How To Prepare Before Filing For Social Security Disability Benefits
Do you have a physical or mental impairment which keeps you from working 8 hours per day, 5 days per week?
Here are some tips to help you better prepare before filing for Social Security disability benefits:
1. Are you still working?
If you intend to keep working while filing for benefits, you need to be aware of what is called Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). This is extremely important. If you make above SGA levels, you cannot file for Social Security disability benefits. As of 2017, if your gross pay is above $1,170.00 then your case will be denied. In fact, if you are approved for benefits and you return to work and make above this amount, then you run the risk of being kicked off disability permanently. Make above this amount consistently while on benefits, and you'll receive a letter in the mail notifying you that the Social Security Administration needs the money it paid to you in the past.
2. What is your living situation?
Only a small percentage of cases are approved on the first time and even fewer are approved at the reconsideration level. Therefore, the majority of cases will have to be scheduled for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. To put this in perspective, there are currently over 1 million cases waiting at the hearing level. What this means for you, is that you will need to prepare to be without income for two years or even more if you appeal above the hearing level. Social Security disability cases move very slowly through the system, and many people find they cannot sustain their mortgage, car payments, etc., and some even find themselves homeless. While you may be approved right away, it is always best to prepare beforehand just in case your case is one of the many that takes years to get through the system.
3. Know whether you have enough work credits.
If you are under the age of 30, or you have a sporadic work history, you may not be able to qualify for SSDI benefits because you do not have enough work credits. If that is the case, then the only option is to apply under SSI instead. So, what does this mean for you? First, SSI has income and asset restrictions. If you only qualify for these benefits, then you cannot have more than $2,000.00 in cash and/or non-exempt assets ($3,000.00 for a married couple). Many times, if a person is married and he or she does not have enough work credits and his or her spouse works, then household income may be too high to qualify for disability benefits. In short, a trip to your local Social Security office may provide some well-needed information before you get started.
4. Have you been going to the doctor or getting medical treatment on a consistent basis?
If you have had a catastrophic injury, then it is likely you already have sufficient records to prove your impairment. However, if your condition has grown worse through the years, then you may have to show how it continues to limit your ability to work. Good medical records are the most important thing you can do to help your Social Security disability case. Without them, you may be looking at waiting years before your case is approved. Medical records prove your impairment. You cannot overestimate their importance when filing for benefits.
5. Talk to your doctor and let him or her know you are going to file for disability.
Many times, a doctor is completely on board with helping his or her patient receive benefits. Some doctors are not cooperative, and it's a shame when a treating physician refuses to help. If you have a disagreeable doctor, you may find it easier to change physicians before filing for benefits. There are forms in which your doctor can fill out to show what limitations you have walking, standing, bending, reaching, concentrating, etc. While your doctor cannot actually state you are disabled, showing your limitations in his or her records can help Social Security determine whether you are disabled. If you do have a good doctor who is willing to help, get him or her involved in your case.
6. Don't wait to file for disability benefits.
The rule is simple: Either your condition is expected to last for 12 months or more, or you have a condition that is so severe you are expected to die from it. Most people fall within the 12 month requirement, but that does not mean you have to wait one year before filing for benefits. There is a five month short-term disability requirement in which only after that time will Social Security consider you for long-term benefits, but that doesn't mean you have to wait 5 months either. If you feel or know you are going to be out of work for at least one year (or more), then go ahead and file for disability benefits. While you may be placed on a medical hold for 90 days to determine if your condition has worsened, it's much better than waiting one year to file. In other words, get the case going as quickly as possible if you know you are going to be out of work.
7. Be prepared to follow instructions and keep up with your case.
This is especially true when people hire an attorney before they file. Just because you hire a Social Security disability attorney doesn't mean you don't have certain requirements that must be met. If your case is filed electronically, then Social Security will send you a copy of the application to review and sign. If you have worked the year prior, you will also likely be required to show your past W-2. There could be a number of requirements you must meet at the local office before your case is transferred to the disability determination office. If you do not satisfy these requirements, then your case will actually sit at the local office until you do so. With so many disability cases filed on a daily basis, your case can easily get lost in the shuffle. There are many cases that are never reviewed simply because the preliminary requirements were never met.
8. Secure some type of transportation to make appointments.
If you live in states like California, the Disability Determination Service will arrange transportation for you to make appointments to see doctors chosen by Social Security to review your physical or mental impairments. In states like Texas, you yourself are responsible for making appointments with doctors Social Security has established a relationship with to review your condition. If you are not working, and you do not have a car, you have to prepare for some way in which to show up at these appointments. Don't wait until the last minute and cancel. If you do, you'll only get one more chance and then your case will be denied. Before filing for benefits, talk to a friend or family member to borrow his or her car or secure a ride. If that won't work, then review a bus schedule to at least get you close enough to walk the rest of the way. Early preparation could be the key to getting to your appointments on time and winning your disability case.
We help claimants throughout Texas and California fight for their Social Security disability benefits. Please always feel free to call our office at: (888) 780-9125. If you have been denied before, an experienced Social Security disability lawyer may be just what you need to be approved. If you're filing for the first time and feel lost, an experienced attorney can help you get through the system.