This page attempts to answer some questions many people often have about their disability cases.

Click on the questions below to reveal the answers.

It varies a lot. It usually takes anywhere from 1 to 6 months after the initial application for a decision to be made by SSA. If you are denied, we need to file a Request for Reconsideration. Again, it generally takes between 1 to 6 months after that appeal before we get a decision from SSA. If that appeal is denied, we need to file a Request for Hearing in order to get a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge. It generally takes 18 months or more to get a hearing date once we have requested the hearing.
I am always hopeful. However, less than 40 percent of people who apply are found disabled at the initial or reconsideration stages. Although this does not mean that I will not try to win your case at this level, do not be discouraged if we receive a denial notice. I agreed to represent you because I thought you had a good case. It may be necessary to go to a hearing to win your case. We are willing to do that.
The first thing you need to do is make sure that I received a copy. It is necessary for you to do this because the Social Security Administration frequently fails to send me a copy of the determination. If I do not get a copy of the notice from Social Security, I won’t know that a decision has been made on your case unless you tell me. Therefore, please call me when you get the notice of determination in your case, so that we can be sure to file your appeal on time. In fact, please call me within 10 days after you receive any correspondence from SSA.
No. You don’t have to get any medical records or reports yourself. In fact, it’s better if you do not even try to get such things unless I ask you to.
If you happen to get something such as a disability form completed by your doctor for an insurance company, etc., be sure to send me a copy.
No. As a rule, do not send anything of any substance to the Social Security Administration without my office seeing it first. The only exception to this rule is if SSA asks you to sign medical consent forms, you may sign them and send them directly back to SSA. I don’t need to see those. If you are not sure whether you should send something to SSA, please call my office so that we can help you take the correct action.
Sometimes SSA will send you a form to complete about your daily activities, etc. Sometimes SSA asks you to complete other forms that ask about your symptoms. If you want to discuss a form with my office before completing it, please call, but here’s the advice I always give: Be truthful. Don’t exaggerate, but don’t minimize your problems either. Include plenty of details and examples that show your limitations, but don’t go on and on. Complete any form as soon as possible after you get it and send it to me. I’ll review it and forward it to SSA.
Yes. If you have not yet completed the Tree Law Office Disability Questionnaire, please fill that out and return it to us as soon as possible. This form is very detailed and will probably take some time to complete, but it is very helpful to us in better understanding your case and deciding what we need to prove in order to win your case.

In addition, it would be very helpful for our office to have a copy of your earnings report. Social Security is supposed to send everyone each year a form called “Your Social Security Statement.” This is a concise, easy-to-read personal record of the earnings on which you have paid Social Security taxes during your working years and a summary of the estimated benefits you and your family may receive as a result of those earnings. If you have a recent copy of “Your Social Security Statement,” please bring it in to us right away so that we can make a copy. If you do not have a copy, you can request this document from the local Social Security office at any time. If you need help making this request, we would be happy to assist you. Please bring us a copy of “Your Social Security Statement” as soon as you receive it from SSA.

Sometimes SSA will ask you to see a private doctor who is paid by SSA for what they call a “consultative examination.” However, the quality of such examinations varies widely. SSA’s rules state that your own doctor can perform such an examination if your doctor is able to do it and agrees to accept the payment offered by SSA. If SSA wants to send you for a consultative examination, we may ask that your own doctor do this exam. If you get a notice to go to a consultative examination, please call us to make sure we received a copy of the notice.
We will review your case. We will figure out what we need to prove to win your case and figure out how to prove it. We will make sure that the Social Security Administration gets the necessary medical records and other records. We will obtain reports from your doctors, if necessary. Before the hearing, one of our attorneys will review your exhibit file and will meet with you a week or so before your hearing to get you prepared to testify. That attorney will also talk with any witnesses from whom we may want to present testimony at your hearing.
No. It is not necessary to telephone me to tell me about routine medical care. But keep track of the dates of all medical treatment from now on. I will gather this information from you when we request your hearing. My staff or I may periodically request updated medical information from you.
If one of the following things happens, please call my office immediately:

There is a dramatic change in your condition – for the worse or the better.
Your doctor gives you a new diagnosis of your medical condition.
You start seeing a new doctor.
You are hospitalized.
You go back to work.
You change your address and/or telephone.
Someone from SSA contacts you.
You get a notice asking you to attend a consultative examination.
You get a letter from SSA that you don’t understand
You get a notice from SSA telling you that you are or are not disabled.

Additionally, if at any time you have a question about your case, please feel free to call my office. My staff is well trained and can answer the vast majority of the questions that you may have. If there is ever anything the staff is unable to help you resolve, they will notify one of the attorneys.

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Do you have any additional questions?

Give us a call at 1-800-704-3699 or fill out our free evaluation form.
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Additional Social Security Disability questions…

Disability under Social Security for an adult is based on your inability to work because of a medical condition. To be considered disabled:
You must be unable to do work you did before and we decide that you cannot adjust to other work because of a medical condition.
Your disability must last or be expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.
Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or short-term disability.

For adults, we use a five-step evaluation process to decide whether you are disabled under Social Security. The process considers any current work activity you are doing, and your medical condition and how it affects your ability to work. For more information, we recommend that you read the publication, Disability Benefits (SSA Publication No. 05-10029)

Some people who get Social Security will have to pay taxes on their benefits. Less than one-third of our current beneficiaries pay taxes on their benefits.

You will have to pay federal taxes on your benefits if you file a federal tax return as an “individual” and your total income is more than $25,000. If you file a joint return, you will have to pay taxes if you and your spouse have a total income that is more than $32,000.

For more information, call the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) toll-free at 1-800-829-3676 and ask for IRS Publication Number 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits. People who are deaf or hard of hearing may call the IRS toll-free number, 1-800-829-4059.

Publication 915 is also available on the IRS Web site.

If you wish to have federal taxes withheld from your check, see Can I have federal taxes withheld from my Social Security check?

The Social Security Administration has no authority to withhold state or local taxes from your benefit. Many states and local authorities do not tax Social Security benefits. You should contact your state or local taxing authority for more information.

The length of time it takes to receive a decision on your disability claim is from 3 to 5 months. It can vary depending on several factors, but primarily on:

the nature of your disability;
how quickly we obtain medical evidence from your doctor or other medical source;
whether it is necessary to send you for a medical examination in order to obtain evidence to support your claim; and
If your claim is randomly selected for quality assurance review of the decision.

No. Your disability benefits will continue as long as your medical condition has not improved and you cannot work. Your case will be reviewed at regular intervals to make sure you are still disabled.

If you are still receiving disability benefits when you reach full retirement age, they will automatically be converted to retirement benefits.

The five month waiting period ensures that during the early months of disability, we do not pay benefits to persons who do not have long-term disabilities. Social Security disability benefits can be paid only after you have been disabled continuously throughout a period of five full calendar months. Therefore, Social Security disability benefits will be paid for the sixth full month after the date your disability began. You are not entitled to benefits for any month in the waiting period.
When you reach full retirement age, nothing will change, except for Social Security purposes, your benefits will be called retirement benefits instead of disability benefits.

Starting with the month you reach full retirement age, you will get your benefits with no limit on your earnings. These new rules apply for the entire year of 2000, starting in January.

No. Your Social Security disability benefit is based on the amount of your lifetime earnings before your disability began and not the degree or severity of your disability.

For more information go to: www.socialsecurity.gov/dibplan/dapproval2.htm

We will automatically enroll you in Medicare after you get disability benefits for two years. We start counting the 24 months from the month you were entitled to receive Disability, not the month when you received your first check.

People with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) get Medicare beginning with the month they become entitled to disability benefits.

Medicare has two parts – hospital insurance and medical insurance. Hospital insurance helps pay hospital bills and some follow-up care. The taxes you paid while you were working financed this coverage, so it’s premium free. The other part of Medicare, medical insurance, helps pay doctors’ bills and other services. You will pay a monthly premium for this coverage if you want it.

There is no minimum age as long as you meet the very strict social security definition of disability . But to qualify for disability benefits you must have worked long and recently enough under Social Security to earn the required number of work credits. You can earn up to a maximum of four work credits each year. The amount of earnings required for a credit increases each year as general wage levels rise.

The number of work credits you need for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled.

Go to http://www.socialsecurity.gov/dibplan/dqualify3.htm to see how many credits you may need to qualify for disability benefits.

Even though your brother wasn’t married to the second child’s mother, the child may qualify for Social Security benefits. An application should be filed on her behalf and if eligible, both children would receive equal benefits.
Disability payment you receive from workers’ compensation and/or another public disability payment may reduce
you and your family’s Social Security benefits.

Your Social Security disability benefit will be reduced so that the combined amount of the Social Security benefit you and your family receive plus your workers’ compensation payment and/or public disability payment does not exceed 80 percent of your average current earnings. (Note that the unreduced benefit amount is counted for income tax purposes.)

A workers’ compensation payment is one that is made to a worker because of a job-related injury or illness. It may be paid by federal or state workers’ compensation agencies, employers, or insurance companies on behalf of employers.

Public disability (PDB) payments that may affect your Social Security benefit are those paid under a federal, state, or local government law or plan. A PDB is not usually based on a work-related disability. They differ from workers’ compensation because the disability that the worker has may not be job-related. Examples are civil service disability benefits, military disability benefits, state temporary disability benefits, and state or local government retirement benefits which are based on disability.

For more information, see How Worker’s Compensation And Other Disability Payments May Affect Your Benefits (SSA Publication No. 05-10018).

A “disability freeze,” also called a “period of disability,” refers to a period of time you were found to be disabled or blind by Social Security. During the period of disability you may not have any earnings, or your earnings may be very low due to your disability or blindness. You can have more than one period of disability on your record.

In general, we do not count your period(s) of disability when we determine whether you have enough work credits to get Social Security disability benefits.

If you are blind or disabled, you can apply to have a period of disability established on your earnings record. Most workers who have a period of disability may also qualify for monthly disability insurance benefits. Even if you do not get disability insurance benefits for your period of disability, a “disability freeze” on your record may help you and your family get future Social Security benefits based on your disability or retirement, or as survivors on your account.

A “period of disability” (i.e., a “disability freeze”) may also affect how we compute the monthly benefits amounts payable to you and your family. Usually, if we take your period of disability into account when determining monthly benefit amounts, the benefit amount will be higher.

We will ignore your “period(s) of disability” if it is to your advantage to do so. This can happen when you or your family may be entitled or get a higher monthly benefit amount by ignoring your period of disability.

Social Security follows the laws of the state where the worker was residing at the time of death or the place where the worker is residing when the spouse applies for benefits. In order for a common law marriage to be valid, it must have been contracted in a state where common-law marriages are recognized. Many states do not honor common-law marriages, so you should check local laws. However, most states (even those in which a man and woman could not enter into a valid common-law marriage) will generally recognize a common-law marriage validly entered into in another state. Again, check local laws.
If you become disabled a second time within five years after your previous disability benefits stopped, there is no waiting period before benefits start. If your claim is approved, you can receive benefits for the first full month of disability.

It can take from three to five months to get a decision on a disability claim, depending on how long it takes to obtain your medical records and any other information we need to decide whether you are disabled. You can help shorten this time by providing as much information as possible when you apply for benefits.

The number of work credits you need to qualify for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled. Also, the credits must have been earned within a certain time period. Generally, you need 20 credits earned in the last 10 years, ending with the year you become disabled.

Younger workers may qualify with fewer credits. For example:

A worker who becomes disabled before age 24 needs to have earned six credits in the three-year period ending when disability starts.
A worker who becomes disabled between age 24 to age 31 needs to have credits for half the time between age 21 and the time disability starts. If disability starts at age 27, the worker would need credit for three years of work (12 credits)) out of the past six years between age 21 and age 27.

Social Security does provide SSI disability benefits to certain low birth weight infants, whether or not they are premature. A child who weighs less than 1200 grams (about 2 pounds, 10 ounces) at birth can qualify for SSI on the basis of low birth weight, if otherwise eligible. A child who weighs between 1200 and 2000 grams at birth (about 4 pounds 6 ounces) AND who is considered small for his or her gestational age may also qualify. For this second category of low birth weight infants, the following chart shows the gestational age at birth and corresponding birth weight that satisfies our “small for gestational age” criterion.

Gestational Age Weight at Birth
(in weeks)
37-40 Less than 2000 grams
(4 pounds, 6 ounces)

36 1875 grams or less
(4 pounds, 2 ounces)

35 1700 grams or less
(3 pounds, 12 ounces)

34 1500 grams or less
(3 pounds, 5 ounces)

33 1325 grams or less
(2 pounds, 15 ounces)

Even if a child who was born prematurely does not fall into one of the “low birth weight” categories, he or she may still qualify for SSI if the evidence in his or her record shows that he or she meets the definition of disability for children for another reason.

Yes. The requirements for disability benefits are the same for a person with a potentially terminal illness as for a person with a non-terminal illness.

We make every effort to identify a case involving a person with a potentially terminal illness as early in the claims process as possible and we have special procedures we follow to process the claim as quickly as possible. We may become aware of the potentially terminal illness through statements from the person claiming disability, or from the person’s friend, family member, doctor or other medical source. Or there may be an allegation or diagnosis of AIDS, or indications that the person is registered in a Medicare-designated hospice or is receiving hospice care. Regardless of the potentially terminal illness or how we learn about it, we tightly control the case throughout the claims process and make special efforts to assist the person in providing necessary evidence.

The trial work period allows Social Security disability beneficiaries to test their ability to work for at least nine months. During the trial work period, you can receive full benefits no matter how much you earn, as long as you continue to have a disabling impairment and you report your work activity. The trial work period continues until you have completed nine trial work months within a 60-month period.

In 2008, any month in which you earn $670 or more counts as one of the trial work months. For 2007, this amount is $640.

After your trial work period ends, we then look at your earnings to determine whether you are working at a level we consider substantial. If you are, your cash benefits will stop. In 2008, average monthly earnings of $940 are considered substantial. For 2007, the amount was $900. There are different limits for people disabled because of blindness.

If you continue to work, there are other rules that allow you to receive benefits. For 36 months following completion of the trial work period, you can receive your full Social Security disability benefit for any month in which your earnings fall below the “substantial” level. You can find more information about available work incentives in our leaflet, Working While Disabled-How We Can Help (SSA Publication No. 05-10095).

No. You do not have to wait a year after becoming disabled to receive disability benefits. However, you should apply for disability benefits as soon as you become disabled. It can take a long time to process an application for disability benefits (three to five months).

If your application is approved, your first Social Security disability benefits will be paid for the sixth full month after the date your disability began.

For example, if the state agency decides your disability began on January 15, your first disability benefit will be paid for the month of July. However, Social Security benefits are paid in the month following the month for which they are due, so you will receive your July benefit in August.

For more information about Social Security disability benefits, refer to Disability Benefits(Publication No. 05-10029) at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs.

No. Your eligibility for Social Security disability benefits is not affected by any private insurance you may have. But, you may be interested to know that worker’s compensation and certain other public disability payments may affect your Social Security benefit.
To receive Social Security Disability benefits a person must meet Social Security’s definition of disability and meet certain non-medical eligibility requirements. Examples of non-medical eligibility requirements include proof of age, employment, marital status, or Social Security coverage information.

State agencies (usually called Disability Determination Services or DDSs) make the medical determination on a claim.

Local Social Security offices are responsible for verifying non-medical eligibility requirements.

Social Security has a strict definition of disability for children under the SSI program. A child is disabled if he or she:

Is not working at a job that we consider to be substantial work; and
Has a physical or mental condition (or a combination of conditions) that results in “marked and severe functional limitations.” This means that the condition(s) very seriously limits his or her activities; and
The condition(s) has lasted, or is expected to last, at least 1 year or is expected to result in death.
To decide whether your child is disabled, we look at medical and other information (such as information from schools and from you) about his or her condition(s), and we consider how the condition(s) affects his or her daily activities. We consider questions such as:

What activities is your child not able to do, or is limited in doing?
What kind of and how much extra help does your child need to perform age-appropriate activities — for example, special classes at school, medical equipment?
Do the effects of treatment interfere with your child’s day-to-day activities?
Go to http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10026.html for additional information on how we decide if a child under age 18 is disabled.

There are a number of services and products specifically designed for people who are blind.

You can choose to receive letters from us by regular mail only, by regular mail followed by a telephone call to explain the information in the letter, or by certified mail.
We provide special tapes of our publications to local radio stations that offer reading services for their blind and low-vision listeners. To find out which stations in your area provide radio reading services, you should call your local Social Security office.
Many of our publications are available in Braille, audio cassette tapes, compact disks or in enlarged print for people who are blind or visually impaired. The publication If You Are Blind Or Have Low Vision – How We Can Help, and other publications in alternative formats can be obtained by calling toll-free, 1-800-772-1213 (for the deaf or hard of hearing, call our TTY number, 1-800-325-0778), Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information on public information materials in alternative media, visit our website at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/alt-pubs.html.

An adult disabled before age 22 may be eligible for child’s benefits if a parent is deceased or receiving retirement or disability benefits. We consider this a “child’s” benefit because it is paid on a parent’s Social Security earnings record. We make the disability decision using the disability rules for adults.

The “adult child”—including an adopted child, or, in some cases, a stepchild, grandchild, or stepgrandchild—must be unmarried, age 18 or older, and have a disability that started before age 22.

For more information, see Benefits For Disabled Children.

Benefits may be payable to a widow or widower with a disability if the following conditions are met:

He or she is between ages 50 and 60.
The widow or widower meets the definition of disability for adults.
The disability started before the widow or widower’s death or within seven years after death.
Note: If a widow or widower caring for the deceased’s children receives Social Security benefits, he or she is eligible if disability starts before those payments end or within seven years after they end.

A widow or widower cannot apply online for survivors benefits based on their disability but he or she can get the process started by completing an Adult Disability Report before they contact us.

We use the same definition of disability for widows and widowers as we do for workers.

No. Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or short-term disability, including benefits while on maternity leave.

To be considered disabled:

You must be unable to do work you did before and we decide that you cannot adjust to other work because of a medical condition.
Your disability must last or be expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.
We use a five-step evaluation process to decide whether you are disabled under Social Security. The process considers any current work activity you are doing, and your medical condition and how it affects your ability to work. For more information, we recommend that you read the publication, Disability Benefits (SSA Publication No. 05-10029)

There are two Social Security disability programs that include disabled children.

Under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, a child from birth to age 18 may receive monthly payments based on disability or blindness if:

He or she has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets the definition of disability for children and
the income and resources of the parents and the child are within the allowed limits.
Under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, an adult child (a person age 18 or older) may receive monthly benefits based on disability or blindness if:

He or she has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets the definition of disability for adults; and
the disability began before age 22; and
the adult child’s parent worked long enough to be insured under Social Security and is receiving retirement or disability benefits or is deceased.
Under both of these programs, the child must not be doing any “substantial” work, and must have a medical condition that has lasted or is expected either to last for at least 12 months or to result in death.

You will find helpful links to the online forms and the steps you need to take to apply for childhood disability benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability. At this time, you cannot complete an application for SSI childhood disability online, but you can complete the Child Disability Report Form online. You can also view the Fact Sheet and Checklist in the Child Disability Starter Kit to see what information you will need and the kinds of questions we will ask when you have your disability interview in your local Social Security office or over the phone. The Disability Report asks for information about the child’s conditions or impairments.

Many questions and answers found on this page are from the Social Security Administration website. Visit their website at http://www.ssa.gov/includes/topiclist.htm to see more questions and answers or give Tree Law Offices a call.

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Do you have any additional questions?

Give us a call at 1-800-704-3699 or fill out our free evaluation form.
FREE EVALUATION