Social Security disability benefits are a financial lifesaver for millions of Americans who cannot work due to injury, illness, or other permanent or long-term disorders -- but that doesn't mean that they're easy to get. The complexity of the rules, and many possible reasons for exclusion, can leave you out in the cold when you attempt to apply for these benefits. Here are four essential steps toward securing the critical aid you need.
1. Apply With Care
The application process for Social Security disability is fraught with tricky details, complex requirements, and precise definitions. For instance, there are two different listings of qualifying impairments -- Part A covers impairments as they relate to adult applicants, while Part B focuses on impairments that qualify children. The listings are very similar but not completely identical, and a simple misreading can cause you to enter the wrong data on your application. You must also submit documented medical evidence of your disability according to the Administration's specific requirements and standards. This evidence may include:
- Treatment documentation from hospitals or clinics
- Letters and reports from treating physicians or therapists
- Supporting documentation from schools, caregivers, parents, or employers
- Impairment or disability evaluations by qualified professionals
Assembling the necessary paperwork and following all the application instructions to the letter can prove a serious stumbling block. It's wise to let a Social Security lawyer supervise your application and make sure you've included everything necessary.
2. Review the Rejection
Don't be too alarmed if your application is rejected -- as upsetting as it may seem, it actually happens to an estimated 65 percent of all first-time applicants. The good news is that you'll have an opportunity to appeal the decision, but first you need to understand exactly where your application deviated from the necessary criteria for acceptance. Primary reasons for rejection include:
- Anticipated length of disability - Social Security benefits are awarded only when the disability in question has either lasted more than 12 months already or is likely to do so. A fracture that requires surgery, for instance, might render you unable to work for several months, but only the most complicated healing problems would keep you off the job for 12 months or more.
- Ability to perform other work - Just because you can't do your current job doesn't mean you can't perform other workplace tasks and thus continue to earn a living. If Social Security decides that you could continue to do light work per your doctor's recommendations, then you may be judged insufficiently disabled to receive benefits.
Your Social Security disability claims lawyer can point you toward the specific reasons for the rejection, which may or may not be encapsulated in a summary known as a technical rationale. If your rejection includes so such summary, request one from the Administration.
3. Appeal to the Administration
Once you understand the reason your application was rejected, your lawyer can determine whether or not you have grounds for a Social Security disability appeal. In many cases, you'll find that you simply left out a tiny (but crucial) piece of supporting data, the absence of which made you appear ineligible. Appealing a rejected application is a much smarter move than simply re-applying. If you haven't straightened out the omissions or misinterpretations that plagued the initial attempt, you'll just wind up making the same mistakes a second time -- and you'll get rejected again.
There are three levels of appeals you can try. The first level is simply a request for reconsideration in which you ask the Administration to have another look at your application. If that fails, your Social Security disability lawyer can request a formal hearing, calling expert witnesses and making your case to an administrative law judge. If the judge rules against you again, you can demand a review of the decision by the Appeals Council.
4. File a Federal Lawsuit
Even if the appeal process fails you, you're still not out of options for requesting those much-needed disability benefits. Your Social Security lawyer can file a federal lawsuit against the Administration. While this occurs in only a tiny fraction of denied cases, those that make it to U.S. district court achieved reversed decisions at least one-third of the time. Be aware, however, that you'll be paying your Social Security lawyer throughout this potentially lengthy journey.
With the right knowledge base and professional guidance, you can make sure you get the disability benefits you need and deserve. Whether you've already been handed a rejection or you're just looking at the application for the first time, click here to continue reading or talk to a Social Security disability lawyer about your case.