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Common Questions For a Kansas City Social Security Law Firm

Answers from a Kansas City Social Security law firm

Social Security Disability law is detailed and complex. We are happy to provide you with answers that you need to help you understand how the law applies in your situation. Below is a sample of frequently asked questions for your review.

Social Security Disability

1. What definition of disability does Social Security use?

Under the Social Security Act, "disability" means "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." In plain English, this means that you must have a long-term (1 year) or fatal illness that makes you unable to work.

2. How many different types of Social Security disability benefits are there?

There are at least five major types of Social Security disability benefits:
  • Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) is the most important type of Social Security disability benefits. It goes to individuals who have worked in recent years (five out of the last ten years in most cases) who are now disabled.
  • Disabled widow or widower benefits are paid to individuals who are at least 50 and become disabled within a certain amount of time after the death of their husband or wife. The late husband or wife must have worked enough under Social Security to be insured.
  • Disabled adult child benefits go to the children of persons who are deceased or who draw Social Security disability or retirement benefits. The child must have become disabled before age 22. To be eligible for SSDI, disabled widow or widower benefits and disabled adult child benefits, it does not matter whether the disabled individual is rich or poor. Benefits are paid based on a Social Security earnings record.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, however, are paid to individuals who are poor and who are disabled. It does not matter for SSI whether an individual has worked in the past or not.
  • SSI child disability benefits are a variety of SSI benefits paid to children under the age of 18 who are disabled. The way Social Security determines disability is a bit different for children.

3. How do I apply for Social Security disability benefits?

The best, surest way to file a Social Security disability claim is to go to the nearest Social Security office in person and wait (often for a few hours) to see someone and file the claim in person. Alternatively, you may contact Social Security by telephone and arrange for a telephone interview to file the claim.

4. I am disabled, but I have plenty of money in the bank. Do I have to wait until this money is gone before I apply for Social Security disability benefits?

No. If you have worked in recent years or if you are applying for Disabled Widow or Widower benefits or Disabled Adult Child benefits, it does not matter how much money you have in the bank. There is no reason to wait to file the claim.

5. I used to work, but lately I have been staying home taking care of the kids. I have now become sick. Can I get Social Security disability benefits?

Possibly. If you have worked five out of the previous 10 years under Social Security before becoming disabled, you have enough earnings in to potentially qualify for Social Security disability benefits. For individuals aged 31 or younger, the requirements are a little different, since such individuals have not had such a long time to work. Unless a person has been staying home and taking care of children for a long time, however, it is very possible that they qualify for Social Security disability benefits based on their own earnings. Also, a homemaker, if poor enough, can qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) whether he or she has worked in the past or not.

6. How long do I have to wait after becoming disabled before I can file for Social Security disability benefits?

Not even one day. You can file for Social Security disability benefits on the very same day that you become disabled. Many people make the mistake of waiting months or even years after becoming disabled before they file a Social Security disability claim. There is no reason to file a Social Security disability claim for a minor illness or one that is unlikely to last a year or more. However, if you suffer serious illness or injury and expect to be out of work for a year or more, you should not delay in filing a claim for Social Security disability benefits.

7. I am still on sick leave from my employer. Can I file for Social Security disability now or do I have to wait until the sick leave is exhausted?

No, you do not have to wait until the sick leave is exhausted. You should file for Social Security disability benefits now, if you expect to be out of work for a year or more.

8. I got hurt on the job. I am drawing workers' compensation benefits. Can I file a claim for Social Security disability benefits now or should I wait until the workers' compensation ends?

You do not have to wait until the workers compensation ends, and you should not wait that long. A person can file a claim for Social Security disability benefits while receiving workers' compensation benefits. It is best to file the Social Security disability claim as soon as possible, because otherwise there may be a gap between the time the workers' compensation ends and the Social Security disability benefits begin.

9. Can I get both workers' compensation and Social Security disability benefits?

Yes. There is an offset, which reduces Social Security disability benefits because of workers'
compensation benefits paid, but in virtually all cases there are still some Social Security
disability benefits to be paid.

10. How can I tell if I will be found disabled by Social Security?

Unless your disability is catastrophic (such as terminal cancer, a heart condition so bad that you are on a heart transplant waiting list, total paralysis of both legs, etc.), there is no easy way for you to tell whether Social Security will find you disabled. In the end, the decision of whether to apply for Social Security disability benefits should not be based on whether you feel that Social Security will find you disabled. Attorneys familiar with Social Security disability can make predictions about who will win and who will lose, but even they can seldom be sure. If you feel you are disabled and do not expect to be able to return to work in the near future, you should file for Social Security disability benefits. If denied, you should consult with an attorney familiar with Social Security disability to get an opinion regarding your chances of success on appeal.

11. Can you receive Social Security disability benefits for (insert thename of whatever disease you are interested in)?

In almost every case, no matter what the disease is, the answer is the same -- "Maybe -- it depends how badly the disease affects you." One example might be cancer. The word "cancer" is scary to anyone, but many cancers can be treated and cured very quickly, with little or no lasting effect, while others cause great suffering and ultimately death. The question in each case is "How sick is this person, and how long will he or she remain sick?" Skin diseases are another example. The vast majority of skin diseases, while annoying, would not be considered disabling. On the other hand, some uncommon, very severe skin problems are clearly disabling. Psoriasis, which is not rare, may be disabling in extreme cases. Almost without exception, the name of your disease does not guarantee that you will or will not be found disabled. It all depends how sick you are.

12. Do you have to be permanently disabled to get Social Security disability benefits?

No. You have to have been disabled for at least a year, expect to be disabled for at least a year, or
have a condition expected to result in death within a year.

13. I have several health problems; no single problem disables me, but the combination does. Can I get Social Security disability benefits?

Social Security considers the combination of impairments that an individual suffers in determining disability. Many, perhaps most claimants for Social Security disability benefits have more than one health problem, and the combined effects of all health problems must be considered.

14. I am disabled now, but I expect to be able to return to work after I recover. Should Ifile for Social Security disability benefits?

If you expect to be out of work for a year or more on account of illness or injury, you should file for Social Security disability benefits.

15. How does Social Security determine whether I am disabled?

Social Security is supposed to gather your medical records and carefully consider all of your health problems, as well as your age, education and work experience. In general, Social Security is supposed to decide whether you are able to do the work you did in the past. If Social Security decides that you are unable to do the same work, they are supposed to consider whether there is any other work you can do, considering your health problems and your age, education and work experience.

16. Who decides if I am disabled?

After you file a Social Security disability claim, the case is sent to a disability examiner at
Disability Determination Services in your state. The disability examiner, working with a doctor,
makes the initial decision on your claim. If the claim is denied and you request reconsideration,
the case is then sent to another disability examiner at Disability Determination Services, where it
goes through much the same process. If a claim is denied at reconsideration, you may then
request a hearing. At this point, the case is sent to an administrative law judge who works for
Social Security. The administrative law judge makes an independent decision regarding the
claim. This is the only level at which the claimant and the decision maker get to see each other.

17. Why does Social Security consider my age in determining whether I am disabled?

Social Security needs to consider age because that is what the Social Security Act requires. As
people get older they become less adaptable, less able to switch to different jobs to cope with
health problems. For example, a severe foot injury might cause a 30-year-old to switch to a job
in which he or she can sit down most of the time, but a similar injury might disable a 60-year-old
person who cannot make the adjustment to a different type of work.

18. Is there a list of illnesses that Social Security considers disabling?

Social Security does maintain a list of "Compassionate Allowances," which are conditions which are per se disabling.  Please
contact this office to see if your condition may be listed.  ​

19. What can I do to improve my chances of winning my Social Security disability claim?

Be honest and complete in giving information to Social Security about what disables you. For
instance, many claimants fail to mention psychiatric problems, even when these problems play a
role in their disability. In almost all cases, people who were slow learners in school fail to
mention their learning problems to Social Security, even though these issues can impact whether
the disability claim is approved. Beyond being honest and complete, the most important thing
that you can do is to keep appealing and hire an experienced person to represent you. It is
important to appeal because most claims are denied at the initial level but are approved at higher
levels of review. It is important to hire an experienced person to represent you because you may
not understand how Social Security works. Statistically, claimants who employ an attorney to
represent them are much more likely to win than those who go unrepresented.

20. How do I find an attorney to represent me on my Social Security disability claim?

The National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives (NOSSCR) offers a
referral service. You may call NOSSCR at 1-800-431-2804 during regular business hours
If you live in Missouri of Kansas, call 816-478-4844

21. If I am approved for Social Security disability benefits, how much will I get?

For Social Security disability insurance benefits, it depends how much you worked and earned in
the past. For disabled widow or widower benefits, it depends how much your late husband or
wife worked and earned. For disabled adult child benefits, it depends how much the parent
worked and earned. For all types of SSI benefits, there is a base amount that an individual with
no other income receives. Other income reduces the amount of SSI you can receive.

22. How far back does Social Security pay benefits if they find me disabled?

For Social Security disability insurance benefits and for disabled widow and widower benefits,
the benefits cannot begin until five months have passed after the person becomes disabled. In
addition, benefits cannot be paid more than one year prior to the date of the claim. For a disabled
adult child, there is no five-month waiting period, but benefits cannot be paid more than six
months prior to the date of the claim. SSI benefits cannot be paid prior to the start of the month
following the date of the claim.

23. What do I do if Social Security denies my claim for disability benefits?

First, do not be surprised. Only about 40 percent of Social Security disability claims are
approved at the initial claim. Unless you have already returned to work or expect to return to
work in the near future, you should appeal -- that is, file a request for reconsideration. You
should also consider employing an attorney to represent you.

24. Why does Social Security turn down so many claims for disability benefits?

There is no simple answer to this question. One reason is that there is no simple way to
determine whether an individual is disabled. Most disabled people suffer from pain. There is no
way to determine whether another individual is in pain, much less how much pain they are in. A
second reason is that Social Security over the years has been more concerned with making sure
that everyone who receives Social Security disability benefits is "truly" disabled than with
making sure that every disabled person receives Social Security disability benefits. An
underlying reason is that many congresspeople believe that, given a chance, many people "fake"
disability to get benefits.

25. I only want to get back the money I put in Social Security. Why do they make it so hard for me to get my own money back?

Actually, when you file a Social Security disability claim you are not trying to just get "your own
money" back. The money that you personally paid into Social Security over the years would not
last very long if that were all you could draw from Social Security.

26. What is "reconsideration"?

When Social Security denies a disability claim at the initial level, the claimant may then request
"reconsideration" of that decision. The case is then sent to a different disability examiner for a
new decision. Unfortunately, about 80 percent of the time the reconsideration decision is the
same as the initial decision -- a denial.

27. Who makes the reconsideration determination?

A disability examiner at the Disability Determination Section makes the reconsideration
determination. Most of the time, the claimant does not see the disability examiner or even know
their name.

28. What are my chances of winning at reconsideration?

Statistically, about 20 percent of the time a claimant wins at reconsideration.

29. Do I have to go through reconsideration?

If you want to appeal a denial of Social Security disability benefits, you have to go through
reconsideration. There is no way to avoid it.

30. How long does it take to get a hearing on a Social Security disability claim?

This varies from place to place around the country. In a few areas, the wait is only a few months. In some, it is almost two years.

31. What is the Social Security hearing like?

The hearings are fairly informal. The only people likely to be there are the judge, a secretary
operating a tape recorder, the claimant, the claimant's attorney, and anyone else the claimant has
brought with them. In some cases, the administrative law judge has a medical doctor or
vocational expert present to testify at the hearing. There is no jury, nor are there any spectators at
the hearing. There is no attorney at the hearing representing Social Security trying to get the
judge to deny the disability claim.

32. What are my chances of winning at a hearing?

Statistically, over half of the claimants who have a Social Security disability hearing win.  

33. If the administrative law judge denies my claim, can I appeal any more?

Yes. You can appeal to the Appeals Council, which is still within Social Security.

34. What is the Appeals Council?

The Appeals Council exists to review administrative law judge decisions. The Appeals Council
is located in Falls Church, Virginia, and neither the claimant nor the attorney sees the people at
the Appeals Council who work on the case.

35. Can I appeal a case beyond Social Security to the federal courts?

Yes. If the Appeals Council denies your claim, you can file a civil action in the United States
District Court, requesting review of Social Security's decision. A Social Security disability claim
can go all the way to the Supreme Court. Perhaps once every year or two years, the U.S.
Supreme Court hears an appeal of a Social Security disability case.

36. If I receive Social Security disability benefits but start feeling better and want to return to work, can I?

Certainly you can return to work. Social Security wants people drawing disability benefits to
return to work and gives them every encouragement to do so. For persons receiving Social
Security disability insurance benefits, disabled widow or widower benefits, or disabled adult
child benefits, full benefits may continue for a year after an individual returns to work. Even
thereafter, an individual who has to stop work in the following three years can get back on Social
Security disability benefits immediately without having to file a new claim. In SSI cases, things
work differently, but there is still strong encouragement to return to work.

37. Where can I go to get help with my Social Security disability claim?

For help, go to a lawyer or another person who represents Social Security disability claimants on
a regular basis. If you need a referral to a lawyer who represents Social Security claimants, call
the referral service of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives
(NOSSCR) at 1-800-431-2804.

38. Do I have to hire a lawyer to represent me in my Social Security disability claim?

No. You can go through all of the levels of review on your own if you wish, but statistically,
claimants who are represented by an attorney win a good deal more often than those who are not
represented.

39. How do lawyers who represent Social Security disability claimants get paid?

In almost all cases, the attorney receives one-quarter of the back benefits if the claimant wins and
no fee if the claimant loses. As of June 22, 2009, fees are capped at $6,000.

40. Can alcoholics and drug addicts really get Social Security disability benefits for their addiction?

Not anymore. There never were all that many people getting Social Security disability benefits
on account of alcoholism or drug addiction, but Congress has now prohibited Social Security
from paying disability benefits on the basis of alcoholism or drug addiction. However, alcoholics
and drug addicts have heart attacks, get cancer or get sick in other ways just like everyone else.
Alcoholics and drug addicts who become disabled apart from their alcoholism or drug addiction
can become eligible for Social Security disability benefits.

41. I know someone who is on Social Security disability, and he does not look a bit disabled.Why do they put all of these freeloaders on benefits?

When it comes to disability, looks can be deceiving. Many people look healthy but are disabled
by anyone's standard. For instance, many people who suffer from very severe psychiatric illness
are physically healthy and can do things such as mow their yards.

42. I am disabled, but I have never worked outside the home. Can I get Social Security disability benefits?

If you are poor enough, you can qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if you are
disabled, even if you have never worked in the past. It is also possible to qualify for disabled
adult child benefits on a parent's account if you became disabled before age 22, or for disabled
widow or widower benefits on the account of a late husband or wife.

43. I am a widow. I have not worked outside the home in many years. I am disabled. Can I get Social Security disability benefits?

If you are over 50 and became disabled within seven years after your husband or wife died or
within seven years after you last drew mother's or father's benefits from Social Security, you can
get disabled widow or widower benefits. Perhaps more important, if you are poor, you can draw
Supplemental Security Income benefits no matter what age you are or when you became
disabled.

44. My child has been disabled since birth, and she has never been able to work. Can she get disability benefits from Social Security?

Very possibly. If the child is under 18 and you are poor enough, the child may qualify for SSI
child disability benefits. If the child is over 18, she may qualify for SSI disability benefits
without regard to the income of her parents. If her father or mother is drawing Social Security
benefits of some type or is deceased, the child may be eligible for disabled adult child benefits.

45. I already receive Social Security disability benefits, but I am worried that my benefits will be stopped in the future. What are the chances of this happening?

Social Security is not supposed to cut off disability benefits for an individual unless his or her
medical condition has improved. When Social Security reviews a case of someone already on
Social Security disability benefits, they continue benefits in the vast majority of cases. In recent
years, Social Security has done few reviews to determine whether or not individuals already on
Social Security disability benefits are still disabled. This is changing, and Social Security may do
far more reviews in the next few years. However, the vast majority of individuals who are
reviewed will see their Social Security disability benefits continued.

46. If Social Security tries to cut off my disability benefits, what can I do?

You should appeal immediately. If you appeal within 10 days after being notified that your
disability benefits are being ceased, you can ask that your disability benefits continue while you
appeal the decision to cut off your benefits. You may also want to talk with an attorney about
representation on your case, but you should file the appeal immediately.

47. My doctor says I am disabled, so why does Social Security deny my disability claim?

Social Security's position is that it is not up to your doctor to determine whether you are disabled. It is up to them, and they make their own decision regardless what your doctor thinks.

48. The VA says I am disabled, so why does Social Security deny my disability claim?

It is Social Security's position that VA decisions are not binding upon them. Social Security and
VA have very different standards for approving disability claims.

49. I am 60 percent disabled. Do I get 60 percent of my Social Security disability benefits?

No. There are no percentages of disability in Social Security disability determination. For
purposes of Social Security disability benefits, you are either disabled or not disabled. There are
no percentages of disability, nor any percentages of disability benefits.

50. I am disabled by mental illness. Can mental illness serve as the basis for a Social Security disability claim?

Yes. Mental illness is a frequent basis for awarding Social Security disability benefits.

51. Will it help if I ask my Congressional Representative to help me get Social Security disability benefits?

Many Social Security disability claimants become frustrated with claim delays and eventually
ask their U.S. representative or senator to help. The local congressional office typically has
staffers who are experienced with Social Security procedures and personnel. A "congressional
inquiry," as it is called at Social Security, may help to get a stalled process moving again. Note
that the inquiry will have no impact on how Social Security decides the outcome of the case.

52. How long does it take before Social Security makes a decision once I file a claim for Social Security disability benefits?

In most cases Social Security makes the first decision within four months.

53. How long does it take for Social Security to make a reconsideration determination onmy Social Security disability claim?

In most cases Social Security makes the reconsideration determination within four months.

54. How long does it take for Social Security to act upon a request for Appeals Council review?

About a year, maybe longer.

55. I am disabled. I need help with medical bills more than I need a cash income. How do I get help with medical bills?

Getting help with medical bills is usually tied up with getting cash benefits-- that is, you don't
start getting help with medical bills until after you start getting cash benefits, so you have to keep
going with the Social Security disability claim to get the help with medical bills.

56. What is the difference between Medicare and Medicaid?

The short answer is that Medicaid is a poverty program and Medicare isn't. Many disabled
people who get Medicaid get it because they are on Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This is
called "categorical" Medicaid eligibility. To get SSI and thereby Medicaid, you have to be poor
and disabled. Medicaid pays doctors at very low rates. People who have only Medicaid can have
a hard time finding doctors willing to take them on as patients. Medicaid does pay for
prescription medications. Medicaid can go back up to three months prior to the date of a
Medicaid claim. Note that it is possible to apply for Medicaid directly-- through a local
Medicaid office -- without having a companion claim for SSI.
For Medicare, it does not matter whether you are rich or poor. If you have received disability
insurance benefits, disabled widow or widower benefits or disabled adult child benefits for 24
months, you qualify for Medicare. Medicare pays doctors at a higher rate than Medicaid. Almost
all doctors are happy to take Medicare patients. Unfortunately, Medicare does not begin until
after a person has received cash disability benefits for two years, and it generally does not pay
for prescription medications.

57. If I get Social Security disability benefits, do I get Medicare?

If you are approved for any kind of Social Security disability benefit other than SSI, you get
Medicare after you have been entitled to Social Security disability benefits for two years.

58. If I get Social Security disability benefits, do I get Medicaid?

If you are approved for SSI, you get Medicaid. It is possible to get both Medicare and Medicaid
if you are entitled to SSI and some other type of Social Security disability benefit. Also see #56,

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