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Social Security Disability Claims: The Benefits of Hiring an Orlando Lawyer

The attorneys at Morgan & Morgan understand the impact a denied Social Security disability claim can have on an individual and their family, especially when these benefits are the applicant’s main source of income. More often than not, applications for Social Security disability are initially denied; however, an initial denial does not necessarily mean that the applicant is not entitled to benefits. Unfortunately, applicants who have been rejected may choose to abandon their claims instead of proceeding with an appeal—a process that is undoubtedly intimidating to claimants—where they could potentially recover the benefits they are rightfully owed. At Morgan & Morgan, our Orlando Social Security attorneys have extensive experience representing individuals in the application and appeals process, and have the resources needed to recover the benefits our clients deserve.

If you are applying for Social Security Disability benefits in Florida, or have been denied SSD, please fill out our free case review form. A Social Security attorney in Orlando will review your claim and determine whether you are eligible for benefits.

How to Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits in Florida

Social Security Disability Benefits

Injured workers should apply for Social Security Disability benefits as soon they become disabled. You can apply for SSD benefits by scheduling an appointment with a Florida Social Security Administration representative or by applying online. The claims representative assigned to your case will answer any questions you may have about the application process. He or she will also handle the paperwork needed to send your claim to Disability Determination Services (DDS), which will make an initial determination as to whether you are considered disabled under the SSA’s requirements. The claims representative will also determine the disability programs for which you may be eligible, as well as the amount of benefits you could receive based on your work history.

We highly encourage applicants to speak with a Social Security disability attorney before beginning the application process. An attorney will be able to explain the process for filing for benefits and gather the documents needed to submit a claim.

How Can a Florida Social Security Disability Attorney Help Me File a Claim?

Nearly 60% of all first-time applicants are initially denied disability benefits, and close to 90% of applicants seek the help of a representative at some point in the process. The process of applying and appealing denied claims is often complicated, and the chances of success are far greater with the help of an experienced Social Security disability attorney. Retaining a lawyer can increase your chances of approval and help avoid denials based on technicalities or other common errors. Our experienced attorneys can help gather information vital to your claim’s success and ensure you complete the steps necessary for obtaining benefits.

If you hire a Social Security Disability attorney to help with your claim, he or she will guide you through the following process:

Preparation: Preparing your claim, which will include gathering documents and other required information, is an essential part of the claims process. An attorney can help gather the documentation needed to substantiate your claim, such as personal information (including information on your children and/or spouse); military information, if applicable; IRS forms; bank account information; addresses and phone numbers; detailed medical records and referrals; medication history; a list of prior employment history; and information on other disability claims, if applicable. You will be required to submit extensive documentation to the SSA, and determining which information is required for your claim can be a difficult process. An attorney can help ensure your claim satisfies the SSA’s requirements, which can help expedite the application process. He or she can also assist in gathering documents which you are unable to access on your own.

Communication: An attorney can keep track of the status of your claim, alert you to any requests for new information, and speak with Administration representatives on your behalf to answer questions that may arise regarding your application. At Morgan and Morgan, we understand that many applicants work and care for their families and may not have the time needed to deal with the SSA as it reviews their claim.

Finalizing a Claim: If your disability claim is approved, your attorney will review the SSA’s calculations to determine if any vital information was missed or if any errors were made. He or she will also address any questions you may have concerning your new benefits.

Appeal: If your application for benefits is denied, your attorney can file an appeal on your behalf.

Appealing a Denied Social Security Claim

If your application for SSI has been denied, or you believe you were not compensated properly, you may appeal the decision by filing a written request within 60 days of receiving the decision letter. There are four levels of appeal through which your claim could proceed:

Reconsideration: After your initial application for benefits has been denied, your attorney will file a request for reconsideration. During this stage, a claims examiner who was not involved in the initial review process will reconsider your application. They will take into consideration any new evidence that you or your attorney have uncovered to supplement your claim. Your attorney can respond, on your behalf, to any questions posed by the claims examiner during this stage.

Hearing: If your claim is denied again, or if you disagree with the results, you may request a hearing by an administrative law judge. During this stage, your attorney may prepare you for questions that could be asked at your hearing; request the judge to subpoena witnesses vital to proving the legitimacy of your claim; argue your case before the judge; question witnesses and experts; present new evidence or information you believe was not reviewed properly; and, if you have already been awarded benefits, ask the judge to review and reassess the calculations.

Appeals Council: If you are dissatisfied with the judge’s determination, you may ask for a review by the Social Security Appeals Council. The Council reviews all requests, but is not required to grant you another hearing. If you are granted a review, your case will either be resolved or sent back to another administrative judge for review. If your case is sent to another Administrative Law Judge, your attorney will repeat the steps taken during the initial hearing.

Federal Court: If your claim is not chosen for review in front of an ALJ, or if you do not agree with the Appeal Council’s decision, you may choose to file a lawsuit, with the help of your attorney, in federal district court.

Types of Social Security Disability Benefits

Disability Insurance Benefits (SSD or SSDI): This is most popular benefit provided by the SSA. Disability insurance benefits cover millions of people who have worked recently, but are now disabled. Eligible applicants include those who have worked a total of at least five years in the ten years before their disability began. Dependents, including children and spouses, may also be able to collect if a parent qualifies for SSDI. Disability benefit amounts are based on the applicant’s work history and earnings.

Disabled Adult Child Benefits (DAC): Disabled children between the ages of 18 and 22 may be eligible for benefits if their parent receives Social Security retirement benefits or SSD, or is deceased.

Disabled Widow/Widower (DWB): These benefits are provided to widows or widowers over the age of 50 who develop a disability within seven years of their spouse’s death. The widow or widower is required to have been have been married for a minimum of ten years to the deceased.

Am I Eligible for Social Security Disability Benefits?

The SSA has created a five-step process to determine whether an application for SSD is approved. The criteria include the following:

Step One: Is the Applicant Working? The SSA will not consider a person for disability if they make more than a specified amount each month. If they make less than the designated amount, the SSA will take a more in-depth look at the applicant’s medical condition.

Step Two: Is the Applicant’s Medical Condition Severe? For the SSA to rule the applicant “disabled,” the medical condition must prevent the applicant from performing basic functions of work for at least a year. If this is the case, the SSA will look at step three.

Step Three: Is the Applicant’s Medical Condition on the SSA’s “list of disabling conditions?” If the applicant’s medical condition is not on the list of illnesses that automatically qualify for disability, the SSA will check to see if the condition is as severe as those on the list. If the condition does not fit the list, the SSA will look at step four. Some of the SSA’s disabling conditions include:

  • Mental disorders such as bipolar disorder, autism, depression, panic attacks, anxiety, schizophrenia, PTSD;
  • Musculoskeletal system problems such as back and spine conditions, arthritis, amputations, fractures, carpal tunnel syndrome, scoliosis, fibromyalgia;
  • Skin disorders such as psoriasis, burns, ichthyosis;
  • Respiratory illnesses such as asthma, emphysema, PPH, cystic fibrosis, lung transplant;
  • Immune system disorders such as MS, HIV/AIDS, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis;
  • Digestive tract problems such as Crohn’s Disease, liver disease, hepatitis, IBD;
  • Impairments that affect multiple body systems such as lyme disease, metabolic disorders;
  • Senses and speech issues such as vision, hearing, and speech loss;
  • Endocrine disorders such as diabetes, thyroid problems, neuropathy, obesity;
  • Cardiovascular conditions such as heart failure or coronary artery disease;
  • Neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy, stroke, traumatic brain injury (TBI) Parkinson's disease, and epilepsy;
  • Genitourinary impairments such as chronic renal (kidney) disease, chronic hemodialysis;
  • Hematological disorders such as sickle cell disease, hemophilia, myelofibrosis; and
  • Malignant neoplastic diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma, most kinds of cancer.

Step Four: Can the Applicant Perform the Work They Did Before? The agency will review the applicant’s claim and decide, based on the applicant’s injury, whether they are capable of performing the work they did before the injury. If they cannot, the SSA will move to step 5.

Step Five: Is the Applicant Capable of Performing Any Other Work? The SSA will review the applicant’s age, medical condition, education, past work experience, and skills to determine if they can perform gainful employment in a different capacity. If the applicant is not physically capable of performing other work, the SSA will rule the applicant “disabled.”

Work Eligibility Tests: In addition to the aforementioned requirements related to disability, applicants must meet two tests,the duration of work test and the recent work test, to qualify for benefits.

Social Security Disability Work Credit Requirements

To determine whether a worker has worked enough to receive benefits, and to calculate the amount they should receive, the Social Security Administration (SSA) converts your earnings into work credits. Depending on yearly income, a worker can earn up to four credits per year. The amount required to earn one Social Security work credit (one quarter of coverage, or QC) changes every year. In 2012, a worker earned one work credit for every $1,130 of wages or self-employment income. When the worker earned $4,520, they reached the four credit maximum and they were capped for the year. The formula for this number is complicated, but it is recalibrated annually and never decreases.

Have you been denied Social Security Disability benefits?
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SSI Benefits and Children

Social Security Death Benefits

Social Security is meant to be a form of protection for Florida’s working parents and their families. If a parent dies, their children may be entitled to receive SSI benefits to compensate for the financial loss.

Unmarried children may collect SSI benefits after a parent’s death if they are:

  • Younger than 18;
  • Between the ages of 18 and 19, but enrolled as a full-time student at a secondary school; or
  • 18 or older, but have a serious disability which manifested before they were 22.

Benefits for Disabled Children

SSI may be able to help families with children who have severe disabilities if they have minimal income and limited resources. These benefits may be paid regardless of the parent’s ability to work, and will continue as long as the child is disabled and unable to provide for themselves, financially.

A child may be eligible for SSI Disability insurance if:

  • They have a physical or mental condition which is so severe that it results in serious functional limitations;
  • They have the condition for a minimum of 12 months;
  • The condition will likely be the cause of the child’s death; and/or
  • They are not gainfully employed and doing work the SSI administration considers “substantial work.”

Why are People Denied Social Security Disability?

The following are the main reasons SSD applicants are initially denied:

Past Convictions: Generally, prior convictions will have no bearing on the ability to collect SSD benefits. However, convicts will not be eligible for benefits if the disability manifested during the commission of a felony; the disability arose or worsened while in a correctional facility; they intentionally orphaned or widowed themselves to receive benefits; or parole or probation is violated.

Income is Too High: An applicant can be denied SSD benefits because their monthly income is too high.

Disability Stems From Drug or Alcohol Dependence: If the applicant has a drug or alcohol addiction which was a material contributing factor to the disability, they will not be eligible for benefits.

Refusal to Cooperate: The Social Security Agency (SSA) requires that applicants submit their treating doctors’ medical records. Failure to comply may result in the denial of SSD. For applicants who do not have a treating doctor, the SSA will request an examination with one of their doctors. Applicants who miss their appointment or refuse the consultative examination may be denied.

Fraud: The SSA may terminate an applicant’s benefits if they obtained SSD by lying on their application and may be prosecuted by the state of Florida for fraud.

Short-Term Disability: To be eligible for SSD benefits, the SSA must determine that the injury or impairment will last for at least a year or will be fatal. Blind applicants are the only exception.

Long-Term Disability Benefits

Some individuals have long-term disability (LTD) insurance policies through their job, carry their own coverage, or have these policies worked into their pension plans. Similarly to Social Security Disability (SSD), LTD compensates disabled employees for a portion of the income they would have received if they were working. LTD has its own set of complicated rules and tests that determine eligibility and payout amounts, and, oftentimes, claimants are required to apply for SSD simultaneously. While SSD policies have a set of standardized rules and procedures, those which govern LTD policies can vary. Insurance companies have a history of routinely denying LTD policy claims and may stop payment prematurely even if the individual is still sick, injured or disabled.

If you have applied for long-term disability assistance and have had your claim denied or had your benefits end prematurely, contact our attorneys today for assistance. We may also be able to assist if you have not yet applied for benefits or have already been denied.

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