Social Security Disability FAQs

1. What is Social Security Disability?

Social Security Disability is a federal program that provides benefits to someone who has worked but can no longer work because of a physical or mental disability. You must have worked enough time, and earned enough during that time, to qualify for benefits.

2. What is the definition of Disability used by Social Security?

For Social Security Disability purposes you must be “unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”

3. Do you have to be permanently disabled to get Social Security Disability benefits?

No. You have to be disabled for at least a year or be expected to be disabled for at least a year, or have a condition that can be expected to result in death within a year.

4. Why do I need an attorney?

Social Security laws and procedures are complicated. Although no one is required to use an attorney it can be helpful to have the assistance of an experienced professional in this process. Statistically, chances of winning are improved if you retain an attorney.

5. How does the Social Security Administration determine if I am disabled?

Social Security gathers your medical records and considers all of your health problems, as well as your age, education, and work experience. They are supposed to consider whether there is any work which you can do considering your health problems and your age, education, and work experience.

6. Why does Social Security consider my age in determining whether I am disabled?

According to federal law, Social Security has to consider age. As people get older, it becomes more difficult to switch to different jobs to deal with health problems. A condition which might cause a 30-year-old to switch to a new job might disable a 60-year-old person who could not.

7. How long do I have to wait after becoming disabled before I can file for Social Security Disability benefits?

You can file for Social Security Disability benefits immediately upon becoming disabled.

8. What happens once I file a claim?

Once you file a claim, the case is sent to the Disability Determination agency in your state. A person working there, along with a doctor, makes the initial decision on the claim. In most states, if your claim is denied and you request a reconsideration, the case is then sent to another Disability examiner at the same agency for another review. If the claim is denied at reconsideration, you may then request a hearing. In a few states, this procedure is modified to skip reconsideration.

If a hearing is requested, the case is sent to an Administrative Law Judge who works for Social Security. The Administrative Law Judge makes an independent decision on the claim. This is the only time you have the opportunity to talk to a person who decides your case.

Social Security is beginning a reorganization of the process. As a part of this reorganization, new procedures are being implemented on a region by region basis. States with these new rules will have a process in which after an initial denial a review by a Federal Reviewing Official (FRO) can be requested. If the FRO also denies the claim, the claimant can request a hearing with an ALJ. Currently, these new rules apply only in Region 1 which encompasses several North Eastern states.

9. How long does it take before Social Security makes a decision once I file a claim for Social Security Disability benefits?

In most cases Social Security makes the first decision within four months.

10. What do I do if Social Security denies my claim for Social Security Disability benefits?

It is not unusual to get denied initially. Even some seriously ill people are denied at the early stages. You may appeal the denial, but there is a time limit on how long you have to do so. Only about 40% of Social Security Disability claims are approved at the initial level.

11. How long does it take for Social Security to make a reconsideration determination on my Social Security Disability claim?

In most case Social Security makes the reconsideration determination within four months.

12. How long does it take to get a hearing?

Longer than you think. It usually takes at least one year to get a hearing scheduled. This varies depending upon where you live, but it usually takes at least one year and often longer.

13. What is the Social Security hearing like?

The hearings are fairly informal. The only people likely to be there are the judge, a secretary operating a tape recorder, you and your attorney, if you retain one. In some cases, the Judge has a medical doctor or vocational expert present to testify at the hearing. There is no jury nor are there any spectators at the hearing. In most cases, the hearing is not held in a formal looking court room.

14. Can I get worker's compensation and Social Security Disability benefits?

Yes. However, the total of the benefits you receive may be limited depending on the amount of the Social Security Disability benefit and the amount of the Workers’ Compensation benefit.

15. My doctor says I am disabled so why is Social Security denying my Social Security Disability claim?

Social Security’s position is that your doctor may know all about your medical condition, but the doctor does not know what is required to get Social Security Disability. So, even if the doctor states that you are “disabled,” you may not satisfy the requirements for Social Security Disability. The reverse is also true. Since Social Security considers your age, education and work history, you may be found disabled even though your doctor thinks you can work.

16. If I am approved for Social Security Disability benefits, how much will I get?

It depends on how much you have worked and earned in the past.

17. I have several health problems, none of them alone disables me. But, it is the combination that disables me. Can I get Social Security Disability benefits?

Social Security is supposed to consider the combination of conditions and diseases that someone suffers in determining disability.