Frequently Asked Questions
Question: How do I contact Social Security to find out if
I qualify for disability benefits?
Answer: Call them on 1-800-772-1213, or go online to www.ssa.gov, and ask for the pamphlets describing the qualifications for the disability
program and for an application package.
Question: Why does everything take so long with Social
Security, don’t they have to respond to me within a certain period of time?
Answer: I liken Social Security to a large elephant that moves
very slowly. This is a huge agency with millions of inquiries to answer. Coupled with the fact that their staff
and resources are limited, I think they do an amazing job keeping track of everything and responding as quickly as they can.
There is no law or regulation that requires Social Security to respond to you within a specific timeframe. While that
may seem discouraging, they do track their time in each case and seem to be very fair as far as performing work on each case
in a “first come, first served” manner.
Question: Will they take my case ahead of others if I am
about to lose my house or file for bankruptcy or become homeless?
Unfortunately, there are many people in that situation and Social Security
wants to be fair to everyone. Therefore, they rarely take people’s cases “out of line” unless there
is a terminal case involved (defined as less than 6 months to live).
Question: What if I can’t go back to my old job,
or I can’t find a job, or I can’t find a job to pay me the money that I want to make? Can I qualify for disability
Answer: Generally, these are not reasons to obtain disability
benefits. The criteria for disability states that you must be physically or mentally incapable of performing any work
in the national economy on a regular and continuous basis. The way that most people qualify is based on the definition
of “regular and continuous”, which is 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, or an equivalent schedule. Most people
who are disabled cannot maintain a full time schedule due to lack of endurance or reliability problems. Also, when Social
Security considers your ability to work at jobs other than the work you used to do, your age is a factor and may limit the
“pool” of jobs that Social Security will look at.
Question: Do I need to hire an attorney?
Answer: My personal feeling is that a person does not need to have
an attorney to file the application or to appeal the first denial. When you complete the application, you are providing
Social Security with doctor’s names and addresses, your work history, and your personal comments on your daily activities.
The process is tedious, but, I believe, does not require legal input.
If you are denied, you have an opportunity to request a reconsideration
of that denial. I will take cases at the reconsideration level if my client does not want to deal with Social Security
anymore, but in most cases, I believe that you should ask for the reconsideration on your own. Again, there are not
many legal issues to be addressed at the reconsideration stage.
If you are denied after the reconsideration request, you have an opportunity
to appear before a Social Security Administrative Law Judge at a hearing. This is where I typically take cases.
The issues are extensive and require strong knowledge of the Social Security laws and regulations and what qualifies a person
for benefits. Can a person go to their hearing on their own? Of course he or she may. Having an attorney,
however, to direct the case, make clear the issues, understand what the judge is looking for, present your case theories,
and cross examine any medical or vocational witnesses at the hearing, may make the difference between being awarded benefits
or not. Just as importantly, having an attorney represent you will strengthen your “record” if any future
appeals are needed. Each hearing is recorded and the testimony is used for further appeals. An attorney can help
to clarify your comments so that they won’t be misunderstood and possibly used against you in the future.
If you are denied at the hearing level, you have the opportunity for
several additional levels of appeal. The last administrative appeal is to the Appeals Council in Falls Church, Virginia.
After that, it’s on to Federal District Court and then to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. I believe it’s
important to have an attorney who is able to take your case to every level of appeal.
Question: What will you charge me if I hire you to represent
Answer: I work on a contingency basis. That means that if
you don’t get your benefits, I don’t get any fee. Therefore, I only take cases that I believe that I can
win. If I win your case, the fee is 25% of your past due benefits only, up to a maximum cap of $5,300, whichever is
less. This is a “statutory fee agreement” acknowledged by the Social Security Administration.
I will pay whatever costs are necessary to prove your case and then
I will bill you for them when the case is over. Costs are separate from fees as the costs are my out-of-pocket expenditures
I need to make to prove your case. These costs are typically for obtaining medical records (Social Security only pays
for the medical records at the initial application and at the reconsideration) and obtaining doctor’s opinions, as well
as copying, parking, mailing, etc. Depending on the claim, costs usually run a few hundred dollars.