If you are disabled but are not collecting all the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits you are entitled to, perhaps it’s because you are making one or more of the common mistakes listed below.
If you are not disabled, please read and save this guide anyway, because you or a member of your family could become disabled at any time due to an accident or illness. You will then need to know about, and avoid, these common mistakes. As noted in The New York Times, “50 million people in the U.S. have some form of physical or mental disability. Nineteen percent of those between ages 16 and 64 are disabled, according to census data.”
You don’t put away any emergency cash to live on because you believe that Social Security Disability Insurance will pay monthly benefits if you become disabled and are unable to work for a short period.
FACT: SSDI pays benefits only to those with a physical and/or mental disability that is severe enough to keep them from performing substantial work for at least 12 months (or is expected to result in death).The Social Security Administration (SSA) does not pay benefits for short-term or partial disability. Additionally, no benefits are paid for the first 5 full calendar months of disability. You’re on your own.
You believe that SSDI benefits will be paid to anyone who becomes disabled and is unable to work for 12 months or longer.
FACT: That’s just one of the requirements. In addition, in order to qualify for SSDI benefits, your work history has to show that you’ve paid into the Social Security system—via payroll deductions or payment of self-employment tax―for a specified number of years. If you didn’t, then you’re not eligible for benefits, even if your disability is severe and long lasting.
You applied for SSDI benefits without doing your “homework” and were turned down. You are really disabled, but you’ve given up on re-applying.
SUGGESTION: Do some research and try again. The SSA offers explanatory booklets for claimants, online information complete with Frequently-Asked Questions, and one-on-one consultations at their local offices, all free of charge. You’ll find out what you need to know in order to fill out claim or appeal forms accurately and completely and what additional information is required. However, it may be easier and more effective to consult a qualified law firm that has a track-record of winning claims. They will be able to present your claim in a manner that clearly shows why you qualify.
English is not your native language, and it’s very difficult for you to understand all the information provided by the SSA. So, you don’t even try to file a claim or appeal a denial.
THE FACTS: Most of the information provided by the SSA is also available in Spanish and some correspondence is available in other languages. In addition, the SSA has interpreters (translators) available—usually via three-way phone conferences—to help applicants who speak Arabic, Armenian, Chinese, Farsi, French, Greek, Haitian-Creole, Italian, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese.
You decided you needed help in filing a claim or appealing a claim denial, so you plan to call some law firm listed in the Yellow Pages that is near your home.
A BETTER IDEA: Contact a law firm that has a proven track record in handling Social Security cases. Very few attorneys have the special training and years of hands-on experience needed to properly and successfully handle SSDI claims and appeals. It’s certainly no job for a jack-of-all-trades lawyer who handles everything from divorces to real estate transactions. There are certain aspects of SSDI that can be attended to only once, and if handled incorrectly or too late, you won’t get a second chance. So choose carefully.
You assume that hiring an attorney who is experienced in Social Security disability will be too expensive. So you plan to hire a general practice attorney who’s a friend of a friend and will give you a discount.
THE FACTS: In most cases, SSDI attorneys work on a contingency basis. This means that if your claim is denied, the attorney receives no fee whatsoever. Your only cost is a minimal amount for any related expenses the attorney incurred, such as charges for medical records or photocopying.)
When your claim or appeal is successful—thanks to your attorney’s expert advice and work—he or she receives (usually directly from the SSA) up to one-fourth of your back benefits or $6,000, whichever is less. To put this fee in prospective, after the initial fee is taken from your back pay, you will receive 100% of all future benefits. Since the average family benefit for a disabled worker is currently $1,919—nearly $23,000 a year—this could add up to $230,000 or more over 10 years if you continue to be disabled and unable to work. Your attorney’s fee is a good investment!
You’ve been receiving SSDI benefits. But then the SSA suddenly informs you that your benefits will stop, because you’re no longer considered disabled. So you take their word for it and do nothing about it.
FACT: The SSA’s decisions are not always correct. But they’re willing to be corrected—if you can convince them that an error has been made. Here’s where an attorney with SSDI expertise can be especially helpful in finding out what caused the SSA to decide to stop your benefits and what’s needed to prove that you are still disabled and unable to return to work. Your attorney may have to appear at a hearing or in federal court on your behalf, so it’s vitally important to have qualified representation.
Your young child is disabled, but you don’t apply for benefits.
ACT NOW: Not having worked and paid SSDI taxes, your minor child won’t qualify for Social Security disabled worker’s benefits, but he or she may qualify for benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. If your family’s income and assets fall below the allowable limit and your child meets the SSA’s definition of childhood disability, he or she may qualify for SSI benefits. Your child is disabled if
1) He or she has a physical and/or mental condition that results in marked and severe functional limitations that seriously limit activities; and
2) The condition has lasted, or is expected to last, at least one year or is expected to result in death.
Your family has too many assets for your 17-year-old disabled child to get SSI so you give up on getting financial help for him.
APPLY LATER: An adult child age 18 or over who becomes disabled prior to age 22 may become entitled to Social Security disability benefits based on the earnings record of a parent if the parent begins to receive disability or retirement benefits. Similarly the disabled adult child could become eligible for survivor’s benefits on a deceased parent’s earnings record.
Regardless of which of the above mistakes apply to you, it makes sense to apply—or re-apply or appeal—for all the SSDI benefits you’re entitled to.