Being disabled means a lot of things: trouble spending quality time with friends and family, trouble leaving your home, burdensome medical bills, and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Additionally, being disabled often means being unable to work gainfully and consistently. If you are unable to work or struggling to keep working because of your disability, you might consider filing for social security disability benefits, but do not know what to expect. Before you file, consider the following information:
The process can be lengthy.
Many claimants are surprised how long it takes for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to determine whether you are disabled. First, you must file an application and complete two long questionnaires that cover your activities of daily living (Adult Function Report) and work history (Work History Report).
Once you complete your application and these reports, Disability Determination Services (DDS), a third-party organization hired by SSA to investigate initial claims, will request your medical records and review your claim. DDS may even hire an “independent” medical consultant to review your records and provide an opinion regarding whether you can work with your medical conditions.
If you are denied, you can appeal.
If denied at the application stage in Minnesota, then you will file a Request for Reconsideration. This stage also involves a paper review by DDS, though you can submit additional evidence. If denied at the Reconsideration stage, you can file a Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). You may be waiting for a hearing for a long time (up to a year in many places) from the time you request a hearing. During that time period, it is crucial that you seek treatment for your medical conditions.
Once you are assigned a hearing date, you will be notified of the date, time, and witnesses invited to your hearing. The ALJ will almost always request a vocational expert to attend the hearing to evaluate your past work and other work, though the ALJ may also invite a medical expert.
You will be asked to notify SSA of any new medical treatment that you have received since they were last notified and you will be informed of your right to obtain an attorney for the hearing.
The hearing will cover the medical guidelines for disability.
To qualify for social security disability, you must meet medical and non-medical guidelines. The non-medical guidelines cover whether you have enough work credits or have sufficiently limited assets or income to qualify for disability. These guidelines are evaluated at the application stage and generally cannot survive an appeal. However, even if you qualify under the non-medical rules, you must also meet the medical rules. There are five parts to this evaluation.
Step 1: Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful activity?
This step questions whether the claimant is working excessively to be eligible for benefits. The threshold changes over time (for 2016 the threshold is $1130 and will be $1170 for 2017).
Step 2: Does the claimant have a medically determinable impairment that causes limitations in the ability to work?
This step has two parts: 1) you must have a medically diagnosed medical condition and 2) that condition has to cause you limitations in your ability to work.
Step 3: Does the claimant’s medical condition meet or equal a listing?
The Adult Listings of Impairments is a qualified collection of impairments that are supported by diagnostic testing that are disabling per se.
Step 4: Can the claimant perform past work?
At this point, the ALJ determines what is the claimant’s residual functional capacity (RFC), or what is the most that the claimant can do for work on a regular and continuous basis. These limitations may include both physical and mental limitations.
Next, the ALJ will ask the vocational expert whether a claimant can perform past work with those limitations listed by the ALJ. If the vocational expert states that work is available and the ALJ relies on that testimony, then the ALJ will stop the analysis and deny benefits. If the vocational expert states no, then the ALJ will continue.
Step 5: Can the claimant perform other work available in substantial numbers in the national economy?
The ALJ will next ask about other jobs available given the claimants age, education, and past work skills. If the vocational expert states that no jobs are available and the ALJ relies on that testimony, then the ALJ will approve benefits. However, the vocational expert may list familiar (and often unfamiliar) jobs that someone with the profile listed by the ALJ could perform. If the ALJ relies on this testimony, then the ALJ will deny benefits.
The social security disability process is often long and complicated. If you or someone you love have filed for disability or considering whether you might be eligible, please contact us for a free consultation.
Contact A Mankato Workers' Compensation Lawyer Today
Contact the law office of Chesley, Harvey & Carpenter today at (507) 625-3000 for a free case review. We are located in Mankato, Minnesota.