American workers earn their right to Social Security disability benefits with the taxes taken out of every paycheck. If you become disabled and can no longer work, you are entitled to your benefits, but in many cases, people who have a legitimate disability get denied. This may be because a disability examiner made an error, or because additional evidence is needed. The Law Office of Brendan Conley can help. We are dedicated to winning you the benefits you deserve.
We can determine what needs to be done to strengthen your case, help you obtain the medical evidence you need, represent you at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, and do whatever is necessary to pursue your benefits. We do not charge a fee unless your case is successful, and we offer a free consultation, so please call 813-444-2889 or 720-213-5334 to discuss your case and learn more about your rights.
The Social Security Disability Appeals Process
- Initial Application: Filing an initial application for Social Security disability benefits is free. Some people want help from an attorney from the start, and we are happy to help you apply for benefits. Other people choose to file the initial application on their own, or with help from a friend or family member. You can apply online at this Social Security webpage. You will need to provide information about your job history and any doctors or other health care providers you have seen regarding your disability. You may also apply by calling 1-800-772-1213 and making an appointment at your local Social Security office. For Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, there is no online application, so you will need to call to make an appointment. Social Security will help you with any questions you may have about the application process. At this stage of the process, the important thing to understand is that medical evidence is necessary to win your case. Social Security can arrange for you to have a consultative examination with a medical professional at no cost to you, but these examinations may or may not help your case. What is much more important is that you are receiving medical treatment on a regular basis, which produces the medical evidence needed to win your case. If Social Security finds that you are disabled at the initial application stage, then you will receive your benefits. If you receive a denial letter stating that you are not entitled to benefits, then it is time to call an attorney. We can appeal your case while determining what needs to be done to obtain benefits for you. In most situations, additional medical evidence is necessary to strengthen the case, and we can determine what type of evidence is needed and how to get it. In other cases, the existing evidence may clearly indicate that an individual is disabled, but a disability examiner failed to follow Social Security’s own rules. In either case, we will appeal the case and try to get you your benefits.
- Request for Reconsideration: In Florida, a required first step in appealing a denial of benefits is a Request for Reconsideration. At this stage, another disability examiner, who did not work on the first decision, takes another look at the case. If there is new evidence, it is possible to win the case at this stage. If there is another denial at the reconsideration stage, we will request a hearing.
- Administrative Law Judge Hearing: When a Request for Reconsideration is denied, we can Request a Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). This stage is where most cases are won, as the Administrative Law Judges are well-trained in Social Security’s regulations, and must issue written decisions explaining how their determinations follow the law. We can submit a written brief on your case, you will have the opportunity to testify, and we can submit additional medical evidence. Unfortunately, the Social Security hearing offices currently have an extreme backlog of cases waiting to be decided, and in Tampa there is currently a 17-month wait for a hearing. However, in many cases, additional time is actually necessary to establish a medical history with a treating physician who can then offer opinion evidence regarding your disability.
- Appeals Council: If the ALJ denies you benefits after a hearing, then we may choose to appeal the case to Social Security’s Appeals Council. After that, filing a federal lawsuit is a final possible appeal.
How Social Security Determines Disability
Social Security follows a complex five-step process to determine whether a person is disabled. Here are the steps in brief:
- Step One: First, you must not be “engaged in substantial gainful activity,” which basically means that you must not be working. If you are earning more than a certain amount per month ($1,130 in 2016), then Social Security will find that you are not disabled and will not proceed any further with the determination.
- Step Two: Second, you must have a “severe impairment” that causes a significant reduction in your functioning, and has lasted or is expected to last for 12 months or longer, or result in death.
- Step Three: At this step, Social Security considers whether you meet any of the Listings of Impairments. These are specific conditions with corresponding limitations that are described in Social Security’s regulations. If medical evidence shows that you meet one of the Listings, then you can be found disabled at this step, and the analysis need not go any further.
- Step Four: If you are not found disabled at Step Three, then at Step Four Social Security considers past work you have done and whether you can still do your past work. If Social Security finds that you can still perform work you have done in the past, then you will not be found disabled, and the determination ends there.
- Step Five: If you cannot perform past work, then at Step Five, Social Security considers whether there is any other work you can do, taking into account your age, experience, education, and the limitations caused by your conditions. If there are no jobs you can perform, then you will be found disabled at this step.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
There are two types of disability benefits you can apply for through Social Security: SSDI, which stands for Social Security Disability Insurance, and SSI, which stands for Supplemental Security Income. Both programs use the same standard of disability to determine whether you are disabled, and you can apply for both at the same time. Here is the difference:
- SSDI is available to people who have worked enough to earn the right to benefits by paying Social Security taxes. The amount of a monthly benefit depends on how much you paid in taxes over the time you worked. The easiest way to see whether you qualify for Social Security disability benefits, and how much you would be paid in benefits, is to visit the My Social Security webpage and create an account or log in to your account. SSDI benefits are available regardless of your other income and assets.
- SSI is available to people who have not worked enough to be eligible for SSDI benefits. The monthly benefit is a set amount ($733 is the maximum in 2016). Also, there are income and asset limits for SSI. Generally, if you own more than $2,000 in assets, you are not eligible; however, some assets such as the home you live in and the car you drive, do not count toward these limits.
Some people are eligible for both SSDI and SSI, because their SSDI benefits are low enough that they also qualify for SSI. Also, someone’s last date when they were “insured” or eligible for SSDI benefits may be close to the date when they became disabled. For these reasons, it is often advisable to apply for both SSDI and SSI, even if you think you will only receive one or the other.
How the Law Office of Brendan Conley Can Help
The process of appealing a claim for Social Security disability benefits is complex. Attorney Brendan Conley has the knowledge and skill necessary to strengthen your case and give you the best possible chance of getting the benefits you deserve. We will act promptly to pursue your benefits for you as quickly as possible. Unlike at a large firm, you will receive individual attention and your case will be handled by an attorney personally every step of the way. If necessary, we will meet with you in your home or health care facility. At the Law Office of Brendan Conley, you will receive personal attention from an attorney who cares about you and your rights.
Areas We Serve
We have offices in Florida and in Colorado. We serve the Tampa Bay metropolitan area and the Denver metropolitan area.
If you have been denied disability benefits, or wish to apply, please give us a call at 813-444-2889 (Florida) or 720-213-5334 (Colorado) to discuss your case. We offer a free consultation, and there is never a fee unless we are successful in obtaining benefits for you. You may also learn more by reading our answers to Frequently Asked Questions.