With most Baby Boomers now in their 50s and 60s, that means a higher likelihood of developing an age-related disability. If you’re living with a mental or physical disability, you know about the financial struggles that come with expensive medical bills and being unable to work. It’s tough enough for anyone to find a job today, let alone someone with a severe physical or mental health condition.
Social Security disability (SSD) benefits are designed to provide cash payments, and in some cases, medical coverage, for those who can’t work due to a disability. However, with most Baby Boomers not yet able to collect retirement benefits and with the current state of the economy, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is being flooded with applications for SSD benefits.
The SSA denies more than three-quarters of initial applications – even for those who are truly disabled. You can improve your chances of being approved for SSD benefits by learning about the process, taking the correct steps to apply, and consulting an attorney when necessary.
Are You Eligible for SSD Benefits?
Unfortunately, just because you have a physical or mental health condition doesn’t automatically mean you will qualify for SSD benefits. The SSA considers you to be ‘disabled’ if you can answer “yes” to the following questions:
- Do you have a physical or mental condition that prevents you from working?
- Do you have a disability that prohibits you from working in any capacity – not just in the job you held previously?
- Has your disability lasted – or is expected to last – for at least one year? Or, is the disability life-threatening?
- Do you have an earnings record that shows you have paid into the Social Security system within the past five years? If you have never held a job , you may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI).
Keep in mind – The SSA requires an “official” diagnosis by a physician (preferably a specialist) and proof that your disability is severe enough to prevent you from working. It’s critical that you attend medical appointments and follow through with your prescribed treatment plan.
The Application Process
To get started, contact the Social Security Administration at 1-800-722-1213, visit www.ssa.gov to file online, or make an appointment at a local Social Security District Office.
The claims process can take 120 days or more. Those approved receive SSD benefits after their sixth full month of disability. If approved, your SSD payments are retroactive from the date you were evaluated as disabled. Money you receive is based on your average top earnings over the past 15 years of your work history. Note however, that your SSD medical benefits do not kick in until the 29th month from the date you’re considered disabled.
Application Denied? What to do Next
Did the SSA deny your application? Don’t panic – but you must act quickly. You have only 60 days to appeal. You can reapply after that time period, but the process starts all over again.
If you appeal the decision, you’ll go to a hearing, which can take anywhere from 12-18 months. Typically it takes a judge several months to issue a decision. If that doesn’t work, you can move on to the Appeals Council. Lastly, you can pursue a case in Federal Court.
While you can represent yourself at an appeal hearing, you may want to consider contacting an experienced attorney to guide you through the process. You will definitely need an attorney at the federal level.
If you want to hire an attorney to help you cut through the red tape, make sure the lawyer has experience handling SSD claims, a track record of success, and preferably a contingent fee policy so that you don’t pay unless you receive benefits.
Sometimes the SSA will terminate your benefits if they believe you’ve earned too much money or your condition has improved. However, if your benefits are stopped, you can appeal within 60 days (10 days to continue receiving checks while the appeal is pending).
Knowledge and Preparation Are Key
Baby Boomers are known as the generation that worked hard and surpassed their parents’ success. Many have worked for decades and have paid into the Social Security system, hoping it would protect them when they needed it.
If you paid into the Social Security system for years and you’re now disabled, you deserve to receive your SSD benefits. But, applying for SSD benefits can be a long and complicated process.
If you, or someone you love, is living with a disability and can’t work, learn all you can about the SSD system. Knowing what the process entails and being prepared if your claim is rejected can mean the difference between ultimately receiving benefits or not.
Attorney Dennis Liotta, a partner at the law firm of Edgar Snyder & Associates, has over 20 years of experience and has helped people with physical and mental disabilities get the Social Security disability benefits they deserve. For a comprehensive overview of SSD, with answers to commonly asked questions, download a free guide at: http://www.edgarsnyder.com/ssd-guide.