How Do I Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits?

Even though an attorney is not required to file a disability benefits claim, having professional representation when dealing with the Social Security Administration (SSA) can increase your chances of approval. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) confirms that professional representation increases the chances of disability benefits approval.

The Social Security Administration provides two disability benefit programs. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are available to “insured” persons with a qualifying disability and some family members. Insured means the applicant worked long enough and recently enough and paid Social Security taxes on those earnings. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) receives funding through general tax revenue. It is for the aged, blind, and persons with disabilities providing cash to cover basic needs for low-income households. You can receive both benefits concurrently, and while disability qualifications are the same, both programs’ financial qualifications are very different.

Application Process

A personal injury lawyer or disability lawyer can fill out the SSDI or SSI application and help gather evidence and medical records to support your claim. Attorneys specializing in disability have filed many applications and will be able to review yours, catching omissions or mistakes that lower your chances of approval and delay the process. If Social Security officials request meetings or conferences, your disability lawyer can work directly with the SSA having access to information from your Social Security file.

Having an attorney is especially important if Social Security officials deny your application for benefits and you want to file an appeal. There are several stages of appeal, including:

  • Reconsideration
  • Hearing before an administrative law judge
  • Appeals Council
  • Federal Courts

After reconsideration, a disability lawyer can prepare you and your witnesses to testify before an administrative law judge at a hearing. AARP reports Social Security turns down initial applications for SSDI and SSI in most cases. Actively defending your right to receive disability benefits becomes a process. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds applicants with legal representation are three times more likely to succeed in an appeal. A disability lawyer will be familiar with the stages of appeal, deadlines for filing, expert testimony, and more.

How much does it cost?

Most disability attorneys work on a contingency basis, meaning they will only receive a payment if you win, so there is a strong incentive for them to be successful. Usually, the money received is a portion of any back payments Social Security owes for benefits you would have received if your claim had been initially approved. The fee agreement must receive approval from the SSA and is usually $6,000 or up to 25 % of back pay, whichever is less.

Sometimes, a disability attorney may file a fee petition requesting more than the $6,000 cap. These requests can cover additional work, such as multiple appeals, or if you switched attorneys and both seek payment for their efforts. Social Security officials determine decisions on fee petitions.

A lawyer can bill the applicant for out-of-pocket expenses like costs covering the preparation of a medical report that Social Security didn’t approve. If the application for benefits is ultimately denied and no back pay exists, your representative may use the fee petition process, requesting payment. However, if there is a signed contingency-fee agreement, the attorney can’t collect.

How long will it take?

According to the SSA, the approval process for SSDI generally takes three to five months. Once your application receives approval, you must wait five months before receiving your first SSDI benefits payment. Therefore your first payment is received in the sixth full month after the date Social Security officials determine your disability began. This delay can create financial difficulties for applicants. Your disability attorney may find you can receive concurrent benefits and have you apply for SSI benefits which, once approved, can arrive in the mail in as little as two weeks, providing some financial relief.

Expedited Processing

Certain medical and personal circumstances and hundreds of disorders and illnesses may qualify an applicant for expedited SSDI claim processing. The Compassionate Allowances program can reduce the processing time for SSDI claims from months to a matter of days. However, depending on the circumstances, it may not result in immediate payment upon approval. Social Security software systems automatically scan applicants’ data to see if they have impairments that qualify on the Compassionate Allowances List (CAL). Approval is dependent on your diagnosis and its severity.

For SSDI and SSI, Social Security employs another electronic processing system, the Quick Disability Determination (QDD). This program screens online applications for keywords and phrases that indicate the claim has a good probability of receiving approval. The program also checks to see if the application includes all requisite documentation. These cases are candidates for quicker processing. Written applications can also be fast-tracked by claims examiners.

Social Security automatically checks to expedite certain claims partly based on the completeness of an application and documentation. A personal injury or disability lawyer can ensure an application is correct and complete so that it doesn’t get hung up in the approval process, which helps expedite your claim.

Experienced disability lawyers have filed hundreds, if not thousands, of disability claims on behalf of their clients. They understand the process fully and work not only with you but also with Social Security officials to get your benefits application approved. Having a qualified disability attorney will increase your chances of receiving much-needed benefits faster.

Please contact our office today at (954) 315-1169 to schedule a consultation.


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