Social Security Disability Process

Social Security Disability Process

Social Security provides two types of disability income for people who are unable to work. Social Security Disability (SSDI) is your age 65 Social Security Benefit paid to you from the sixth month you are unable to work until you can return to work. It is available to people who have worked most of their life, and have paid sufficient FICA taxes. The other program is called Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and is a Federal Welfare program for the disabled. SSI does not require that you pay any Social Security taxes, but pays at a much lower amount and requires that the person have virtually no income or resources. These two programs pay benefits to about nine million disabled people and their dependents. 

Statistics show that the potential for receiving favorable decisions is greatly enhanced with legal representation. The fees are on a contingent basis (which means that they are only chargeable if the person receives benefits), and are very reasonable. You should know that non-lawyers can also represent people at the very early levels of the Social Security Process, but cannot go above the Administrative level and, therefore, could not take the case into the United States District Court, if necessary. You should also be aware that, as a general rule, both attorneys and non-attorneys charge the same fee for representation. The attorney, however, can take the case into the Federal Court and prosecute it as far as necessary, even to the United States Supreme Court. 

Because review of the Administrative process in the Federal Court is very restrictive in its scope, it is imperative that a well represented and solid legal case be established before the Administrative Law Judge and, therefore, imperative that proper legal representation be obtained at the Administrative levels. 

In order to receive either of the benefits, the disabled person must show an inability to work (usually at any work) because of physical or mental impairments which either have lasted, or are expected to last, 12 continuous months (or more) or result in death. 

In evaluating whether a person is entitled, Social Security looks at five factors.

  • If the person is working, and earning more than about $900 monthly, the person will be denied.
  • The second factor is whether the person has a "severe" physical or mental condition which would have a significant impact on performing work-related activities.
  • The third factor is highly technical. It requires a determination as to whether the specific physical or mental impairment is the same as specified impairments printed in the Social Security Regulations. This is strictly done by medical opinion, and very few people meet that standard.
  • The fourth factor that Social Security considers is whether a person can perform his or her "past relevant work." This means work performed for more than six months at any time over the last fifteen years before the person claims disability. If a person can perform that work, they are not disabled.
  • If a person cannot perform any of his or her past relevant work, then Social Security will move to the fifth and final factor, which is whether the person can perform other work that exists in reasonable numbers, either in the person's local area or in the national economy. At this point, Social Security takes into consideration age, education, the type of past work performed, and the person's restrictions from their physical and/or mental impairments.

Normally, disability is granted either on the basis of the third factor, being the same as listed impairments in the Regulations, or at the final step, where they take into consideration the capacity to perform other work. 

Due to the complexity of the Social Security laws, and the need for gathering precise medical evidence, it is vital that attorney representation be obtained as early as possible in the Social Security process. Certainly, it would be unwise to go before the Administrative Law Judge without a properly trained and knowledgeable attorney who is well versed in Social Security Law and knows how to gather and present medical evidence in its most favorable fashion. It is also vital that, if a person is asking for either Social Security Disability or SSI, that he or she be under the care of a physician who will provide well-documented information about the person's physical and/or mental problems and the limitations that these conditions cause.