Social Security Disability is available to qualified individuals who are unable to work for more than one year due to their medical condition. While many people assume it is only for permanent disabilities, such as blindness, long term conditions still qualify, such as a back injury that will take years to heal, chronic pain, chronic illness, more.
Start with the application. You can apply online, and save your progress as you go, or ask for a paper application to be mailed to you. It is a big application; take your time to work through it. Call 1-800-772-1213 to request a paper application, or apply online.(link in the end of article)
There are a lot of questions, some of which you may have difficulty answering, such as remembering the dates and addresses of all the jobs you have worked. Do the best that you can. Try not to leave any areas blank. If you know you worked a job that started in April but do not recall the exact day, put April 1st for the date. This applies to ALL questions, if you have trouble answering the question, do the best that you can. There will be a comments section, in which you can state that you guessed the approximate date, or make any other comments about any of your answers.
You will sign forms to allow SSD to receive your medical records from every doctor you have seen in the past few years. They will want the dates you have been to the doctor, every single date- again, do the best that you can. The important part is signing the agreement to get access to your records; they can check the dates themselves with that permission.
When you reach the section about your health issues, they are interested in knowing how this impacts your ability to work. They cannot guess how this affects you, you need to tell them. If you simply label that you have anxiety but do not tell them about it, they cannot use that as criteria to evaluate you. If your anxiety is so severe that you cannot be around more than 2 people, or cannot stay in a building that is not your home for more than 10 minutes, then tell them exactly that- this shows them how the anxiety impacts your ability to work. Do this for each health symptom.
Be as detailed as you can about how this affects your daily life and how it affects your ability to work, about each health condition. Telling them you have muscle weakness is not informative enough for them to go on- telling them you have muscle weakness that makes it impossible to lift more than 5 pounds, and your job requires you to lift 20 pounds, is an example of showing them how it affects your ability to work.
When it comes to newer diagnosis that are not widely accepted, such as Fibromyalgia, focus on each symptom and how it impacts your ability to work. Do not expect them to be educated about your illness, what symptoms are associated with it, your pain levels, etc. In fact, apply this to ANY medical diagnosis- do not assume anything, explain and detail each symptom that you have, even if you consider it to be ‘common knowledge’ that people with this condition have these symptoms.
Be honest, very honest about everything. They will check. Also, they are not going to ‘tattle’ on you to another agency. If your condition makes it difficult for you to prepare meals, for example, and you have a young child, do not be afraid that telling them you have trouble preparing meals means they will report you to CPS and you will lose your child. They are not looking to judge you as a person, or judge your fitness as a parent, or your rights to hold a driver’s license- they are ONLY interested in judging your ability to work.
Be prepared for the emotional impact- personally, I cried and threw the papers across the room. It was a huge emotionally charged time for me, writing down everything that was ‘wrong’ with me, plus knowing strangers would read it. Breathe, you fight battles every day, you got this.
Be prepared to be denied. It is fairly standard practice to deny the first application, regardless of your condition. It is not a reflection on you, or how you filled out the paperwork. It is just a part of the process.
Once you are denied, it is time to call a lawyer. Again, fairly standard part of the process is that almost no one gets approved without a lawyer. Grab the phone book, go to attorneys, there is a section for Social Security lawyers. Personally, I would choose the one with the biggest color ad- those ads are expensive, only winners can afford to buy them. The lawyer will meet with you in their office or possibly your home, depends on the lawyer. The lawyer will not cost you anything at this point- any lawyer who asks for a check at this time should be considered shady and dropped. The standard for lawyers who work on SSD cases is they receive 25% of your lump sum award- meaning they only get paid if they successfully help you get approved.
The lawyer will file an appeal, and you will be given appointments with independent doctors who work with Social Security to evaluate your condition(s). It is super important you keep these appointments, and they may be in another city- so if you need transportation in order to keep the appointment, tell your lawyer as soon as possible, it usually takes about a week to arrange a ride.
Once all the appointments are over, you will receive a court date. You will go before a judge with your lawyer. The judge will have already reviewed all of your medical records and your application. The judge will ask you questions; do the best that you can. Be honest. If you are too nervous to think clearly, say so, they understand. If you need a break, let them know.
About a month after the court date, you will receive a letter in the mail telling you if you are approved or denied. If you are denied, you can appeal, with your lawyer. If you are approved, it will take approximately five months to receive your first monthly check. The amount of your check each month is based on what you have paid in to your Social Security over your life- so the longer you have worked, the higher your rate of pay, the more your monthly check will be. This amount varies for every single person, since no two people have identical income histories.
Once you are approved, you will also be getting a lump sum check, approximately three months after you are notified of the approval. The judge assigned to your case will be the person who determines when your Disability began, and that will determine the amount of your lump sum check. The lawyer’s fee will be deducted as a one-time payment from this lump sum check. So, for example, if your monthly check was to be $1,000, and the judge determined your Disability began 16 months ago, the lump sum would be $16,000, minus the 25% of the lawyer’s fee (16,000 x .25= 4,000), so you would receive $12,000. If you provided your bank account information for direct deposit, this would be deposited into your account; otherwise, it will be mailed to you. The lump sum is a One Time payment.
Your monthly checks will be direct deposited or mailed to you, the method chose by you, and this can be changed at any time. Direct deposit is on the 3rd of every month; if the third is on a Saturday or Sunday, you get it the Friday before. If the 3rd is a Monday, and that Monday is a Federal holiday, you get it the Friday before.
Since you will be receiving a lot of mail and phone calls, it is extremely important to keep your contact information current, both with your lawyer and with Social Security directly. If you move, get a new mailing address, or change your phone number, notify Social Security immediately at the phone number listed above. If you are approved, and have direct deposit, and change banks, notify Social Security by phone right away.
How long does this all take? Well, it completely depends on where you live. Applications are processed locally, and so are court dates- if there are a lot of applications in your county, and the courts are full with those cases and other cases, it may take a long time, possibly several years. I have spoken to people who got approved the first time and it took less than 6 weeks, and I have spoken to those who appealed three times and it took over 5 years. It is literally different for every person, every situation, every state, and there is no way to guess how long your case will take. Take a deep breath, know that you have done your best, and focus on living your life to the best of your ability.
Read Also :
- See How You Qualify for more information about qualifying for Disability.
- Apply online at https://www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability/ and click the blue button at the bottom labeled “Apply for Disability”. If you are using the online application, you will need the login information to return, so be sure to save it.
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