You do not need to master the Social Security Disability System — you only need to understand your part in the process. Your role is to provide the facts and evidence to be presented. Our role is to guide you through the Social Security Disability process and advocate for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What to expect and how to be prepared
The short answer is that you should always appeal the denial of your initial Application and the denial upon Reconsideration. If you appeal after denial of Reconsideration, then you will have a social security disability hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. You should always have your social security disability hearing. This is your best chance to be awarded your disability benefits. It is your right to present your evidence, testify on your own behalf, and present witnesses.
It is important to have a social security lawyer at the hearing stage to present your theory of the case. The Social Security Administration will have a vocational expert to testify regarding jobs you’ve had. Most times a medical expert will testify regarding your impairments.
If you are denied social security disability benefits at the hearing level, you can request that your case be reviewed by the Appeals Council. This is the final administrative review by the Social Security Administration.
If the Appeals Council declines to review your case, your administrative remedies have been exhausted and you can sue the Commissioner of Social Security in U.S. District Court on the basis that the ALJ decision was not based upon substantial evidence. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals is the reviewing Court for the U.S. District Court of Minnesota.
The Social Security Disability Hearing: What to Expect and How to be Prepared
Your hearing will be held before an Administrative Law Judge who will make an independent decision on your case. This hearing is not based on the previous denials.
At the hearing, you will have the opportunity to tell the Judge about all of your medical problems, either mental or physical. You will be able to tell the judge how these impairments prevent you from doing your past job or any other work in the regional or national economy.
The medical expert will review your medical records and testify as to what he believes are your severe impairments. He will also give an opinion as to whether or not your impairments may meet or equal one of the Listings in the Listing of Impairments set forth in the Social Security Regulations. The Listings set forth medical criteria that must be met in order to find a person “disabled.” The medical expert is comparing the medical findings from your medical records and matching those findings with the criteria of the applicable Listing of Impairment. If your impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals the Listings, then you are found “disabled.” The Administrative Law Judge always makes the final decision at each step of the evaluation of disability.
If your impairment does not meet or equal the Listings, then the medical expert will give an opinion as to your residual functional capacity or RFC. Your RFC is an assessment of what you can do and what you cannot do, taking into account your physical and mental impairments.
Once the Medical Expert has testified, the Administrative Law Judge will pose several hypothetical questions to the Vocational Expert. These hypothetical questions will include the person’s age, education, work experience, and RFC including all limitations in the record and from the testimony at the hearing.
The Vocational Expert will testify as to whether or not there are any jobs available for the person described in the hypothetical with those specific limitations. If there are jobs available, the Vocational Expert will name the jobs and how many are available in the national and regional economy. It does not matter if an employer would hire you or not, it only matters that there are jobs available within your restrictions and limitations that you would be able to perform that job.
There is no requirement that you have a disability benefits attorney at any stage of the Disability Process. In our experience, the Social Security Administration encourages legal representation particularly at the Hearing Level. You have a right to a representative.
Social Security Disability is a specialized area of the law. Not only must an attorney have a working knowledge of the Social Security Regulations and Rulings concerning particular impairments, but the attorney must also be experienced in analyzing the data from the medical records in formulating a theory of disability.
Your best chance to win your Social Security Disability Case is at the Hearing Level, the third step in the application process. It is important to have legal representation at this stage because the Social Security Administration will have a vocational expert and most times a medical expert to testify.
Disability Benefits Attorney:
Social Security Disability law combines all of the education, skills, and experience held by the attorneys at Peggy L. Stevens Law office. We look forward to working with every prospective client. We invite you to fill out our free consultation request form on the top of this webpage or give us a call, at (651) 704-9600, to discuss your situation.
Most claimants will have to wait that long for a hearing. However, there are a few situations in which the time period may be shortened: hardship exception and “on the record” request.
Hardship Exception: One of the exceptions is a hardship exception meaning you can ask that your case be moved up because your home is being foreclosed and you are behind in your essential bills. Another issue that may be considered is whether or not you have access to necessary health care. If you have other housing and are not homeless, this exception does not work. Almost everyone going through this process has financial hardship due to the fact that they cannot work to earn an income. Therefore, this is a very narrow exception.
“On the Record” Request: The other way that you could get your disability benefits sooner is to request an “on the record” decision. Again, this process is for claimants in certain categories. For example, if you are over 55 and sometimes over the age of 50, depending on your impairments and your medical records, you may be a candidate for an “on the record” decision. An “on the record decision can only be made once you are at the hearing level. This process involves a thorough review of the medical records, Listing of Impairments, your past relevant work and a review of the Social Security Regulations considering your age, education, and past work. The attorney submits a request and writes a letter or Memorandum setting forth their theory of disability citing to the record.
If your request for an “on the record” decision is denied, you still have an opportunity to have your hearing before an Administrative Law Judge and present your case. As an experienced Social Security Disability Law Office, we review all of our cases to determine if there is a high probability of getting an “on the record” decision.
Applying For Minnesota Social Security Disability Benefits
Generally speaking, most attorneys do not begin representation at the time of the Initial Application. However, obtaining an attorney at this level may be warranted in certain circumstances. Some individuals need representation at the initial application level because their impairments prevent them from being physically or mentally able to follow through with responding to the Social Security Administration in a timely manner. More and more clients are requesting representation at the initial application stage for this reason.
Minnesota Disability Benefits Application Process:
1. Initial Application Level: The Social Security Administration provides a checklist on their website, that lists the information you will need to complete your Initial Application for Disability Benefits and the accompanying Disability Report. For example, you will need your W-2 form from last year, social security numbers for your spouse and minor children (if applicable), and so on.
You may complete an Application for Disability Benefits by phone, in person, or online. To complete the application by phone or in person, call your local Social Security Office. To complete the application online, go to Social Security Online. After you have completed the initial application, the Social Security Administration will begin to order your medical records and the Disability Examiner who will make the initial determination will review those records.
The majority of Applications will be denied at the Initial Application level. After you are denied, you have 60 days to Appeal for Reconsideration, also known as the Reconsideration Level.
2. Reconsideration Level: The Reconsideration Level requires completion of two forms: (1) the Request for Reconsideration and (2) the Disability Report. First, complete the Request for Reconsideration Form and mail the request to your local Social Security Office. Second, complete the Disability Report on paper or online. To complete the Disability Report on paper, complete the Disability Report form and mail the form to your local Social Security Office. To complete the Disability Report online, go to Social Security Online, and click on the gray “Start the Appeal” button.
The Social Security Office prefers that you complete the Disability Report online. More importantly, your Request for Reconsideration will be answered more quickly if you complete the Disability Report online.
Once you have completed the Request for Reconsideration and Disability Report, a Disability Examiner will review your file and make a determination. Again, the majority of the cases are denied at the Reconsideration Level. After you are denied, you have another 60 days to Request a Hearing before a Administrative Law Judge.
3. Hearing Level: The Hearing Level is where you should obtain a social security disability lawyer. At this point your medical records should be updated and your case should be extensively evaluated to obtain further evidence of disability.
The Hearing Level requires completion of two forms: (1) the Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge and (2) the Disability Report Appeal. First, complete the Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge Form and mail the request to your local Social Security Office. Second, complete the Disability Report Appeal on paper or online. To complete the Disability Report Appeal on paper, complete the Disability Report Appeal form and mail the form to your local Social Security Office. To complete the Disability Report online, go to Social Security Online, and click on the gray “Start the Appeal” button.
Again, the Social Security Office prefers that you complete the Disability Report Appeal online. More importantly, your Request for Hearing before an Administration Law Judge will be answered more quickly if you complete the Disability Report online.
Once a hearing is requested, it will take approximately 18 months to have your hearing. However, the Social Security Administration has been taking some aggressive steps to shorten this time period. Also, there are a few situations in which the time period may be shortened.
Minnesota Social Security Benefits Programs
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is based upon the qualifying criteria needed to apply for Social Security. It is not based upon the financial resources or income of the spouse or family members. This program is funded through Social Security taxes paid by workers and employers.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a program that is funded by general revenue taxes and is based upon both medical condition and financial resources.
Individuals who are deemed disabled by the Social Security Administration will have their earnings frozen. In other words, the Social Security Administration will not count the years that the individual was unable to work and on SSDI. By not figuring these zero earnings years, the result is a higher monthly benefit at age of retirement. Benefits amounts are based upon date of birth, date of disability and recorded FICA earnings. All year’s earnings are indexed to current year’s amount and the lowest 5 years are dropped. The low 5 years may fall anywhere in the work history, not necessarily the first or last years. The benefit amount is then computed on all remaining years.
Twenty-four months after the individual became eligible for SSDI; they will automatically become Medicare eligible. Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) is free. Medicare Part B (Supplemental/Physicians) is available for a monthly premium.
Qualifying for Social Security Disability Benefits
Social Security’s Definition of Disability – “An individual who is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which has lasted, or is expected to last, at least 12 continuous months or results in death.”
Substantial gainful activity (SGA) – working and earning more than gross wages of $1130.00 per month. This amount changes each year and is available on the Social Security Website. For self-employed individuals, earning along with contribution to the business is considered.
Entitlement factors to be met:
1. Worker is under age 65.
2. Injury or illness is expected to last a period of at least 12 months or longer.
3. Worker has worked and paid FICA taxes for at least 5 of the last 10 years (Insured Status). Worker must be “currently” and “fully” insured. Insured status is earned by work credits earned per quarter. Disability must occur before the date last insured.
4. The worker has an impairment or combination of impairments that will prevent the worker from returning to any occupation which they have held within the last 15 years or any job that they can reasonably be trained to do. This is based on age, education, and transferable skills.
5. Worker files an Application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
6. The waiting period consists of 5 full calendar months following the worker’s onset. They may file an application during this time; however, cash benefits can only go retroactive for a 12 month period prior to the date of application. SSI benefits are only retroactive to the date of the application.
Sequential Evaluation of Social Security Disability Claims
Once the Social Security Administration determines that all technical criteria has been met, the claim is forwarded to the state Disability Determination Service (DDS) for a medical determination.
Disability Determination Services(DDS): If it is determined that the claimant is not engaging in substantial gainful activity (earning over $1130.00 per month due to their disability), then the severity of the impairment or combination of impairments is evaluated. The test is whether it is expected to last 12 months or longer or result in death.
DDS uses a “Listings” book. Each separate Listing represents a part of the human body. For example, there are Listings for cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, mental, and many other impairments. There are specific criteria that must be met by objective tests found in the medical records.
The next step is whether you can do your past relevant work. DDS will consider not only the claimant’s most recent job, but also any jobs held within the past 15 years. Age, education and work experience (skill level) and type of job (sedentary, light, medium or heavy) is considered. A grid is used to evaluate these factors.
DDS will also decide if there is other work that the claimant can do within their residual functional capacity taking into account the restrictions and limitations of their impairments.
Social Security and Acquiescence Rulings
When do Social Security disability payments begin and end?
Social Security Disability payments begin 5 months after your onset date because there is a 5 month waiting period.
A person may be entitled to retroactive disability benefits up to 12 months prior to the month the Application is filed.
Payments end if:
The Claimant reaches retirement age and the benefits are switched to the retirement amount.
The Claimant has a medical recovery and the payments may end following the second month after recovery.
The Claimant returns to work and earns over $1130 per month.
The Claimant dies; then, the payments end the month before the Claimant dies.