10 Things You May Not Know About Social Security Disability Benefits

dog1. The definition of disability is “strict”.

You must be unable to do any substantial work to qualify for social security disability benefits.  Texans I talk with about a possible disability case- particularly those with highly skilled work backgrounds- are often surprised to hear that social security disability will not just look at ability to do prior work, and other work that pays a similar wage.  You must prove inability to do any work: it does not matter if the pay is way below what you had been accustomed to.

2. Social Security law is national, but the decision-maker early on will be your state’s Disaiblity Determination Service.

The assessment of disability under the Social Security Act is a bit complicated (we are dealing with the federal government, right?).  The regulatory standard for social security disability is the same for every state.  A disability claimant in Maine must prove exactly the same thing as a disability claimant in Texas.  But the decision at the initial and reconsideration level of appeal are made by the Department of Disability Determination Services (DDS) for the state where the claimant lives.   Therefore the manner in which the Social Security Act is applied may be different between different state DDS offices.  For example, the Texas DDS has always had one of the highest disability denial rates in the country.

3.  Disability is “All or Nothing”: there is no Partial Disability.

Many Dallas and Fort Worth social security disability claimants often say that they have heard about “partial disability”.  There is no such think. I expect the confusion may come from the fact that Texas Workman’s Compensation works on a percentage “impairment rating” system.  Impairment ratings of no more than 20% , for example, represent very significant limitations.

4.  What social security tells you may not be accurate.

The Social Security Administration is currently under tremendous pressure.  The Trump Administration has slashed social security’s budget, yet the work load has only increased.  Social security information line workers have a huge incentive to get you off the phone to take the next phone call that is waiting. They often misunderstand the question, letting the pressure of the workload keep them from asking further detailed questions.  I believe few are actually dishonest, but they are often misinformed.  People are surprised that there is absolutely no consquence to the government dispensing wrong advise.

5. You must be receiving medical treatment. 

Since most medical insurance is tied to employment, many disabled Texans are without medical insurance.  It may seem very unfair to penalize the social security disability claimant who, through no fault of their own, has no medical coverage and is receiving no medical treatment, but that is exactly what happens.  Social security naively assumes that if you are not seeing a doctor for the problem you claim keeps you from working than your condition must not be that bad.  Pretty amazing.

6. Hiring an Attorney or representative will not speed the process up.

It does not help that there are attorneys and non-attorney social security disability representative firms that will claim they can get your benefits approved faster.  But it is simply not true.  Run from anyone that tells you otherwise.  They will likely lie to you about other things as well.

7. You will lose eligibility for social security disability insurance benefitI s after about 5 years of not working.

I often hear Texans seeking disability rightly say “I have worked all my life”.  I worry that buried in this comment is a belief that there life of work menas they will alswys be eligible for social security disability benefits.  They will not.  Social security disability has a “recent earnings” test.  Its translates generally to a requirement that onee must have worked and paid social security taxes for at least 5 of the prior 10 years.  Procrastination in filing for social security disability, or filing and re-filing over and over again (rather than appealling)  can lead to disasterous results.

8.  The social security disability approval process is so slow you will experience tremendous financial distress.

This is a very, very sad reality: most social security disability claims in Dallas Fort Worth Texas take years to get approved.

9. Your doctor’s opinion about your ability to work is important, but social security does not havee to accept her opinion and qualify you for disability

Yes a treating doctors opinion that her patient’s medical condition is disabling is important, and very helpful, but by no means the end of the matter.

10 . “Any lawyer will do” to win your disability case is an unwise approach.

Folks often hear that “you have to get a lawyer” to get your disability benefits.  Many  often wrongfully assume that the mere fact of being a lawyer is what makes the difference in winning a disability case.  But social security disability is just like everything else: experience and specialization are critical, as is hiring a local rather than national disability lawyer.

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