According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), the average 20 year old in the U.S. has a one-in-four chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement age. This means that 25 percent of that age group may become eligible for Social Security (SS) disability benefits should they become unable to work due to their injuries.
The intricacies of the process are complicated, which is why knowledgable social security disability lawyers can be vital to help people who need to qualify for the right benefits.
What Are Social Security Disability Benefits?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) operates tax-funded federal insurance programs that are designed to assist disabled American adults and children who have limited income and resources.
There are two different government programs: SSDI and SSI disability insurance.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
Applicants can apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) if they have been unable to work in the past 12 months due to a mental or physical disability.
To qualify for SSDI benefits, you must have had an eligible work history and a qualifying medical condition. How much you receive as SSDI payments depends on your accumulated payment of Social Security taxes.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Unlike SSDI benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is funded by general tax revenues and provides financial assistance to applicants based on their financial need. As a result, SSI benefits eligibility is based on your personal income and assets. There are other eligibility requirements as well.
SSI vs. SSDI: Which Type of Disability Program Are You Eligible For?
While each of these programs provides assistance for people with disabilities, their benefits and eligibility requirements differ. Understanding the eligibility requirements for each program can help increase your chances of being qualified for the disability benefits you deserve.
How to Qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is aimed at providing benefits for people who can no longer maintain a living based on any medical conditions that are expected to last for at least a year or result in death. Eligibility for SSDI benefits is based on your work record and disability condition. To qualify, you must have previously worked and paid enough into Social Security.
If you qualify for work history, then your medical condition must be deemed disabling enough by the SSA to receive disability benefits. The SSA “Blue Book” lists specific criteria of applicants who suffer from a disabling condition that apply to the evaluation process. Since SSDI benefits are based on work records, the amount of benefits an individual receives can vary dramatically.
How to Qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
On the other hand, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is based on need. Your income and resources must be under a certain threshold to qualify for SSI benefits. You can qualify for SSI benefits, regardless of how much you’ve paid into the Social Security system through your work history.
While both programs require you to have a qualifying disability, the SSI is specifically available for those who are blind, disabled, or over 65 years old. In addition, SSI benefits have strict income requirements. Any amount earned over the threshold will result in reductions in your monthly benefits. Unlike SSDI benefits, SSI beneficiaries receive the same amount in payments.
How Social Security Disability Attorneys Help With Filing Claims
The disability benefits application process is complex, and many applicants are denied the first time they submit an application. This can be especially frustrating and discouraging when you’re already dealing with a disabling medical condition. The entire application process for benefits includes all the proper paperwork, evidence, and medical documentation.
By working with experienced Social Security disability attorneys, you can trust the process to the experts. They can gather all the medical and work history documentation and handle your application correctly to give you the greatest chance for success on your disability benefits application.
Social Security disability lawyers have experience with working with the SSA and compiling all the necessary documentation on your application so you have the best chances of being awarded benefits the first time it's submitted.
How Disability Lawyers Help With Appealing Your Denied Claim
If you receive an unfavorable application decision from the SSA, you still have hope to receive disability benefits by appealing a denied claim. However, the appeal process can be overwhelming and intimidating. With the help and support of a disability lawyer, you can build a complete and effective appeal to overturn the SSA’s decision.
Disability lawyers have experience appealing claims and will act promptly to appeal the SSA’s determination of your claim. Preparing for an appeal with all the correct paperwork and documentation is crucial, especially when the SSA’s decision was initially due to an incomplete disability benefits application.
Your disability lawyer will ensure all the correct medical evidence for your disability and all other documentation is prepared so you can try to reverse the SSA’s determination and receive the benefits you need.
Five Reasons You’re Denied Social Security Disability Benefits
Less than 40 percent of all Social Security disability applications are approved for benefits when submitted the first time. Here are some of the more common reasons why:
Not Enough Medical Evidence
Disability benefit decisions are based on the evidence that your medical condition is severely disabling, acting as a long-time obstacle to your ability to earn a living. The more documentation you have by doctors or other field practitioners, the better your chances are of being approved.
Not including enough evidence is a common reason for claimants being denied disability benefits. This includes records from a licensed doctor or psychologist diagnosing you with a medical condition, as well as documentation that you have been receiving the necessary treatment without results.
Failure to Follow Prescribed Treatments
One of the qualifying factors for disability benefits is when medical conditions are resistant to treatments. Claimants have to prove through documentation that they were prescribed treatments and therapies, attended these sessions, and received no results of improving their condition.
Applicants who fail to follow treatments will likely be denied by the SSA for disability benefits.
Poor Representation of Work History
Providing insufficient documentation and data on your contributions into the Social Security system can deny you SSDI benefits. Even if you have an extensive work history, poor documentation of these contributions and credits can result in an unfavorable SSA determination.
Failure to Cooperate
Both SSDI and SSI applicants must meet all the documentation criteria when applying for benefits. Not supplying the SSA with the paperwork they need will only hurt your case. Likewise, not showing up for scheduled medical exams during the application process will likely result in an SSA denial.
No Preparation Involved
Preparation is key when it comes to the Social Security disability application process. This includes gathering all the correct documentation and ensuring you meet certain prerequisite conditions for the program you’re applying for.
What to Expect When Appealing Your Denied Social Security Claim in Florida
Appeals are offered to both SSI and SSDI applicants after all levels of decisions, besides those of the U.S. Supreme Court. To begin your appeal, you can call your local Social Security field office and tell them that you want to appeal an unfavorable SSA decision. The office will send you the proper forms and tell you where to mail the paperwork once you've filled it out.
The average disability appeal wait time to go before a judge varies city by city. In Florida, there are eight different Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) locations where hearings will be located. Their average wait times for a hearing are as follows:
- Fort Myers: 10.5 months
- Ft. Lauderdale: 12.5 months
- Jacksonville: 12 months
- Miami: 12 months
- Orlando: 10 months
- St. Petersburg: 14 months
- Tallahassee: 10 months
- Tampa: 11 months
During your appeal process, having an expert and compassionate disability lawyer by your side can make all the difference. They will be with you every step of the way, including organizing your medical documents, completing paperwork, and presenting your disability case.
The Cost of Hiring a Social Security Disability Lawyer
A disability lawyer typically receives a quarter of your Social Security back payments if you win. Since disability attorneys work “on contingency,” that means they only collect a fee if they win.
Generally, you and your Social Security disability lawyer can agree on any amount of fee, but it cannot exceed 25 percent of your backpay as per Social Security law.
Your Next Steps for Your Disability Application and Appeal
If you’ve determined to hire a Social Security disability lawyer, then finding the right one for your case is essential. Follow these tips to hire the right lawyer and get started on your disability application journey:
When to Look for a Good Social Security Disability Law Firm
When it comes to applying for disability benefits, timing is everything. It’s important to know that, if you win your case, your disability benefits will not begin until the sixth full month of disability. To receive your benefits as soon as possible, you should apply as soon as you become disabled from an accident or medical condition.
Disability appeals are on a stricter timeline. Applicants are allowed to submit their disability appeal within 60 days of receiving a decision, with an additional five days as a mail-in period.
What to Look for When You Choose a Social Security Disability Attorney
It’s important to hire a Social Security disability lawyer who you can trust with your claim. They must have the experience and dedication to help you deal with the SSA’s complicated application process — and appeals if need be.
Your disability lawyer should have experience working and communicating with the SSA. One way you can determine their level of knowledge with the SSA application process is by asking for an assessment of your disability claim.
When it comes to your disability claim, you want to know it’s in good hands. Make sure your disability lawyer is dedicated to helping your case and genuinely wants to see you and your condition improve.
Their level of dedication can be seen in the attorney’s professionalism and courtesy toward you. For instance, make sure you’re given the chance to ask questions and are receiving timely call-backs.
Your disability attorney should give you a fair assessment of your disability claim. This includes their honest assessment of your chances of successfully receiving disability benefits. A preliminary assessment of your case can determine their experience level and how dedicated they seem to your claim.
Questions to Ask Disability Lawyers
Before hiring a disability lawyer, make sure to ask these questions to see if they’re the right fit for you and your case.
Are You a Licensed Attorney?
Since the SSA allows non-attorney advocates to represent claimants in hearings, it’s important to ask whether or not your representative is a licensed attorney.
Do You Have Specialized Training in Disability Law?
Disability law is a highly specialized field, so it’s important that you hire a specialist and not a general practitioner attorney to fight for your case.
What Is Your Fee?
Be sure that your disability lawyer explains their fee structure. Typically, most disability lawyers charge little or no money upfront and instead require 25 percent of your disability back benefits if you win your case.
What Case-Related Expenses Will I Need to Reimburse?
Nearly all disability attorneys will require you to reimburse them for any expenses relating to your case. This may include the cost of medical records requests, medical source statements, postage, and travel expenses. Make sure there is complete transparency between you and your lawyer about expenses.
Get Started on Your Social Security Disability Application and Appeals in Florida
When it comes to hiring a Social Security disability lawyer, hiring the right one can make all the difference in your case. The dedicated attorneys at Lowman Law Firm can help you receive the disability benefits you deserve. We offer free comprehensive case consultations, and clients only pay fees or costs if the case is won.
Our lawyers provide statewide representation, handling cases in 34 Florida counties, including Hernando, Citrus, Pasco, Hillsborough, and Pinellas. We also manage cases in several other states.