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This page will give you a quick, and very basic, overview of the Social Security Disability
system. It is not meant to be a comprehensive explanation of the system or the benefits
available. If you don't want or need an explanation, skip to the Social Security Tips
button above. For more than you ever wanted to know about Social Security click on the
Social Security Links button.
Social Security Disability & SSI.
The two main types of Social Security Disability benefits are Social Security Disability (SSD)
and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Other types of disability include Disabled Adult
Child and Disabled Widow(er). When you work you pay into the Social Security system and
build up "quarters" (or "credits") of coverage. If you pay taxes for enough quarters you
become covered under the Social Security Disability program. If you then become disabled
you are eligible to draw Social Security Disability benefits, assuming you can convince the
Social Security Administration you are disabled. How much you can draw depends on how
long you worked and how much you paid in.
Even if you have never worked (or don't have enough quarters/credits) you may still be eligible
for SSI benefits. However, in order to draw SSI you must be disabled AND meet certain
financial requirements. If your household income is over a certain amount you cannot draw SSI
even if you are disabled. SSI benefits for 2009 can be from $0-$674 per month for an
individual, depending on how much other income is coming into the household.
Some people can draw both Social Security Disability and SSI checks, but the total cannot
exceed the maximum SSI amount.
Note: In order to draw Social Security Disabilty or SSI you must prove that you will be
disabled for at least one year, or have already been disabled for one year. Social Security
Disability and SSI do not cover shorter term disabilities lasting less than one year.
Children of disabled people who draw Social Security Disability checks may also be able to
draw a monthly check, IF the parent paid enough into the system. Children of SSI recipients
are not eligible for monthly benefits.
The Claims Process.
You can begin a Social Security Disability and/or SSI claim by contacting your local Social
Security Office. You can also start the process at the Social Security website, www.ssa.gov.
The Social Security Administration will then request medical records from all of the medical
providers you list on your application. You will usually receive a decision in 2-6 months.
If you have not had regular medical treatment Social Security may send you to a doctor or
psychologist for an evaluation. However, they are not required to do so. It is very rare for these
doctors to say anything in your favor. This is why it is so important to have your own doctor.
If your claim is denied the next step is to file a Request for Reconsideration. You have 60
days to file this appeal. Your claim will then go back to the same office that denied it the first
time. In another 2-6 months you will get a Notice of Reconsideration. In most cases your claim
will again be denied.
The next step is to file a Request for Hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
Depending on where you live, it may take another 6-24 months to get a hearing.
This is your day in court. This will usually be your best chance of obtaining benefits. The judge
will listen to your testimony and review the records from your doctors. He may also obtain
testimony from a Vocational Expert (VE). In rare cases he may even call a Medical Expert to
testify. The judge may or may not inform you of his decision that day. You should receive a
written decision anywhere from 1 week to 3-4 months after the hearing. If the judge's decision
is in your favor you should begin receiving benefits 1-2 months after you get the decision.
I handle cases anywhere in South Carolina and North Carolina. However, most of the cases I
handle are from Upstate South Carolina and Western North Carolina. Hearings on most cases
from Upstate South Carolina are held in Greenville, Greenwood, or Charlotte. Hearings on
most cases from Western North Carolina are held in Asheville, Greenville, or Charlotte. (There
is a rule that provides that they cannot make you travel more than 75 miles for a hearing.)
If you win your claim for disability benefits you will usually receive back benefits. You can
receive back Social Security Disability benefits for up to one year prior to the date you filed
your claim. (If you receive Social Security Disability AND have children 18 or younger they
may also be entitled to back benefits). You can also receive back SSI benefits, but only back
to the date you filed your claim. This is why you should file a claim as soon as you become
unable to work. If you wait, you may lose some back benefits.
Monthly Benefit Amounts.
The amount of your monthly Social Security Disability check, and any amounts your children
may be able to draw, will depend on how long you worked and how much you paid into the
system. Social Security periodically sends out notices informing you how much you can draw if
you become disabled. You can request this information from the local Social Security Office or
the Social Security Adminstration website, www.ssa.gov.
If you are entitled to SSI benefits the amount you will draw will depend on your living
arrangements and other money coming into the household. Children of disabled people are not
eligible to draw SSI checks. For 2009 SSI checks can be anywhere from $0-674 per month.
So, how does Social Security determine if you are disabled? The basic test is whether you are
able to engage in some sort of "substantial, gainful activity." Just because you cannot do
any of your old jobs does not mean you are disabled. Basically you have to convince them that
you cannot do any work. So how do you do that? The best way is through strong medical
evidence. This is the key to almost every disability case. If you have a doctor or doctors
supporting your claim you have an excellent chance of winning your case. Psychologists can
also be very helpful. However, Social Security gives little or no consideration to the opinions of
chiropractors, nurse practitioners, physician's assistants, counsellors/therapists, and physical
Social Security does not care if you can find a job or not. They do not care that no one will hire
you with your problems. Under the law, the only thing that matters is whether you could
theoretically do some kind of work.
Social Security follows a five step process in deciding whether a person is disabled.
Step 1. Is the claimant currently engaged in substantial gainful activity?
In most cases, if you are working, you are not disabled. However, there are a few exceptions.
If you are only able to work a few hours a week you may still be able to win your claim,
provided you are not making over a certain amount per month. But as a general rule, any
earned income, even part time, may complicate your case. Unearned income, such as
investmests, is usually not a problem.
Step 2. Does the claimant have a "severe" impairment?
A severe impairment is one that has some effect on your ability to work. Social Security is not
impressed with the number of different problems you have. They are more concerned with the
limitations you have as a result of those problems. Note: One of the biggest reasons claims are
denied is because doctors rarely comment on a person's limitations in their medical records.
Step 3. Does the claimant have a condition that meets or equals a "Listed Impairment"?
If your problem meets or equals the requirements of one of Social Security's Listed
Impairments your claim is supposed to be awarded automatically. Problems that meet a Listing
are pretty rare. However, that does not mean that you are not disabled. If your case does not
meet or equal a Listing Social Security must continue to evaluate your claim by considering
other factors such as your age, education, work history, etc. To see the Listings, and other
Social Security rules, regulations, etc., click on the S.S. Links button.
Step 4. Can the claimant perform "past relevant work"?
Basically, with the problems you have, can you do any of your old jobs?
Step 5. Considering the claimant's residual function capacity (RFC), age, education, and
work experience, are there other jobs that the claimant can perform?
As a general rule, the younger you are and the more education you have the harder it is to get
disability benefits. On the other hand, there are special rules that provide that the older you are
(50 and older), the less education you have, and the fewer "transferable skills" you have, the
easier it is supposed to be to obtain benefits.
Most people who are waiting on their disability claims to be heard struggle to get by financially.
They sometimes file for unemployment just to get by. Unfortunately, filing for unemployment
may hurt your disability claim. When you file for unemployment you sign documents saying you
are ready, willing, and able to work. This is exactly the opposite of disability. Some judges will
deny your claim if you receive unemployment.
South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation is a state agency that is supposed to help people with
disabilities find work. I occassionally recommend to clients that they go to Vocational
Rehabilitation and ask for help. Unfortunately, these folks are usually turned away as soon as
Voc Rehab finds out they have filed for disability.
There is another branch of South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation that is involved with
disability claims. The Social Security Administration really does not make the initial decision on
your claim. They sub-contract this job out to the Disability Determination Division of S.C.
Medicare & Medicaid.
Medicare and Medicaid provide medical coverage for doctor and hospital bills. If you receive
Social Security Disability you will also receive Medicare coverage. The catch is that Medicare
does not start until you have been disabled for 29 months.
If you receive SSI you will receive Medicaid coverage. The main advantage to Medicaid is that
it starts on the date you became disabled. The main disadvantage is that some doctors will not
Workers' Compensation Offset & Social Security Disability.
It is possible to receive both workers' compensation AND Social Security disability benefits.
HOWEVER, in many cases your Social Security benefits will be reduced while you are
receiving workers' compensation. A bad workers' compensation settlement can sometimes
cause your Social Security disability benefits, and your children's benefits, to be reduced for
years! A lawyer can often help you avoid this problem.
Social Security Tips.
If you have not already done so, NOW is the time to click the Social Security Tips button.
SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY & SSI.
Office located in Spartanburg, S.C. Serving all of Upstate South Carolina and Western North Carolina (Social Security Only)
including: Anderson, Boiling Springs, Chesnee, Chester, Clinton, Columbus, Cowpens, Duncan, Forest City, Gaffney,
Gastonia, Greenville, Greer, Hendersonville, Inman, Kings Mountain, Landrum, Laurens, Lyman, Rock Hill, Rutherfordton,
Saluda, Shelby, Spartanburg, Spindale, Tryon, Union, Wellford, Whitmire, Woodruff.