What To Expect When You File For Social Security Disability Benefits

If you are disabled and can no longer work, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits. The process is complicated and long, so it's easy to become overwhelmed. If you are thinking about getting disability benefits, learn a bit about the process to make it less painful.

Filing the Initial Application

To start the process, you'll need to complete a claim and submit it to the Social Security office. The claim is processed by two different groups: the local Social Security Administration (SSA) and Disability Determination Services (DDS). The SSA looks at your personal information, such as name, age, etc. If they spot a discrepancy, it is returned to you for corrections. If all the information is correct, it is passed to DDS.

DDS looks at the actual disability and any supporting documentation, which is why it's important to send all relevant medical information. They may require you to return to your doctor or a specialist for additional testing and examinations, or they may request additional information from you. If they determine your disability is valid, your claim is approved. Most commonly, however, disability claims are denied at this initial stage, forcing you to escalate the case.

Hiring an Attorney or Advocate

Escalating the case means you'll need to attend a hearing. If you haven't already found legal help, this is the best time to do so. You can choose between an attorney and a non-attorney advocate. Both have education and experience in disability claims, and both can help prepare you for the hearing by explaining what will be asked and what you should say. Attorneys, however, have more training and education than advocates. 

Whether you choose an attorney or advocate, expect to pay them the same amount. Generally, you'll be required to pay a 25 percent of your backpay if you win. If you lose, they get nothing. Backpay refers to the amount owed between the onset of the disability and the date you are awarded the money. For example, if you became disabled seven months before getting approved, your backpay is seven months' worth of benefits. Because the pay depends on if your claim is approved, it's not always a good idea to hire an attorney or advocate until the claim has been denied.

Attending a Hearing

You'll have to attend an official hearing with a judge. The judge will listen to your case and make a ruling regarding your benefits. Before the hearing, your attorney or advocate will gather any relevant information from your doctor. They will also work with you to help craft your answers, so they provide the information the judge needs to hear. The hearing itself can be scary as you will be questioned regarding your disability. Your doctor and other witnesses may also be questioned to help determine if you are or aren't disabled.

If your claim is still denied, you have the option to escalate it one more time to a federal hearing. The federal hearing is similar to the first hearing, but it is held in a federal court. Try to bring any information you may have forgotten to help build a stronger case. To escalate your case to the federal level, you'll need an attorney to file the claim. An advocate cannot file it for you.  

Filing for Social Security disability doesn't have to be a scary and confusing process. Your initial claim will probably be denied, but by working with your doctor and an attorney, you can craft a case that proves your disability. For more information about filing for disability, contact an attorney or non-attorney advocate in your area today.