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Applying for SSD: Initial Application and Reconsideration
The first thing you need to understand about applications for SSD and SSI is that they are made up of several steps or stages. At each stage, you have a chance to win your case. However, even if you don’t win at a stage, you have the right to appeal to the next stage. You can do this appeal-and-retry approach pretty easily for about 4 stages. All you have to do is meet the deadlines. After that it gets a little more complicated and potentially expensive.
GETTING STARTED: INITIAL APPLICATION
The first stage is called the Initial Application. This is the place where all SSD and SSI claims begin. The minute you think you are disabled, you can file for benefits, as long as you can show that your condition is definitely going to last for at least a year. You can also file for benefits many years after you think your disability started. Which way is better? We feel that it is much harder to win a case that relies on old medical evidence. It is easier to win when your case deals with the present time.
HOW TO FILE
There are basically four ways to file your initial application. The first is to your local Social Security office. These in person services are currently suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions but keep checking. To set up an appointment, call Social Security at (800) 772-1213. The second option is to file by phone. Here again, call Social Security at the toll free number above. The third way is to file online at Social Security’s website.
The fourth option for filing is to have an advocate help you. This usually means that you have decided from the very beginning that you want representation. If this is the decision you are going with, then the disability expert will generally do the tough parts for you. At our firm, for example, we schedule appointments at your convenience, ask you the basics and prepare the forms with you for your signature. Be careful though. Most lawyers have never done a Social Security case in their lives. And there are many individuals out there who are unqualified to handle your claim.
All of these filing methods have their good and bad sides. Going to the Social Security office in person can help you make sure all of the information is being filled in properly. Also, Social Security does have some friendly and helpful staff workers. We have had clients who have developed good relationships with particular workers at their local offices. These relationships can only help move your case along.
The problems with going in person should be considered as well. For one thing, the lines can be unbelievable. We have heard stories of people waiting an entire day just to be told to come back tomorrow. Depending on where you live, the Social Security office can be a pretty popular hangout. Another problem with going to the local office in person is that many of you find it difficult to travel away from home. After all, that may be why you are filing for disability to begin with. Finding your way to the local office, climbing the stairs, sitting in a chair for hours – that might not be your idea of an easy day. The final major problem with going to the office is that the face-to-face contact can work against you. Even the initial interviewer from Social Security can make observations about how disabled you look. If you’re one of those people who has a not-so-obvious disability, this type of opinion can go into your file. Not too fair, if you ask us. And believe me, not every Social Security employee is interested in helping. Many have become cynical over the years, and they tend not to believe claimants.
How about the phone then? The good part is that you can do it from the comfort of your own home. This means that when you get through, it should be pretty easy for you to follow steps. The problem, as you may have guessed, is that getting through is not always so easy. There can be major delays that can tie up your phone for hours on end. Also, there is no guarantee that you are going to get one of Social Security’s best and brightest phone representatives. We’ve had lots of clients who tell us “that’s not what the Social Security people told me.” Finally, if you’re someone who likes the personal touch, the phone might not be great for you. Keep in mind too that some Social Security offices will not do phone filings.
Using the online option is fine if you understand all the questions and what they mean. This is particularly important in describing what you did for a living. More clients lose their case by filing their own paperwork than lose their case testifying. So proceed with the website approach with caution.
The last way is to have an advocate specializing in this area work for you. The advantages here are pretty obvious. First of all, somebody else handles the loads of paperwork. Second, you can usually expect less of a wait than at the Social Security office, and you can often even make a set time to file. Third, they are on your side for sure so they will do what they can to protect you from some of Social Security’s traps. Fourth, you can always call your advocate for updates after you file. You don’t have to rely on Social Security for this information, which can be a real time-saver.
The disadvantage to having an advocate is that if you win, you will have to share some of your winnings. Each firm is different, but we can tell you the way we do it. We only take a fee if we win your case. Normally, we rely on the Social Security Administration to take a portion of what Social Security gives you as your first back due check and send it to us. This procedure was written into the Social Security Act to make it easier for the disabled to get help. After that, all your monthly benefits are yours to keep.
So, if you think you can go it alone, you might be able to save yourself some of your early Social Security money. But remember, experts in the Social Security field don’t charge by the hour but by a contingency fee. Whether they work on it from day one or are called in like a closer in a baseball game, their fee is the same. You can also see if your community has a “Legal Aid” office nearby, though, usually you must be unable to afford a lawyer to be eligible for a free one. Normally, legal service agencies handle only SSI cases and often you get an under-trained, overworked “paralegal.”
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Social Security will take anywhere from 3 to 6 months to make a decision on your initial application. It varies state by state. During that time, an analyst – not a judge – will be gathering medical evidence from your doctors. They will also be deciding how difficult your past job was and whether or not you can be expected to continue there. They’ll also take a look at your age and education to figure out if there might be other jobs you can do.
Is there anything you can do while you wait? You bet there is: Keep going to your doctors on a regular basis. If you stop medical treatment any time, you are doing serious damage to your case. Just imagine what it must look like to Social Security if you cut off medical care the minute you file for benefits.
You should realize that you can use the time to improve your doctors’ understanding of your condition. Our experience has been that the more times a claimant sees a doctor, the more willing the doctor is to help out. By the time Social Security gets around to contacting your doctor, you should have seen them several times. This way, you can be sure the doctor’s information is up-to-the-minute. You can also be sure that he or she is cooperative. , and is expecting to hear from Social Security about your case. We know that doctors can be expensive, and we know that it is hard to see them sometimes. But you have to trust us when we tell you how important it is to your case to keep those appointments on a regular basis!
You can also use this time to check up on the status of your case. If you have an advocate, call his office for updates. If you don’t have an advocate, call Social Security directly. Tell them that you understand that here will be a long wait, but you just want to make sure that your file is still in one piece. If they lost it, you don’t want to wait around for a year wondering what is going on, do you?
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