SOCIAL SECURITY

The Social Security Administration will typically deny almost everyone benefits at the initial stage. Once you reach the second stage, the “Recon” level, you really need to consider getting a lawyer. Many of our cases have been won at that stage. The “Recon” portion involves more paperwork, but no hearing. If you are not successful there, then you can go on to a hearing. You definitely need a lawyer at this level. We normally do not agree to take any cases past the hearing stage.

Please remember that when you go into the social security office for your initial interview you will be “observed”. There are portions of the forms which require the interviewer to make notations about observed behavior and impairments of the claimant. Therefore, if your back hurts when you sit more than 15 minutes, then tell the interviewer if you need to stand and stretch, etc. Don’t just sit there and let them think you’re absolutely fine when you are not. Likewise, if your education is limited, you might consider bringing a family member or friend to help you fill out paperwork, etc. Once you apply, social security is also very likely to call family members, friends, past employers and neighbors to verify your activities or lack of activities around your home, neighborhood and former workplace.

There are two (2) ways to win a social security case, either on the medical evidence alone, or by use of the grid regulations. If a claimant is under age 50, they pretty much have to win entirely on the medical record alone. This is because the grid reg’s are very restrictive, and basically do not benefit anyone much under age 50. There are a few exceptions. However, once you turn age 50, this places you in a different category in the grid regulations and makes it somewhat easier to bring a successful social security claim. The grid regulations are helpful, because they let you benefit from your age, education level, and residual functional capacity. Generally, the less education you have the better under the grid regulations. Residual functional capacity is broken down into sedentary, light, medium and heavy work categories. The less your physical capacity, the better. Your doctors will usually be the ones to say what your physical capacities are. However, social security likes to also use their own doctors and vocational experts to try and determine what your capacities are. Unfortunately, many of their “experts” make decisions only by looking at the written record and without any physical exam or testing of the claimant whatsoever. Such results can be challenged at a hearing by your attorney. If your impairment is mental, then you do not have to worry about “residual functional capacity” because your impairment is “non-exertional”. We have represented numerous clients with both physical and mental limitations.

The social security office is also able to access all of your tax/wage information so that they can determine your earnings. If you still work anywhere and earn $500.00 or more per month, then you will typically not be able to qualify. The $500.00 per month amount is social security’s “gainful activity” criteria.

In order to win a claim, you have to prove that you are not able to do your “past relevant work” (normally back 15 years), and that you have a “severe impairment” or combination of impairments which prevents you from performing any other “gainful occupation in the national economy.” If you cannot do your past relevant work due to a severe impairment, then social security must prove that you have transferable skills and can perform some other “gainful” activity in the national economy. They often do this with vocational experts.

In some respects, social security is like regular insurance. You have an “insured” status if you have worked for 40 quarters (10 years) in the national economy. This insured status will not last forever, and starts to run once you leave your last job. Thus, if you have never worked outside the home, or it has been more than 5 years since you last worked, then there is a good chance you cannot even qualify for regular disability benefits (DIB). However, you still may be eligible for SSI (supplemental security income). Most people who apply do so for both DIB and SSI.

If we handle your social security case, we only get paid if we win the case. Our fee structure is based on the back benefits, or the number of hours involved in your case, whichever is greater. These cases normally take a long time to complete, so the sooner you apply the better.