apply For Disability And When To Seek Legal Assistance

disable person with a piggy bank

If you have become disabled and unable to work, you may be eligible for disability benefits. The Social Security Administration understands that the disabled person may not be able to come in for their own appointments and also lets a loved one apply on his or her behalf. Disability benefits come in the form of monthly support that helps with living expenses, medical expenses, and bills. Disability benefits may be short-term or long-term, depending on the situation. There are also disability attorneys and non-legal representatives out there who can advise you on how to apply for disability.

We will talk about the different types of disability, how to apply for disability, and when it might be helpful to seek legal help. Read below for more on how to apply for disability.

What Is Disability?

There are two types of disability, or disability insurance. Both types are obtained through the Social Security Administration. The first benefit is Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI. The second benefit is Supplemental Security Income, or SSI.

Disability

The difference between the two is that Social Security Disability Insurance is an insurance program more geared towards people who had been working regularly before their disability. Supplemental Security Income is specifically for disabled persons who have a demonstrated financial need.

To qualify for SSDI, you must have total disability. This means you are completely unable to perform your last job or any other job you have ever performed before. Total disability also means you must be incapable of adapting to a different job suitable for your level of ability, skill and education.

The criteria for SSI, or Supplemental Security Income, is demonstrated financial need and a disability that keeps you from holding gainful employment. People over 65 years may not need to show total disability to be eligible for SSI, per the SSA’s rules. To qualify for SSI, you must show both that you are completely disabled and that you do not have adequate means of supporting yourself. Completely disabled means showing you cannot perform any work, either work for which you have previously trained or work you could be trained for.

Applicants for Supplemental Security Income cannot own more than $2,000 in countable assets outside of the home in which they live and one vehicle.

Is There a Need to Apply for Disability?

If you became disabled, cannot work, and cannot meet your living expenses, you may apply for disability. It is also possible to apply on behalf of a disabled family member. If you find out you have a serious illness that is expected to be terminal you should apply for disability immediately. At least you will have peace of mind knowing you will have some support in meeting your living and medical expenses.

In all cases you should begin your application as soon as you expect to be disabled more than a year, as the disability application process can be lengthy. Children with certain medical conditions also meet the qualifications for receiving SSI benefits. Check with the SSA for more information on accepted medical conditions and for how to apply for disability for a child.

The process is mostly straightforward but requires you to be tenacious in pursuing your or a family member’s claim. It is important to remember that SSA denies many claims at first but that does not mean that you should give up if you are experiencing a total disability. SSI or SSDI can be a lifesaver if you or a family member experiences such a hardship. The application process should be taken seriously and not abused if you are not truly disabled. If you are truly disabled, do not be dissuaded as you go through the filing process for either SSI or SSDI. Many denied cases are appealed in the Appeals Court and won.

You may be eligible for SSI or SSDI or both. You can receive both SSI and SSDI at the same time. Even if you haven’t worked in a while and aren’t eligible for SSDI, you may be eligible for SSI if you have a demonstrated financial need.

How to Apply for Disability

There is a lot of help available regarding how to apply for disability. You can apply online for either SSI or SSDI using the Social Security Disability Insurance online application. The SSA will accept any documents submitted online through the SSDI online application and will follow up with you for any additional documents needed. If a friend or family member applies for disability on your behalf, the SSA will be in touch with you to have you sign the documents.

person holding tab with social security form

You can go to your local SSA field office to meet with an SSA representative who helps you prepare your SSI or SSDI claims. You can make an appointment by calling 1-800-772-1213 to make an appointment or just stop by your local field office. Friends or family members can also be present with you during your phone or in-person interview with the SSA.

You should stay in close contact with your primary doctor as you navigate how to apply for disability.  You should notify your doctor immediately if you plan to file for disability. Your doctor can help you fill out forms. The SSA will probably be in touch with your doctor for more information on your condition.

When to Seek Legal Help

Before seeking legal help on how to apply for disability, consider the pros and cons. The costs of hiring a disability attorney are thankfully clear and unambiguous. Disability attorneys’ fees are regulated by federal law. Usually the cost is the lesser of 25 percent of your disability back-pay or $6,000, whichever is lower. Disability attorneys only get paid if you win your case.

social security law printed papers

It can be beneficial to seek legal advice during the initial filing process on how to apply for disability. Since the Social Security Administration denies many initial applications, it is common for applicants not to seek outside legal help until the appeals process on how to file for disability.

Filing Your Initial Application

There are a few things to consider in your initial application. Disability attorneys can consult with you best on how to file for disability. First, disability attorneys advise you on your “alleged onset date”, or AOD, for Social Security Disability Insurance. Supplemental Security Income pay starts when you first apply.

For SSDI, AOD determines the date at which you were first eligible for disability and decides how far in the past your back-pay will reach. If you became disabled on a date before your filing, you can get pay as far back as 12 months before your filing date. However, there is also a 5-month waiting period after you first apply during which you are neither owed nor given any benefits. So you would have to have become disabled 17 months before the date on which you applied to get the full 12 months of back-pay. The SSA makes the final decision on the date on which your disability first started. This date set by the SSA is called the EOD, or Established Onset Date.

After that, often lawyers or non-attorney representatives do not get directly involved until the appeals process. If your initial disability application is denied, remember you have 60 days to file an appeal. You also must notify the Social Security Administration if you plan to hire a legal representative using the SSA’s Appointment of Representative https://www.ssa.gov/forms/ssa-1696.pdf form.There are multiple levels of the appeals process. Appeals are often denied at the reconsideration level. At the second appeals level, you will get a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, or ALJ. A lawyer or non-legal representative will help you prepare your answers for the hearing. They will also help you best represent your condition and with cross-examination by the vocational expert during your hearing.

Do I Need to Hire a Disability Attorney?

While it’s possible to get your case approved by the Social Security Administration without legal representation, everything else being equal, Social Security is more likely to approve applicants who are represented by legal counsel. Disability attorneys are the experts on how to apply for disability. If your initial application was denied, in that case you may hire either a disability attorney or a non-legal representative.

Non-Lawyer Representatives

Non-lawyer representatives are also experts on how to apply for disability. A non-lawyer representative is paid the same as a lawyer – both are paid an established sum percentage out of your Social Security benefits and only get paid if you win – but a non-lawyer representative often only handles disability cases and may have more time for your case, while a lawyer could have multiple specialties and less time for your case. Non-lawyer representatives are also more willing to take on long-shot cases while lawyers are more interested in taking cases that will probably win.

Conclusion

Filing for disability does not have to be complicated with the wealth of resources and help at your disposal who can help you on how to apply for disability. Remember that you may not need legal representation for your initial application but as you enter the appeals process, enlisting the help of either a disability attorney, non-legal representative, or social worker or case manager may be beneficial. They can best understand how to portray your application in the best light to the Social Security Administration. With the help of these representatives, your chance of a successful SSI or SSDI application is greatly increased.

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