Florida Social Security Disability Benefits Lawyers

Let the Florida Social Security Disability Benefits Lawyers at Lieberman & Zagoria, P.A., help you get the benefits you deserve and are entitled to. There is no attorney fee unless we are successful in obtaining benefits for you. SSA, by its fee agreement process, has essentially established a standard fee in social security matters: the lesser of either 25% of retroactive benefits for the claimant and auxiliary beneficiaries or $6,000.00. Regardless of who you select as a representative, you will still pay the same legal fees. Non-attorney representatives do not lower their fees. If you are going to pay the same fee, doesn’t it make sense to retain the most highly trained and skilled lawyers than hiring someone far less SSA educated and trained. SSA sets no minimum standards for representatives. Someone can attend a brief training program and be considered a competent representative.

How Long Does it Take?

At the initial and reconsideration levels, the decision as to disability is made by a state agency, applying uniform federal standards. There are some variations in allowance rates and claims processing times. The average is about 4 to 6 months. Reconsideration will usually take 1-2 months. We try to not delay reconsideration, to allow you to get to a hearing sooner. The allowance rate at reconsideration is usually 10% or less. It serves little purpose to be delayed 6 months at reconsideration when you can get to the ALJ hearing 6 months sooner and with a much more favorable allowance rate. In 2016, the average wait or delay to get a hearing date, after filing the request for hearing is 316 days in Ft. Smith and 717 days in Miami. SSA needs more judges, clerical staff, etc. to resolve these excessive delays at the hearing level.

The average time for a decision on an appeal to the Appeals Council U.S. District Court is a good year, sometimes longer. There are 10 states under the prototype project, where one skips reconsideration and goes directly to the hearing. The anticipated benefits of skipping reconsideration were not achieved. Even though this prototype is no longer being tested, reconsideration is still being skipped in the 10 test states.

How Do I Apply?

One can most easily apply at present over the internet, at www.ssa.gov. The application can be done in stages and SSA allows you to return to where you left off. You can also download the disability report, medical releases, and other papers that are needed. You can also apply over the phone, calling SSA at 1-800-772-1213 for a telephone appointment to apply. One can also go to the local District Office and file. However one “applies” one should always be prepared with having an original or certified copy of the Birth Certificate, Marriage (and divorce) history, and earnings information for the current year and preceding year. As appropriate, this office will file applications for its clients.

What Can be Considered Disabling?

Any impairment, if it causes sufficient pain, fatigue, interference with attention and concentration, etc. can be grounds for disability. The more commonly seen impairments tend to be herniated discs or other pathology of the back or neck, blindness (both eyes), deafness (both ears), emphysema, asthma, hypertension, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, frequent stenting, chronic liver disease, Crohn’s disease, kidney failure, dialysis, kidney and other transplants, certain skin disorders, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, strokes, mental disorders, cancer, systemic lupus (SLE), other mixed connective tissue disorders, inflammatory arthritis, and HIV/AIDS. This list is not all-inclusive and only contains a few of the SSA listing of impairments. SSA also has published a second list of other disorders, largely forms of cancer and other terminal illnesses, titled “Compassionate Allowances”.

Cases involving these impairments are supposed to receive special expedited processes so that they might receive favorable decisions before death . After one applies, they are either granted or rejected. Those rejected can file a Request for Reconsideration. This appeal must be filed within 60 days of receipt of the denial. It is presumed that the denial is received 5 days after the date on the letter, unless one can prove receipt at a later date. If the reconsideration is denied, the claimant again has the same 60 days to file a Request for Hearing. It is at these ALJ hearings where attorney representation is most helpful. If one is denied by the ALJ, there is 60 days again to Request Review by the Appeals Council. There is no “hearing” per se at the Appeals Council or in federal court. These are purely “paper” appeals. If the Appeals Council denies review, then the next level of appeal is to the U.S. District Court.

For a more detailed discussion of the appeals process, please read my article “Getting Through the Social Security Disability Claim Obstacle Course: It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint”.

Qualifying for SSD Benefits

In order to qualify for regular social security disability benefits, sometimes called Title II benefits or SSD, one must have worked a certain number of years and paid money into SSA’s trust funds, in order to be able to become “disabled”, to take money out. For claimants age 31 and over, they must be fully insured. This means earning one quarter of coverage for every year elapsing after age 21 and the year before disability commences. This person must also have disability insured status which is 20 quarters of coverage in the 40 calendar quarter period after disability is alleged. For a claimant under age 31, the claimant must have quarters of coverage for at least half the quarters for the period after the quarter attaining age 21 and ending with the quarter in which disability is alleged. If the number of quarters is odd, the odd quarter is ignored to reach an even number. There are 4 calendar quarters in a year, ending March 31, June 30, September 30, and December 31. No more than 4 quarters can be earned in any one year.

Prior to 1978, one quarter was earned in each quarter for $50.00 of wages or $100.00 of self employment. In 1978, SSA started with annual earnings instead of quarterly, so SSA would divide total earnings for the year by 4. In 1978, wages of $250.00 earned one quarter. In 2014, $1,200.00 earns one quarter, $2400.00 earns 2 quarters, $3,600 earns 3 quarters, and $4,800.00 earns 4 quarters.

Common Mistakes

  • Not having skilled attorney representation – Social security disability adjudication has its own unique nooks and crannies, in addition to making medical judgement and evaluating subjective pain, fatigue, etc. No matter how disabled you think you are, what your doctors tell you, what your friends tell you, what you hear on the street, etc., you need skilled representation. Your friends, doctors, etc. might be well-intended, but few are aware of all of the intricacies of social security adjudication. The fee is contingent upon being found disabled.  What is the value of the fee, spread over many years until attaining retirement age of now 66 or (67), as compared to losing the claim entirely or getting a less than fully favorable outcome.
  • Not seeing doctors – SSA goes primarily by what your doctors say.  You, generally, are not a doctor. You are presumed to be not disabled until you prove to SSA’s satisfaction that you are. Without doctors, X-rays, lab tests, MRI’s, etc., there is no proof of disability. Stopping medical treatment, due to settling one’s Workers Compensation claim, no money, no health insurance, not seeming to get better etc., merely deprives you of the necessary medical proof  you are lacking. The medical records that you generate when seeing doctors are the basis of what I use to prove disability.
  • Still working part time or full time – The Social Security Act, as a whole is generally fairly liberal. It allows claimants to try to work to test their ability to work, without being punished. In 2016, monthly earning of less than $1,090.00 are not substantial gainful activity. Even though one is allowed to work and earn below $1,090.00, many workers, are careless and exceed the $1,090.00, which is almost always fatal to the claim but not for impairment-related work expense (IRWE). If one works 10 hours a week or 23 hours a week, I cannot argue that this person is “totally” disabled because totally disabled people work 0 hours. You contradict your own pain, fatigue, etc. when working. Whether part time or full time.
  • Writing too much – There are many books for sale on the internet and “how-to-apply” sites. Almost all of these tell you to write overly long explanations of how tired you get taking a bath, etc. Having worked for SSA for 8 years, I know these adjudicators talk about claimants writing pages and pages of endless details. The operative concept is if you can write for that long time, think for that long time, type for that long time, the pain, fatigue, impaired cognitive, might just not be as disabling as claimed. SSA also requires that various daily activity forms must be completed. I have never seen one claim allowed due to little or no activities. I have seen thousands of claims denied for being what SSA thinks is too active.

Technicalities

You must be precluded from all work not just work that you prefer to do or have done in the past. Not having a valid teachers license does not mean you cannot physically or mentally perform the occupation of teaching. Loss of union seniority or employer hiring practices are not grounds for disability. The issue of no one will hire you because you are taking narcotic pain medication is not grounds for disability to SSA.

A disability is an impairment that has lasted or can be reasonably expected to last for at least 12 consecutive months. A severely fractured leg occurring on January 1, 2015, is not disabling if you recover sufficiently to perform past relevant work or some other type of work by December 30, 2015. If you do not recover until January 2, 2016, or after it can then be disabling. A finding of disability by a union, the Veterans Administration, an insurance company, etc., is not binding on SSA. Each entity has its own unique criteria and satisfying some other set of criteria does not mean you also satisfy SSA’s criteria.

Why Getting Social Security is to Your Advantage

  • LTD Carriers let you keep COLA’s (Cost of living adjustments)
  • Freeze on Earnings Record
  • Earlier entitlement to Medicine
  • LTD carriers might be less interested in trying to cut you off if your benefit is being reduced by the offset for SSA benefits.

Contact Our Florida Social Security Disability Benefits Lawyers for Assistance with your Claim

Hiring a Social Security attorney can greatly increase your chances of receiving the benefits you are entitled to. Our attorneys know all phases of Social Security Disability law. We handle claims from application to appeal, and everything in between.  Contact us today for your free consultation.