10 Common Questions about Applying for Disability Benefits

1.  How can I tell if I am disabled enough to apply for social security disability benefits?

Social Security regulations make it easier to be found disabled as you get older.

  • If you’re over age 55 and you cannot do any job you have done in the past 15 years, you should definitely apply.
  • If you’re over age 50 and have a severe impairment that keeps you from doing all but the easiest jobs, you ought to apply.
  • If you’re under age 45 or 50 and you cannot do your past jobs and you cannot work full time at any regular job, that ought to be enough. You should keep in mind that it is difficult to convince Social Security that you are “disabled” under age 45 or 50, even if you cannot work. However, if you genuinely feel you cannot work ANY regular job, you should apply.

It is also important to hire an experienced person to represent you, because they will

2.  How do I apply for Social Security disability or SSI benefits?

There are three ways to apply for disability benefits:

  1. Online at http://www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability/;
  2. Call 1-800-772-1213; or
  3. Go to your local Social Security office.  To find your local Social Security office go to https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp

3.  Do you have any advice about applying for disability benefits?

  • Be honest and complete in giving information to Social Security about what is disabling you. Many claimants exaggerate or minimize their disability. For example, many claimants fail to mention their psychiatric problems to Social Security because they are embarrassed. Furthermore, in almost all cases, individuals who were slow learners in school fail to mention this to Social Security, even though it can have a good deal to do with whether or not their Social Security disability claim is approved.  Therefore, DO NOT exaggerate or minimize your disability. 
  • Apply for disability benefits as soon as you become disabledIt can take a long time to process an initial application for disability benefits (3-5 months)
  • Appeal all denials received from Social Security after you apply for benefits! The biggest mistakes people make when trying to get disability benefits is failing to appeal.  It is important to appeal because most claims are denied at the initial level, but approved at higher levels of review.
  • Hire an experienced person to represent you, because (1) they will better understand the way Social Security works, and (2) statistically, claimants who hire an attorney are much more likely to win than those who are not represented.

4.  Who decides if you are disabled?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) will review your application to make sure you meet some basic requirements for disability benefits.  SSA will also check to see if you worked enough years to qualify and to evaluate any current work activities.  If you meet these requirements, the administration will process your application and forward your case to the Disability Determination Services office in your state. The state agency completes the disability decision for SSA.  Doctors and disability specialists in the state agency ask your doctors for information about your condition. They will consider all the facts in your case. They will also use the medical evidence from your doctors, hospitals, clinics and institutions where you have been treated.

They will ask your doctors:

  • What your medical condition is;
  • When your medical condition began;
  • How your medical condition limits your activities;
  • What the medical tests have shown; and
  • What treatment you have received.

They also will ask the doctors for information about your ability to do work-related activities, such as walking, sitting, lifting, carrying and remembering instructions. Your doctors are not asked to decide if you are disabled. The state agency staff may need more medical information before they can decide if you are disabled. If more information is not available from your current medical sources, the state agency may ask you to go for a special examination. SSA prefers to ask your own doctor, but sometimes the exam may have to be done by someone else.  SSA will pay for the exam and for some of the related travel costs.

5.  What happens if I am denied benefits and I do not appeal within 60 days?

You’ll have to start over with a new application — and it may mean that you’ll lose some back benefits. So it’s important to appeal all denials within 60 days. It’s better if you appeal right away so that you get through the bureaucratic denial system faster. The quicker you can get to the hearing stage the better.

6.  How do I appeal?

Your denial letter will tell you how to appeal.  The first appeal is called a “reconsideration.” You must request reconsideration and then, after the reconsideration is denied, you must request a hearing within the 60-day time limit.

You can appeal in one of three ways:

  1. Online at https://secure.ssa.gov/apps6z/iAppeals/ap001.jsp.  Be sure to print and keep the receipt for your appeal so that you can prove you appealed on time;
  2. Call 1-800-772-1213or
  3. Go to your local Social Security office.  To find your local Social Security office go to https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp.

If you go to the Social Security office, be sure to take along a copy of your denial letter. And be sure that the Social Security representative gives you a signed copy of your appeal paper showing that you appealed on time.

7.  What are the biggest mistakes people make when trying to get disability benefits?

  • Failing to appeal.  The most important thing that you can do is to appeal all denials and hire an experienced person to represent you. It is important to appeal because most claims are denied at the initial level, but are approved at higher levels of review. And it is important to hire an experienced person to represent you because you do not understand the way Social Security works. Statistically, claimants who employ an attorney to represent them are much more likely to win than those who are not represented.
  • Failing to obtain appropriate medical care.  Some people with long-term chronic medical problems feel that they have not been helped much by doctors. Thus, for the most part, they stop going for treatment. This is a mistake for both medical and legal reasons. First, no one needs good medical care more than those with chronic medical problems. Second, medical treatment records provide the most important evidence of disability in a Social Security case.

8.  Since medical evidence is so important, should I have my doctor write a letter to the Social Security Administration and should I gather medical records and send them to SSA?

This is a hard question. Few people win their cases by having their doctors write letters, but you can try this if you want to. The problem is that the medical-legal issues are so complicated in most disability cases that a doctor may inadvertently give the wrong impression. Therefore, obtaining medical reports may be something better left for a lawyer to do.

9.  When is the best time for a lawyer to get involved in my case?

Many people wait until it is time to request a hearing before contacting an attorney to represent them. Although everyone agrees that a lawyer’s help is essential at the hearing, a lawyers help in the early stages is a subject with arguments on both sides.

Approximately 33% of people who apply will be found disabled after filing the initial application, without a lawyer’s help.  Further, about 12% of people who request reconsideration are found disabled, mostly without a lawyer’s help.  If you are successful in handling the case yourself at the initial or reconsideration levels, you will save having to pay attorney’s fees. BUT, if you feel more comfortable with an experienced attorney helping you in the early stages, please call Dimitrios Makridis at (614) 349-4490, or Irene Makridis at (330) 394-1587. 

10.  How much do you charge?

Do not be concerned with our attorney fee because there is no attorney fee unless we win.

After you are approved to receive disability benefits, the government will owe you a lump sum of “back” benefits from the time you became disabled to the date of your award.  Our fee is 25% of these “back” benefits (but never more than $6,000).  The only rare exception to our fee is if we appeal your administrative law judge decision.  In this circumstance, our fee is still 25% of your back benefits, but we drop the $6,000.00 limit on fees.

Our knowledge and experience can make the difference in winning your disability claim. Call Dimitrios Makridis at (614) 349-4490, or Irene Makridis at (330) 394-1587, for a free consultation today.

We have offices in Columbus, Warren, Youngstown, and Cleveland.