When you are unable to work due to a physical or mental disability, you may find yourself in need of money – and fast. But if you are unable to work, your sources of income are rather limited. One source that many in similar situations look to during these times is Social Security disability benefits.
Social security disability (SSD) benefits provide a cash benefit to the recipient in relation to the individual’s work record and history. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) pays a monetary benefit to disabled individuals whose household income falls below a certain threshold.
If you apply for Social Security disability benefits and are expecting benefits to arrive quickly, though, you may be disappointed. Understanding the process and how you can monitor your claim’s progress with the Social Security Administration may not make your benefits arrive any sooner, but it can help calm your nerves and anxieties. Note that the status of claims for SSI benefits cannot be monitored online.
When you initially apply for SSD benefits, your claim is reviewed by an employee of the state’s Disability Determination Services office. The person reviewing your application for benefits may request additional information in order to help him or her make a determination as to whether you meet the definition of “disabled” under the Social Security Act and its related regulations.
During this process, the reviewer will follow a well-known five-step evaluation process, as provided by the Branch Chief of the Disability Quality Branch Office of Quality Performance in Dallas. If at any point during the process you appear to not meet the legal definition of “disabled,” then your application for benefits will be denied. The SSA indicates that the time it takes for this initial determination to be made can vary greatly from case to case depending on the complexity of the case and whether additional documentation is needed to process the application.
If you apply for SSD benefits, you are able to check the status of your claim online. By visiting this website belonging to the Social Security Administration and entering your Social Security Number and confirmation number, you can see the current status of your claim – including whether any decision has been made regarding your eligibility for disability benefits.
If you receive notification from the SSA indicating your claim for benefits is denied (as a majority of first-time applicants do), you have the right to request the SSA to reconsider its denial of your claim. To do this, you must complete and file a Request for Reconsideration within 60 days of the date of your denial. If you miss the 60-day filing deadline then your Request for Reconsideration will most likely be denied and you will need to start the disability claims process over again with a new application, unless there are extenuating circumstances that prevented you from meeting the 60-day deadline.
Upon receiving your timely request, another individual with the Disability Determination Services will review your claim and supporting materials. This person will be a different individual from the person who initially denied your claim, but he or she will apply the same regulations and laws used by the first individual. It can take several months before you receive a decision on your Request for Reconsideration.
It is common for Requests for Reconsideration to be denied. Nonetheless, it is a necessary step in the appellate process. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you timely file a Request for Reconsideration if your initial claim for benefits is denied.
If your Request for Reconsideration is denied, you may ask for a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). This hearing will be conducted in your presence, although if the hearing location is far away from your home, you may be able to participate by video by going to your nearest SSA office. Unlike your initial SSD claim and Request for Reconsideration, an ALJ will determine if you are entitled to disability benefits based on the evidence and testimony that is presented at the hearing. It can take a long time – sometimes more than a year – before you are able to have a hearing and receive a decision.
You must request a hearing before an ALJ within 60 days of receiving the notice denying your Request for Reconsideration. Once you do so, your hearing will be scheduled and you will be notified of the time and place for the hearing. Although the court will be aware of the history of your case, the ALJ is not bound to follow any determination previously made but will consider the evidence and testimony with a fresh set of eyes. You are generally able to bring any additional evidence or witnesses you would like for the ALJ to consider to the hearing. In addition, there is usually at least one witness present – a vocational expert – that the court questions concerning your ability to return to your previous work and/or find other meaningful work.
Although this “hearing” is less formal than a trial, you are strongly encouraged to seek the assistance of an experienced Texas Social Security disability attorney to help you prepare for the hearing and to represent you at this hearing. Generally speaking, more individuals are found to be disabled and awarded benefits at the hearing stage than at the reconsideration stage. If your claim for benefits is denied at the hearing stage, there are still other adjudicatory bodies to which you can appeal your case. However, beyond the hearing stage it becomes more and more difficult to be awarded benefits.
If you or a loved one needs SSD or SSI benefits, a Texas Social Security disability claims lawyer may be able to help you obtain benefits regardless of the stage at which your claim is presently. Call Kraft & Associates, PC, at our Dallas office or contact us through our website and discuss your case with one of our knowledgeable and caring attorneys today.