Social Security Disability – An Overview

Helping You Understand Your Disability Benefits Options

The federal government has a number of disability benefit programs — generally grouped under Social Security disability (SSD) insurance and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) — for certain people who are unable to work full-time due to their disabilities.

Below is some general information about the disability benefits that are available through the Social Security system.

The Social Security Administration handles several different federal disability benefit programs. Our experienced attorneys can help you sort out which programs might apply to you, apply for benefits, and appeal your case if your application is denied. 

We guide clients in the Buffalo region and throughout western and central New York through all stages of the Social Security process. The knowledgeable lawyers at our firm can answer any questions you may have about Social Security disability benefits.

If you are considering applying for Social Security Disability benefits, or if you are in the midst of appealing a denial of benefits, it is important to understand the Social Security Administration’s approval process. In addition to meeting the definition of “disabled” and fulfilling the earnings requirements that the Social Security Administration dictates, you must present a convincing and organized claim. An experienced Social Security Disability attorney from The Law Offices of Kenneth Hiller can offer insight and guidance in your pursuit of benefits.

Disability

An impairment that qualifies as a disability under Social Security Administration (SSA) guidelines must be quite serious. The impairment must render the applicant unable to perform any substantial gainful activity — that is, the applicant must not be able to earn more than a minimum amount of money, determined each year by the SSA.

The impairment must completely disable the applicant from working. It must be expected to last for a year, have already lasted a year or be expected to cause the applicant’s death. But this is not the end of the qualifying tests.

Earnings Tests

The Social Security Administration also requires the applicant to have a sufficient work history to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. Based upon the applicant’s age, he or she must have worked for a specified number of years. The applicant also must have worked at least some of those years recently. This is because Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are “earned” with the contributions applicants have made through their Social Security taxes. Some blind applicants do not need to meet the recent work test.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI), on the other hand, is a needs-based program that helps disabled people with low income and few resources.

When to File

To qualify for benefits, a person must be disabled for a minimum of 12 consecutive months. Thus, it may not be a good idea for a person to file an application for benefits as soon as he or she becomes unable to work because it may be difficult to prove that the disability will last for at least one full year. The initial decision can take a number of months. If your claim is denied — which happens in a large majority of cases — the time it takes to appeal can last a year, two years or longer, depending on where you live and the hearing office. It is often wise to start early.

The Decision Process

Following the receipt of the application, a federal Social Security Administration representative will review the information. If the representative is satisfied that the application meets certain basic criteria, the application and evidentiary materials will be forwarded to a state agency that is charged with making a decision regarding the disability benefits application. The state agency may develop the file further by gathering more medical or vocational evidence.

Social Security uses a five-step process to determine whether the applicant should receive benefits, asking:

  • Whether the applicant is working
  • Whether the medical condition is severe enough to render the applicant disabled
  • Whether the impairment is on a government list of impairments granting automatic disability status (if the impairment is not on the list, that does not necessarily disqualify the applicant)
  • Whether the applicant can do the work he or she did before
  • What other types of work the applicant can to do

The state agency will return the file to the federal Social Security Administration with its recommendation. The SSA almost always adopts the state agency’s disability determination.

After considering all other eligibility questions, the SSA will mail the applicant a notice of its decision.

Appeals

The applicant has the right to appeal the decision. The first appeal is a reconsideration of the initial denial, typically a review by a new person of the written evidence and any additional evidence. Under a pilot program in some states, including Missouri, the reconsideration step has been eliminated and applicants go right from an initial denial to a hearing with an administrative law judge. After reconsideration, the next appeal goes to an administrative law judge for a hearing. Following this stage, the applicant has a right to appeal to the Social Security Appeals Council. Finally, the applicant may appeal to the federal courts. An attorney can offer valuable assistance in the appeals process.

Speak with an Attorney

Each step of the Social Security Disability benefits application process can be time consuming and complex. An attorney from The Law Offices of Kenneth Hiller can answer your questions and help you through the qualification and appeals process.

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.