FIVE MISTAKES TO AVOID WHEN APPLYING FOR DISABILITY
Mistakes are made every day by thousands of people who file for Social Security benefits. Below you will find a discussion of five common mistakes that you should NOT make when filing for benefits. If you listen to this advice, it will help you win SSDI and SSI benefits.
If you cannot work, then you should file an application for Social Security Disability benefits (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. In order to receive benefits, you must first file an application. You can do this online at Social Security’s website. Below, please find an explanation as to each type of benefit you can apply for:
SSDI benefits are for those who have worked and can no longer work at any job due to a medical condition. The amount of money you will receive from SSDI benefits every month is based on how much Social Security tax you have paid during your work history. To qualify for SSDI, you must have earned enough “work credits” to qualify. A work credit is an amount of taxable income. You can earn up to 4 work credits per year. The amount of work credits you will need will depend on how old you are when you apply. If you haven’t earned enough work credits for your age at the time you apply, you will only qualify for Supplemental Security Income benefits.
SSI is a needs based benefit and it is for those people with little to no income, such as children and the elderly. Anyone who makes more than a certain amount of money per month cannot receive SSI benefits. The SSA counts the income of those in your house, not just your income and assets. If you have a spouse who earns more than $4000 a month, for example, then that income will prevent you from getting SSI benefits. You cannot qualify for SSI benefits, no matter how severe your medical condition, if you do not meet the income and asset rules for SSI.
MISTAKE #1: DON’T MAKE THE MISTAKE OF WORKING
No matter what anyone says, working hurts your chances of winning SSD and SSI benefits. Sure, the law says you can work a “little bit.” For example, in 2023, SSA law states as long as you are earning under $1470 grand total per month (that means before taxes are taken out), then you can work and still get benefits. But is that really true?
Think about it. If you are working 20 hours a week at $15 an hour, you will make $300 a week. Therefore, you will earn $1200 a month. Is that below the $1470 amount that counts as “substantial gainful activity“? Yes, it is. Technically, you would be $270 below the line. But guess what? If you worked just 3 more hours per week, you would be “working.” Because you would earn more than $1470 in a month.
Now, pretend you are a judge. The first thing you are going to ask is: If you are working already, why can’t you just work 3 more hours per week?
After all, you are already working 20 hours per week. If you work 23 hours a week, you are earning so much that you can’t apply for SSD benefits. You are already earning too much money to get SSI benefits. SSI benefits are only $914 a month. So, you can’t get those because you are earning more than the SSI benefit amount.
The next thing the judge will ask is: If you can work 20 hours per week, what is stopping you from working 40 hours a week? Any work causes a judge to start asking these questions. Judges don’t want to give SSD benefits to people who are working.
IF YOU CAN WORK 20 HOURS, THEN YOU CAN WORK 40
Do you see the problem that working creates for a person who is filing for SSD and SSI benefits? As soon as you start working, the judge thinks, “If you can work 20 hours a week, you can work 40 hours.”
Some judges will even ask how long it takes you to get to work. For example, I had one client who was working 30 hours a week, but still earning under $1470 per month. She lived in a rural area and the judge asked her how long the drive was to get to work and back home again. It was one hour, each way. Therefore, she was driving 10 hours a week to get to and from work. The judge decided that this proved she could work 40 hours a week. After all, she was already working 30 hours. So, if she found a job closer to home, she could use the 10 hours she spent driving to work at a new job.
As you can see, it was easy for the judge to deny her case because of her work activity. It didn’t matter that she was earning under $1470 per month, because the judge thought she could easily earn more. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if a job earns you enough money to live. It also doesn’t matter if the job is in your area. The SSA looks at all jobs in the nation when they decide if you can work. Practical issues, like how much you make per hour, how close the job is to your home, or whether you will like the job, don’t count.
IF YOU CAN WORK, THEN YOU SHOULD WORK
SSD and SSI benefits are for people who cannot, due to their medical conditions, work at any job in the national economy. If you file for SSD and SSI benefits, then you are stating that you can’t work at any job. This means that you can’t do a job that requires you to sit and answer the phone. It means you can’t do a job where you are alone in a large room and file files. Likewise, it means you can’t work in a mail room and put mail into a bin. Also, it means you can’t even be a greeter at Walmart.
If you could do any of the above jobs, then you can work. Once again the SSA doesn’t care if these jobs don’t pay you enough to pay your bills. They only care if you can do the job.
If you can work, then you should work. Working is always going to give you more money than SSDI or SSI benefits. You need money to pay your bills and live your life. Therefore, working is the best source of income. You don’t need to apply for benefits if you can work 40 hours a week.
Remember, by doing any sort of work, you are showing the judge that you can work. Which is the opposite of what you want to prove in a Social Security case. Finally, if you can work, you will certainly earn more money working than you will by winning SSD or SSI benefits. If you can work, do it.
MISTAKE #2: DON’T MISS THE 60 DAY APPEAL DEADLINE
When you file your application for SSD and SSI benefits, there is a 90% chance that you will receive a denial in the mail. The SSA denies almost 90% of claims at the initial stage. Once you receive a denial, you will have 60 days to file an appeal. Don’t make a mistake and appeal late. File your appeal within 60 days.
What happens if you don’t appeal the decision in 60 days? You will have to file a new application.
If you appeal your initial denial within 60 days and then get a second denial, you need to request a hearing. You must request a hearing within 60 days of the date of the denial. If you don’t, guess what happens? That is right. You will have to file a new application and start the process all over again. Don’t waste your time. Appeal an SSA denial as soon as you get it in the mail. You can file an appeal online on the SSA website.
DID YOU HAVE A GOOD REASON FOR FAILING TO FILE YOUR APPEAL ON TIME?
You might have a good reason for failing to file an appeal within the 60 day time frame. Here are some “good cause” reasons that the SSA will consider if you missed filing your appeal during the 60 days.
- You never got the denial in the mail. If this happened to you, then you are going to have to prove it. For example, maybe you moved and your mail got sent to your old address. If you can show the SSA that they sent your denial to the wrong address, then you would have “good cause” for filing late.
- You were in the hospital. This is another reason that people don’t appeal on time. Perhaps they were in the hospital or a treatment facility. Or, they had surgery and were too sick to open their mail. Once again, you have the burden to prove that you were too sick to appeal within the 60 days. If you can do so, the SSA will let your case go forward.
- You didn’t understand how to appeal. If you have an intellectual disability or the SSA sent you a denial in the wrong language, then you may have a reason for not filing your appeal on time. For example, if you cannot read, then you might need help to understand your appeal rights. The same is true if you have an IQ issue. If you can prove this to the SSA, then they will let you move to the next appeal level. Likewise, if you only speak and read Spanish and the SSA sent your denial in English, then you have an argument that you didn’t understand your appeal rights.
MISTAKE #3: YOU FAIL TO HIRE A LAWYER
Filing for SSD and SSI benefits doesn’t require a lawyer, but it certainly helps. Since you can hire a lawyer for free, it makes no sense to file an application without legal help. Don’t make the mistake of believing an attorney costs a lot of money. Because they don’t.
Attorney fees in Social Security cases are controlled by the government. The SSA sets and approves the amount of the attorney fee. The SSA has capped attorney fees in Social Security cases at 25% of your past due benefit or $7200, whichever is less. This is the most an attorney can charge you if your case is won at the hearing level or below.
For example, if your attorney wins your SSDI case and your back benefit is $10,000, then the attorney fee will be 25% of the back benefit, or $2500. In such a case, you would not pay the $7200 cap. Instead, the attorney fee is 25% of the back benefit, which is less than the cap. This is what happens in most SSDI and SSI cases.
Best of all, if you don’t win benefits, you do not owe any attorney fees. We don’t want that to happen, because we want you to win benefits. But, if you don’t get benefits, your attorney does not get paid. This means that any attorney you hire will work for free until they win your benefits. And, if they don’t win, you won’t pay the attorney. Therefore, you should hire a Social Security attorney that has years of experience. Because all SSD attorneys cost the same amount. Hire Cannon Disability Law. We have 30 years experience and have won over 20,000 SSD cases.
MISTAKE #4: NOT GETTING MEDICAL TREATMENT
Medical records are, hands down, the most important evidence in your SSDI and SSI application. Social Security requires evidence of the medical conditions that are keeping you from working. If you haven’t gone to the doctor for treatment then, the SSA will assume that you can work. They will then find that you don’t need benefits.
When you first apply for benefits, you should include a copy of your medical records with your application. The burden of proving the SSA should pay you benefits is on you. This is true even though the SSA collects your medical records. Next, you should submit the medical opinion of your doctor that you can’t work.
The reason you should submit your own records is that the SSA may not collect everything. For example, if you have had Multiple Sclerosis for ten years, but just stopped working, the SSA will probably not collect your old records. However, all your records are important, because they confirm the beginning of your illness. They also may contain important medical testing.
If you don’t have medical insurance or a doctor, you can still get treatment. On our website, we have a list of free health clinics. You can call these resources and many of them will see you for free or for low cost:
- Utah Free Health Clinics
- Nevada Free Health Resources
- Colorado Free Medical Resources
- California Free Healthcare Resources
- Idaho Free Health Services
Additionally, if you cannot afford treatment, you can request that SSA send you to one of their doctors. You can visit one of SSA’s doctors for free. Further information about your free SSA doctor exam can be found on on this website.
MISTAKE #5: FIND A SUPPORTIVE DOCTOR
One of the biggest mistakes that people make is believing their doctor will help them. They think their doctor will write a letter for them, even if they have never told their doctor they are filing for SSD benefits. If you have a doctor, tell them you need their help. Most doctors are willing to write a letter about your medical conditions.
You will need not only a copy of your progress notes and medical records, but also a letter of support from your doctor. The letter should talk about your medical conditions and your symptoms. Then, it should state why you can’t work. For example, maybe you need to lie down for two hours a day due to pain. Or, maybe you can no longer use your hands for typing or holding tools, because of pain. Your doctor should write a letter about you.
Some doctors won’t write a letter, but they are willing to fill out forms. For example, if you have a mental health doctor, they can fill out a form that records how you can’t focus on tasks. The doctor could record how you would be late to work or miss work days due to your symptoms. These forms are also useful information.
If you have a doctor and you tell them about your SSD application, then they will be more likely to help you. However, if you have a doctor who states they will not help you, then you can get a new doctor. Find a doctor who will support your application for benefits. Finally, don’t make the mistakes of believing your doctor will help you when you haven’t asked.
AVOID MISTAKES & HIRE US TO HELP YOU WIN BENEFITS
You do not need to file for Social Security benefits by yourself. You can always call our law firm and we will help you file your application. Also, we can help you fix mistakes. For example, our attorneys and staff can:
- Send you the paperwork you need to become our client
- Help you file your application for SSDI and SSI benefits
- Inform the SSA they should pay you benefits under the Compassionate Allowance Rules
- Request an appeal if you receive an initial denial
- Help you confirm your free SSA doctor exam
- Request a Hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
- Prepare you to testify at your ALJ hearing
- Represent you at your hearing and question the expert witnesses
- Read more about job experts here
- Learn more about medical expert testimony here
- Request review of a decision with the Appeals Council
- Request review of an Appeals Council denial in Federal Court
If you file your application for benefits online at Social Security’s website, then you have 6 months to complete the application. Once you submit your application online, the SSA sends you an application summary in the mail. You must sign the summary and mail it back. If you don’t send it back, the SSA will not process your application. Sign it and send it back as soon as you can. Benefits are tied to the date you apply. Therefore, every day you wait to apply is a day you lose benefits.
HIRE US FOR OUR SUCCESS RATE & LEGAL EXPERIENCE
The SSA benefits application and appeal process can be long and complicated. Because of that it is easy to make mistakes. Hire Cannon Disability Law to give you legal advice and walk you through the appeal process. In the past 30 years, we have won millions of dollars in ongoing and past due due benefits for our clients. We have also won over 20,000 SSDI and SSI cases.
If you want to win benefits, then hire an attorney with the legal experience to win your case. You can hire us for no money down, because we do not charge you any money up front for you to become our client. You only pay us an attorney fee when you win benefits. If you want to learn more about how attorney fees work in this process, then read here.
If you want to learn more about our lawyers and staff, then read our About Us page. For example, you can learn about Andria Summers, who has 21 years of experience working at our law firm. She has won thousands of SSDI and SSI cases. Also, she can also help you with your Medicare advantage plan.
Additionally, Dianna Cannon has been helping her clients win benefits for over thirty years. She has over 30 years of Federal Court experience. Brett Bunkall also has many years of legal experience helping people obtain their SSI and SSDI benefits. We are Social Security law experts. You can trust us to help you win your benefits. You can also trust us to help you avoid mistakes when you are filing for SSD benefits.