Welcome! This site is written for Social Security disability claimants, for their legal representatives, and for the network of people involved in the Social Security disability claim process. I hope you find it helpful.
Free Claim Review

If you qualify for Social Security disability benefits, your minor children are also awarded benefits. These benefits are in addition to your monthly disability payments, and are intended to help provide the necessities of life for your children. If you remain disabled, the children’s benefits will continue until their 18th birthday (a child still in high school can receive benefits until age 19).

It is a significant amount of additional money. A child’s benefit typically is 50% of the parent’s monthly disability benefit. However, there is a “family maximum” of monthly benefits allowed.

Be sure to tell Social Security about your minor children when you apply for disability benefits, and be sure to tell your Social Security disability lawyer about your minor children so that your lawyer can follow up with the local Social Security field office to make sure these benefits are paid, once your disability is established.

Those applying for Social Security disability benefits want to know when their claim will be decided. Since by definition a disabled person cannot work, the wait for a decision is a real struggle for most disability claimants. However, there are a couple of steps you can take to speed up the disability claim process.

First, when Social Security sends you forms to be completed, complete and return them right away. Many claims are delayed for weeks or months because the claimant is slow to return necessary paperwork.

Second, if you receive a denial letter from the SSA, contact a Social Security disability lawyer and appeal right away. Why wait? Although you are allowed 60 days to appeal, do it right away. Both an initial denial and a reconsideration denial must be appealed before getting to an ALJ hearing.  That is two 60-day appeal periods. You can shave 4 months off your waiting period by acting promptly.

The things you tell your doctor about how you are doing (and what you are doing with your time) frequently end up in your medical progress notes. These progress notes provide your doctors with context and information about your condition.

Anyone applying for disability needs to know that those medical notes become part of the record for your disability claim. These notes are read carefully by the people making decisions on your claim, whether that person is a disability examiner or an administrative law judge.

I hate to say that you have to be careful what you tell your doctor, but you have to be careful what you tell your doctor. Because those statements made to your doctor are considered when the medical evidence is assessed by a decisionmaker.

I had a hearing once for a claimant disabled by chronic pain. The record contained a treating doctor’s progress note stating that the patient “was helping a neighbor build an addition to his house.” Now it turns out that the claimant was knowledgable about construction, and was simply walking next door to give his neighbor advice about how to proceed. He never picked up a tool or lifted a board. There is nothing inconsistent with that activity and a finding of disability due to chronic pain; people in pain still socialize, and carry on their lives as best they can.

But even when the actual facts are explained to the judge, questions can remain. As a result, a case can become more difficult to win when doctors’ notes contain certain statements about the patient’s activities.

So be careful what you say to your doctor, because it may end up in your medical notes in a way that can raise questions about your claim.

The first thing I check I receive a hearing notice for a Social Security disability claim, other than the date and time of the hearing, is the name of the administrative law judge (ALJ) who will hear the case and decide the claim. It probably shouldn’t matter which judge hears your case, since they all interpret the same rules and are looking at the same facts. But it really does matter.

Each judge approaches a claim a little bit differently, and it is very helpful to know how a particular judge tends to look at a case. Also, each judge conducts the hearing in a particular way, so I prepare for the hearing in a way tailored to the ALJ who will hear the case.

I handle disability and SSI cases primarily in Maine and New Hampshire, so I see the same judges again and again. They know what to expect from me, and I have learned what to expect from them.

Now, you do not get to pick the judge that decides your case. However, you do get to pick the lawyer who handles your case. It is important, in my opinion, to obtain the assistance of a Social Security disability lawyer who has experience with the judges in your area.

I talk with many prospective disability clients who are clearly unable to perform their past relevant work. I spoke recently with a person who had been a welder for  years, but could not continue due vision and to degenerative back problems. He clearly is not going to be able to work as a welder, his sole past occupation. But that only gets you part of the way to Social Security disability benefits.

Social Security considers your ability to do “other work” at step 5 of the sequential evaluation. This includes unskilled, sedentary work. Social Security will consider your ability to do this type of work to be available if it exists in substantial numbers in several areas of the country.

 

 

There are many benefits to being a Social Security disability lawyer. You are able to help people who really need the help, and it is very gratifying when a claimant receives disability benefits.

I received a Fully Favorable decision on a claim where, in addition to getting disability benefits for the client, I may have helped to save her life.

When I first met this client, she had not had medical treatment for several years. I said that I would not take the case unless she resumed medical treatment (ongoing medical treatment notes, and an opinion from treating doctors, are invaluable to support a disability claim).

The client complied, and during the initial work up the medical providers found a cancerous tumor in her kidney. They quickly operated and removed the tumor. She is now cancer free. Had the tumor been left untreated even for a few more months, the prognosis would have been very poor.

I am very pleased to get benefits for this deserving client. More important, I am pleased that she resumed medical treatment, and a malignant tumor was detected before it was too late.

 

 

Back in 2006 or so, the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals changed its name to the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), as part of a reorganization at Social Security and new regulations. The name was widely panned at the time.

Now, a decade or so later, the Hearings office has been renamed the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO). The new name makes sense.

Be sure to change your forms and letters to reflect the new name.

 

Each year, the Social Security Administration releases statistics about the disability and SSI programs in an easy-to-understand format, called the “waterfall” chart. The waterfall chart shows the percentage of claims approved and denied at the various levels of review.

The chart shows what claimants can expect, statistically, for their claim for Social Security disability benefits. I like this chart, and have posted an annual waterfall chart dating back several years.

However, much has changed since the baseline years 2008 & 2009, when ALJ allowance rates at the hearing level were 63% of claims.

From the 2009 baselineallowance rates are down at every level of review. In particular, ALJ allowance rates have declined significantly during the intervening years (62% in FY 2010, 58% in 2011, 53% in 2012, 48% in 2013, 45% for 2014). Hopefully this second year at 45% represents the end of the free fall in ALJ allowance rates.

It is tax time, and each year I hear from clients who won their cases the previous year and are wondering about the tax consequences of their disability benefits. This topic is particularly important for those who received a significant payment of past-due benefits.

The answer is part of your disability benefits may be taxable. Here is a link to IRS Publication 915 on the topic of taxation of Social Security benefits.

As you can see from the publication, it’s complicated. If you received a large lump sum payment of past due disability benefits last year, this is the time to get in touch with a tax accountant.

I get calls and emails from people who are still working, but are struggling, and are considering Social Security disability.

Depending upon a person’s individual circumstances, this is typically what I say to those who are currently working, but are exploring the disability process:

It is hard to plan for disability. First, there is no disability from Social Security if you are working, and earning more than  the level of substantial gainful activity. So you must have stopped working to apply. I typically suggest that people who are still working should keep working as long as possible.

Second, Social Security does not pay for the first 5 full calendar months of disability. So you need to be prepared financially for 6 months, at a minimum, of little or no income after you stop working.

Third, not being able to perform your past work is not enough to qualify for disability benefits. Depending upon your age, Social Security will look at your ability to perform other work, including work that is sedentary, unskilled, and not demanding mentally. This work includes jobs that many people would never consider.

Lastly, you need to be able to back up the functional limitations that prevent you from working with significant medical evidence, preferably including opinions from your treating doctor(s).

That is a blunt assessment. But it reflects the reality of the disability process today. Disability is a last resort.