We represent people who have had their lives altered forever by injury. These life changing injuries sometimes prevent our clients from becoming, or remaining, gainfully employed. Because we build solid interpersonal relationships with our clients, we live their frustration, anxiety, and pain with them. That said, we understand the need and value of Social Security Disability benefits; and we start working on securing those benefits for clients as soon as we recognize there will be a need.
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 which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” So, what does this definition mean? Social Security does not have a “temporary” disability program or a “partial” disability program. Social Security only provides disability benefits to someone that has a “severe” condition or conditions that prevent the ability to work for at least 12 months or are expected to result in death.
Substantial gainful activity is met if someone earns income above the base threshold amount announced by Social Security every year. The amount increases slightly every year, but generally, if you are able to earn a little over $1,200.00 or so per month from a work activity, you may not meet the definition requirement for disability because you will be found to be engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA). While everyone knows that approximately $1,200.00 per month is extremely difficult to live on, the yearly SGA amount is a bright line rule with Social Security. There are a few provisions for people that try to work, but are unable to consistently maintain SGA, but you should run your specific facts by an SSA attorney to know if you have a problem with Social Security claiming you don’t qualify due to SGA.
A medically determinable impairment means you have been to your doctor(s), received a diagnosed medical condition(s), and have medical records that clearly identify your health condition is severe enough to interfere with basic work related activities. Some people have conditions that clearly meet the published SSA listing criteria (a list established by SSA for specific health conditions). However, most people, have a combination of conditions, or a condition that does not clearly meet a listing, but that severe condition still causes significant difficulty with working full time. For the majority of people, a hearing before an administrative law judge is usually required, so that a determination can be made as to whether you can perform your past work, and/or whether there is other work in the national economy in sufficient numbers that you should be able to do.
Probably the best advice we can give any person that has applied for SSA Disability and been denied benefits, is to appeal that denial. You must appeal within 60 days of the denial, so please don’t get discouraged and simply let the time frame for appealing go by. You will have to re-apply and wait another 4-5 months to get a denial letter again, before you can appeal. This impacts your back benefits, increases the amount of time you have to wait for a hearing and may even impact whether you obtain SSDI or SSI. SSDI is based on your work credits, and is generally a higher amount per month than the needs-based SSI program. The SSI program limits the amount you can have in resources, household income and is a set monthly amount that is slightly increased each year. For 2020 the SSI amount is set at $783.00 per month. This is a very challenging amount to live on monthly, so we recommend if you have been working for 5-years out of the past 10-years, that you don’t delay in applying for benefits and appeal any denial.
The other really important piece of advice we can give you is to “document, document, document.” So, what does that mean? GO TO YOUR DOCTOR! It doesn’t matter what attorney you hire to assist you in getting benefits established, if you fail to go to your doctor and get treatment, you will not get benefits. Social Security rules prevent an administrative law judge from giving you benefits if your file does not contain sufficient medical record documentation to support your reported condition and the functional problems you are having. This means that your job, while you’re unable to work, is to keep appointments with your physicians and to report everything you are having difficulty with when you see your doctors. This is another non-negotiable, bright line SSA rule, so please if you are waiting years for your hearing, be diligent in following up with your doctor and with the treatment recommendations your doctor makes. Your medical records are the evidence an attorney needs to prove your disability.
We are familiar with the requirements and methods used by Social Security in evaluating whether a person should receive a favorable benefit decision. Once our office gets involved, we will work with you to make sure your Disability file is complete and all available documentation we can obtain has been submitted. We also a prepare pre-hearing brief for the administrative law judge in every case, because we want you to have the best chance to obtain these vital benefits.
If your seeking disability benefits, contact us today for an initial no fee consultation.