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Social Security Disability Benefits: The Basics

When you or a loved one becomes disabled, trying to navigate the Social Security Disability process can be overwhelming, intimidating and frustrating. Thus, it is helpful to know the basics of the process and when to obtain representation.

There are two types of disability benefits one can file for under the Social Security Disability Act: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Social Security Disability Insurance benefits are based upon one's work credits and disability(ies). Supplemental Security Income is based upon one's income and disability(ies). For both of these benefits, individuals must show that they have been or will be disabled for 12 months or more. The Social Security Act provides a list of the types of impairments (disabilities) that are recognized. Social Security will look at ALL the disabilities an individual has, not just one. For example, if one has diabetes, COPD and hypertension, all of these conditions will be taken into consideration.

There are three stages for filing for disability benefits: a. the Initial Application, b. Request for Reconsideration, and c. Request for Hearing. The Initial Application starts the process for filing for benefits. This can be done in person by going to your local Social Security Administration Office or it can be done online at One can apply for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits only; to apply for Supplemental Security Income benefits, you must go to the local office or call for an appointment. A decision will be rendered in approximately 3 to 5 months. If you are denied benefits, you can file a Request for Reconsideration for your case to be reviewed again. It is recommended that you obtain representation to help you pursue your case at this level. Updated medical information should be submitted to the Social Security Administration. A decision at this level takes approximately 7 to 9 months.

If you are denied benefits at the reconsideration level, you can file a Request for a Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. It is strongly recommended that you seek representation at this level. It takes approximately 12 to 17 months to obtain a hearing date at this level. Once a hearing date is scheduled, you will go before a judge and provide testimony regarding your disabilities and how they affect your activities of daily living and your ability to work. It takes approximately 60 to 90 days to obtain a decision from the judge. If you are denied benefits, you have the opportunity to file an appeal to the Appeals Council.

The key aspect of filing for disability benefits is medical evidence. You should continue to treat with your physician and follow his or her recommendations. If you are unable to afford medical treatment, seek treatment at your community health care center or a clinic in your area. Speak with your representative about any medical resources he or she can direct you to.

Obtaining disability benefits can be daunting, but a representative can provide guidance and clarity to the process. Contact Rosemary G. Florence, Esq., at Florence and Associates to help you navigate the Social Security system.


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