If you are faced with a long-term illness, injury, or disability that inhibits your ability to work, you may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits.
Although designed to simplify the stresses of long-term illness, the process of applying for disability benefits can be overwhelming. The approval rate for disability benefits is low, so it is imperative that all aspects of the application process are handled with accuracy and timeliness.
We’ve put together this infographic to help you understand the process of applying for Social Security Disability and how to make an informed decision about moving forward with the application process.
If you or a loved one are applying for Social Security Disability, hiring an experienced attorney to guide you through the application process will significantly increase your chances of being approved. Contact the experts at Laird Hammons Laird today, and get one step closer to financial security and peace of mind.
Only about 1 in 4 Oklahomans who apply for Social Security disability benefits will qualify the first time they apply. That means that the rest have to appeal their claims and testify in a hearing before an administrative law judge.For many, testifying in a front of a judge is a stressful and nerve-racking experience, especially when financial security is on the line. One of the best ways to prepare for a Social Security disability hearing is to hire an experienced attorney who specializes in disability claims.
Jason Michael Hicks, a Social Security disability lawyer at Laird Hammons Laird, offered this advice for testifying in a disability hearing.
1. Be prepared to wait.
Applying for disability benefits is a lengthy process. On average, it can take up to 14 months to be approved for benefits. This can have serious financial and emotional consequences, so make sure that you and your family are prepared to wait.
2. Do not collect unemployment.
Disability is often a financial burden, but unemployment benefits conflict with the qualifications for disability benefits. Collecting unemployment signifies that an individual is capable of work but unable to find a job. Whereas, disability benefits are only granted to those who are unable to work because of illness or disability.
3. Quit your job or adjust your hours.
To qualify for disability, as of 2016, your monthly income must not exceed $1,130. Anything higher is considered “substantial gainful activity” and will automatically disqualify you from receiving disability benefits. There are some exceptions for self-employed individuals and small business owners.
4. Be prepared to not meet a specific medical listing category.
The Social Security Blue Book contains a list of qualifying impairments for disability benefits. “Most people aren’t going to fall into a medical listing category,” Hicks said. “It’s more important to focus on what you can or can’t do, rather than what disability you have.”
5. For mental illness cases, compile comprehensive medical proof.
Unfortunately, there are not definitive tests to prove mental illness in a courtroom. “Those diseases which can’t be seen, like mental illness, are the ones judges are most skeptical of,” Hicks said. “They’re the most subjective. In mental illness, it’s really important more than anywhere else to have a consistent, well-developed medical history.”
6. Provide a 15-year work history.
Disability is awarded based on whether your illness keeps you from being able to work. A comprehensive work history covering experience and job responsibilities from the past 15 years in detail will illustrate how your disability negatively impacted your ability to perform tasks.
7. Provide any new medical evidence.
“A documented medical history is probably the single most important thing a claimant can prepare prior to the hearing,” Hicks said. Most judges appreciate time to review new evidence, so try to submit any new medical evidence in advance.
8. Submit a brief.
A brief is a short document that illustrates why you should win your case and outlines any new medical evidence to support your claim. Make sure that your case brief is submitted to your designated judge at least 10 days before your hearing.
9. Prepare to answer questions about your case.
Many people are nervous to speak about their disability in front of a judge. Having a skilled lawyer that specializes in disability appeals can help you to prepare for your hearing and ensure it goes smoothly. Hicks meets with his clients a few days before their hearing to review the hearing process and prepare his clients to testify confidently.
10. Arrange to have one or two witnesses present.
Ask someone close to you to testify about how your disability affects your ability to perform tasks either at home or at work. If you choose more than one witness, try to find witnesses that can offer varied knowledge about how your disability affects your life, such as a co-worker and a close personal friend.
Hiring a lawyer who understands disability cases will help you to prepare for your hearing. To speak with an experienced attorney who specializes in disability claims, contact us today.
While Americans value self-reliance, we are also a nation committed to helping those who help themselves. Because of this fundamental concern, our country has put in place a number of economic safety nets and ways to assist those in need. For many individuals, the Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs provide significant benefits when unable to work or generate personal income.
What Medical Conditions Qualify
The Social Security Administration has developed a comprehensive manual that lists qualifying impairments and disabilities. Called the Blue Book, this guide is used by the government and doctors to help evaluate a person’s level of and type of disability. These assessments are essential to determining if you are eligible for disability and what your benefits might include.
The Blue Book lists a wide range of potential impairments, including:
• Skin disorder, such as dermatitis
• Mental disorders, including depression, schizophrenia and autism
• Kidney disease
• Musculoskeletal problems, such as injuries to the back
Of course, this is only a sampling of the potentially qualifying disabilities, and it takes someone with knowledge and experience to help you determine if your specific situation might qualify for SSDI benefits. In fact, your particular condition or ailment does not have to exactly match the listings and descriptions in the Blue Book, but it can be difficult to proceed if it doesn’t.
A key factor in determining your eligibility for disability payments is how your situation affects your ability to work. As an example, migraine headaches are not listed as a qualifying condition. However, if these are severe enough to keep you from working, you might qualify. It often takes a qualified doctor and lawyer who are experienced in Oklahoma disability processes to help explain disability listing, conditions equaling a disability listing, and/or your qualification for a medical-vocational allowance.
Determining Your Eligibility and Applying for Disability Benefits
While the Social Security disability program is run by the federal government, residents of Oklahoma encounter some unique aspects of the process. It is important for you to understand that all initial applications for Social Security and SSI disability benefits are dealt with by the Oklahoma Disability Determination Division (DDD). This department, which operates under the Department of Rehabilitative Services, processes applications after they are reviewed by Social Security.
After a determination is made concerning details of income limits and specific work requirements, the DDD takes over reviewing the application from the medical perspective. It is common for an individual submitting an initial application to find they are rejected. In fact, the statistics show only 28.6 percent of Oklahomans qualify on first applications, compared to 32.1 percent nationally.
If you are not approved on your first attempt, you can appeal through the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. There are three Oklahoma offices of ODAR to handle these appeals, and you will be called to one of them for a hearing on your appeal. In the reconsideration stage, only 9.6 percent of those applying have received benefits. Again, this is lower than the national average of 11.3 percent.
If your application qualifies for a hearing, you can expect a wait of nearly a year; 330 days is average. This is one area where Oklahomans fare better than the national average, which comes in at 349 days. However, the results of the hearings granting benefits (51.8 percent) fall below the results for residents of other states, who can expect positive results in 58.3 percent of the hearings.
Improving the Odds
In addition to federal benefits you may be granted, you may qualify for the additional payments made by the state of Oklahoma. While small, these additional payments can make a big difference. Currently, if you qualify based on financial need, you will receive $42 per month for an individual and $84 a month for a couple. If you have no other income and qualify, that means you would currently receive $1.132 per month as a couple and $740 per month as an individual.
It is generally recognized that if you have a lawyer assist you with the process, your odds of receiving benefits are substantially higher. This is especially the case for appearing at the hearings. If you attempt to handle the process on your own, you will often find the documentation and process of preparation daunting and frustrating. In fact, many individuals just give up, which makes the approval numbers seem higher than they actually are.
You will probably be seeking disability assistance when you are least able to handle the process yourself. The emotions and limitations from injuries, diseases and accidents make it difficult to deal with the different steps of documentation and qualification for benefits. If you are facing the need for disability assistance, we can help make the process less stressful and more effective.
One call to our firm will help provide the peace of mind you want and deserve – call us today at (405) 703-4567.