Frequently Asked Questions

Speak with Our Panama City Social Security Disability Lawyers

Most applications for Social Security Disability benefits are denied. That's a disheartening fact that many ill and injured American workers face when considering whether or not to seek benefits. While this application process can be intimidating, there are measures each applicant can take to ensure that their application is as comprehensive and compelling as possible.

At Syfrett, Dykes & Furr, we've helped countless clients over the years prepare, submit, and appeal their SSD applications—and have often recovered them the benefits they deserve. Below, we have compiled the most common questions we receive from these clients and the answers they need to determine whether or not to move forward with their SSD claim.

Need further answers? Ready to prepare your disability claim? Contact our offices at (850) 795-4979 for assistance!

DO I QUALIFY FOR SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY (SSD) BENEFITS?

To qualify for SSD, you must have worked long enough in jobs where Social Security taxes have been paid for you. Usually, if you have worked in such jobs at least 5 of the last 10 years, you will have earned enough quarters of credit to be covered if you have a severe medical condition that has prevented you, or will prevent you, from substantial gainful work activity for at least a year, or is expected to end in death before that time period.

If you think you may be eligible for disability benefits, we can help you file your application online or appeal any denial you may have received.

WHEN SHOULD I APPLY FOR SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY BENEFITS?

Apply as soon as you and your doctors agree that your disability is going to last a full year. You are not eligible for Social Security Disability benefits if your condition is not expected to last a full year. However, if you have been denied because Social Security believes your disabling condition is temporary, our attorneys may be able to speak with your doctors and get the right kind of evidence to show your condition is more permanent and will satisfy the one-year requirement. Others, who have been struggling to work in spite of a disability and know the condition is not going away, should apply as soon as work activity stops or falls to part-time levels.

I WAS TOLD I DO NOT HAVE ENOUGH "CREDITS" TO QUALIFY. NOW WHAT?

You must earn a certain number of credits over a certain time period to qualify for Social Security disability benefits. The number of credits you need depends on your age when you apply and the type of benefit application. No one needs more than 40 credits for any Social Security benefit.

To determine your number of credits, Social Security uses your total yearly earnings. The amount needed for one credit in 2016 is $1,260. You can earn a maximum of four credits for any year. The amount needed to earn one credit increases automatically each year when average wages increase. If you have almost enough credits to qualify for SSD, it is beneficial to talk to an experienced Panama City Social Security Disability attorney about how to correctly earn the additional credits in order to qualify.

WHAT IS "SUBSTANTIAL GAINFUL ACTIVITY?"

The term “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) is used to describe a level of work activity and earnings. Work is “substantial” if it involves doing significant physical or mental activities or a combination of both.

If you earn more than a certain amount and are doing productive work, we generally consider that you are engaging in substantial gainful activity. You would not be eligible for disability benefits.

HOW DO I APPLY FOR SSD BENEFITS?

Although you can apply for disability without having an attorney, the attorneys and staff at Syfrett, Dykes & Furr can help you start your online application for Social Security disability at no additional charge. Social Security has a helpful website (www.ssa.gov) that offers an online disability application. Most questions are straightforward about you, your medical condition, and your medical treatment. However, other questions about your past work history can be more confusing and potentially harmful if not correctly answered.

You can also call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0788), wait on hold for a while, and then finally speak with someone, Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. EST to 7:00 p.m. EST. Or, if you are brave enough to fight the lines, you can go to your local Social Security office, pick a number, and wait to see someone in person. The easier way may still be to contact the Social Security attorneys and staff at Syfrett, Dykes & Furr.

HOW LONG DOES APPLICATION PROCESSING TAKE?

The time it takes to get a decision on your disability application can vary depending on:
  • The type of disability you have
  • What type of medical evidence is submitted with your application
  • How quickly additional medical evidence can be put together that proves your disabling condition
  • Whether it is necessary to send you for a medical examination
  • Whether your case gets reviewed for quality purposes

CAN I RECEIVE BENEFITS FOR MONTHS PRIOR TO MY APPLICATION?

Social Security disability benefits can be paid for as many as 12 months before you apply if it is found you had disability dating back in time and you meet all of the other requirements.

This is not true of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability. Once financial considerations are undertaken and disability is proven, SSI disability benefits begin the month after the application for disability.

WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SSD AND SSI BENEFITS?

Both programs provide benefits for disability, but the two programs are financed differently. Employment taxes primarily finance Social Security retirement, survivors, and disability insurance benefits. Generally, SSD benefits are paid to eligible workers and their families, based on the worker’s earnings.

Meanwhile, general taxes fund the SSI program, which serves the needy. SSI eligibility depends largely on limited income and resources as well as meeting the definition of being disabled.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I QUALITY FOR SSI BENEFITS?

To get Supplemental Security Income disability benefits, you must be blind or disabled and determined to be in a defined financial need. This means you must have a limited amount of resources and household income. Generally, one must have less than $2,000 in resources ($3,000 if married) to qualify for SSI. Resources are things you own like cash, bank accounts, stocks, land, personal property, vehicles, or anything else that can be exchanged for cash to pay for food or shelter. Some resources will not be counted against you like the home in which you live or the vehicle you drive to doctor appointments. In Florida, if you are receiving any SSI you will also qualify for Medicaid.

One more important thing. Your living arrangements can affect how much you can get in SSI. If you are considered living in the household of another, you will get less money than if you are considered living alone. To be considered living alone, you need to be paying for your portion of rent or food or both OR have signed an agreement with the person who is helping you pay these expenses obligating you to pay them back.

CAN I RETURN TO WORK WHILE RECEIVING SSD BENEFITS?

Yes, you can return to work while receiving Social Security disability benefits. There are special rules that encourage you and help you get back to work without jeopardizing your initial benefits if you feel you are getting better. You may be able to have a trial work period for nine months to test whether you can work.

MY SSD CLAIM HAS BEEN REJECTED. WHAT NOW?

If your claim was denied and you believe you qualify for SSD benefits, don’t worry. You can file an appeal or you can get the help of a skilled Panama City SSD attorney to not only file the appeal but review the reason for the denial and help you try to put together better proof. There are several levels of determination for Social Security Disability benefits. You have 60 days (plus 5 days for mailing) to appeal a denial to reach the next level of determination.

If you fail to appeal a denial during the required time, you may still be able to appeal if there was good cause for not meeting the deadline (i.e., mental illness, hospitalization, delayed receipt of denial, etc.) If you do not have good cause, you can reapply for Social Security disability or Supplemental Security Income. Please keep in mind that "appealing" and "reapplying" are not the same thing. Reapplying means you have to start the process over again.

HOW DO I RECEIVE AN SS STATEMENT THAT CONTAINS A RECORD OF MY EARNINGS?

You can get your personal Social Security Statement online by using your my Social Security account that can be set up at www.ssa.gov. If you don’t yet have an account, you can easily create one. Your online Statement gives you secure and convenient access to your earnings records. It also shows estimates for retirement, disability and survivor benefits you and your family may be eligible for.

Social Security also mails Statements to workers attaining ages 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, 60 and older three months prior to their birthday if they don’t receive Social Security benefits and don’t have a Social Security account. Workers who do not want to wait for their scheduled mailing can request their Social Security Statement through the website. The Statement will arrive by mail in four to six weeks.

CAN I RECEIVE DISABILITY AND RETIREMENT BENEFITS SIMULTANEOUSLY?

Social Security disability benefits automatically change to retirement benefits when disability beneficiaries become full retirement age. The law does not allow a person to receive both retirement and disability benefits on one earnings record at the same time.

WHAT ARE "COMPASSIONATE ALLOWANCES?"

Social Security has an obligation to provide benefits quickly to applicants whose medical conditions are so serious that their conditions obviously meet disability standards. Compassionate Allowances (CAL) are a way of quickly identifying diseases and other medical conditions that invariably qualify under the Listing of Impairments based on minimal objective medical information. CALs allow Social Security to target the most obviously disabled individuals for allowances based on objective medical information that we can obtain quickly. Compassionate Allowances is not a separate program from the Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income programs.

CAL conditions are selected using information received at public outreach hearings, comments received from the Social Security and Disability Determination Services communities, counsel of medical and scientific experts, and research with the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Our attorneys are familiar with CALs and can work with your doctors to put together the proof that is needed.

IS THERE A WAITING PERIOD FOR SSD BENEFITS?

If you are found to be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, there will also be a date that is used to establish the onset of your disability. Unless one is disabled on the first day of the month, no one gets paid for the month in which disability is established. Additionally, there is a five-month waiting period following the onset month before benefits will be paid. The first month for which benefits are paid is the sixth full month after the date your disability began. This waiting period does not apply to the payment of SSI disability benefits.

WILL UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS AFFECT MY SSD BENEFITS?

Social Security does not count unemployment benefits as earnings. However, if you are receiving unemployment benefits, you have likely signed a statement that you are ready, willing and able to work for the time period in which you receive these benefits.

In a disability hearing, some judges wrongly refuse to award benefits for time periods when unemployment was received. There are legal arguments to establish entitlement to disability benefits for the same time periods as when unemployment was received if the medical evidence supports only an ability to return to work part-time.

CAN CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES RECEIVE SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS?

A child with a disability age 18 or older may get Social Security benefits when a parent gets retirement or disability benefits. The child also can get benefits if a parent dies. The child’s disability must have begun before age 22.

WHAT IS THE TICKET TO WORK PROGRAM?

The Ticket To Work Program can help Social Security beneficiaries go to work, get a good job that may lead to a career, save more money, and become financially independent, all while they keep their health coverage through Medicare. Ticket to Work is a free and voluntary program that gives beneficiaries real choices that can help them create and lead better lives. Individuals who receive Social Security benefits because of a disability probably already qualify for the program.

CAN I RECEIVE SSD BENEFITS IF I ALREADY RECEIVE VETERANS' BENEFITS?

Even if you meet the requirements to get veterans disability benefits, you may not qualify for Social Security disability benefits. Eligibility for each program is different. For example, the Department of Veterans Affairs pays benefits for partial disability. However, Social Security pays disability benefits only to people with impairments, which are so severe they prevent any kind of substantial gainful work.

WHAT ARE SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS FOR WOUNDED WARRIORS AND HOW CAN I APPLY?

This program expedites processing of disability claims of current military service members or veterans disabled while on active duty on or after October 1, 2001.

WHAT ARE DISABLED WIDOW/WIDOWER'S BENEFITS?

This is a disability program where you can apply for benefits based on a deceased spouse’s earnings record. For instance, if a wife or husband has stayed at home to raise children and take care of the household, she or he may not have the required number of credits to qualify for disability on their own account. Or, if a wife or husband has earned substantially less than her or his spouse, the monthly benefit may be higher on the spouse’s account. In order to qualify for disabled widow’s/widower’s benefits, you must be 50 years or older and the onset of your disability must be within seven years of your spouse’s death.

WHAT ARE DIVORCED SPOUSE BENEFITS?

You can apply for benefits based on your divorced spouse’s earnings record if you were married to your ex-spouse for at least 10 years, are at least, 62 years old, are currently unmarried, and obtaining benefits under your divorced spouse’s earnings record results in a greater monthly benefit than what you could receive based on your own earnings records.

CAN I RECEIVE AN EXPEDITED DECISION ON MY SSD CLAIM?

The Social Security Administration has rules in place for individuals applying for Social Security Disability or SSI benefits that need faster processing of their claim which they call “critical cases.” There are four situations Social Security recognizes as warranting critical case processing:
  • The first is called a TERI case and applies if you have a terminal illness.
  • The second is a Wounded Warrior or Military Service Casualty Case (MSCC) and applies if you are a veteran applying for Social Security disability based on a service injury occurring on or after 10/1/2001.
  • The third is if your case is flagged as a Compassionate Allowance (CAL) case.
  • The fourth type is a “dire need” case. A dire need situation exists when a person has insufficient income or resources to meet an immediate threat to health or safety, such as the lack of food, clothing, shelter or medical care.

DO I QUALIFY AS A "DIRE NEED" CASE?

You must be able to show one or more of the following:
  • A lack of food (i.e., without and unable to obtain food)
  • A lack of medicine or medical care (e.g., the claimant expresses that he or she needs medicine or medical care but is unable to obtain it due to lack of resources)
  • A lack of shelter (e.g. shutoff of utilities such that home is uninhabitable, homelessness, expiration of shelter stay, or imminent eviction or foreclosure with no means to remedy the situation or obtain shelter).
Many times, we are able to help with establishing dire need. However, as the backlog of cases grow with Social Security, and more and more disabled people are waiting on decisions, it is getting harder to get “dire need” established. Letters from family or friends that are aware of your situation can be helpful. Unpaid bills, foreclosure notice, eviction notices, expiration medical coverage, bank statements, letters from your doctor including unpaid doctor bills, and any other supportive documents that can show your extreme hardship. At our firm, we can review your personal circumstances and make suggestions about the specific type of evidence that will be most beneficial in your case for obtaining dire need status when needed.

HOW ARE ATTORNEYS PAID FOR SSD WORK?

Lawyers only get paid if the application is accepted and benefits are secured. The fee is most often by direct payment from Social Security and is usually 25% of the past-due benefits owed to you when you win. However, a fee is capped at $6,000. This cap is set by the Commissioner and is always subject to change.

AM I ALLOWED TO EARN INCOME WHILE MY CASE IS PENDING?

Yes and no. It is not uncommon for someone to have had a heart attack or other illness/injury, be out of work four or five months, try to go back to work, work a few weeks, and then be unable to do keep it up. That would be considered by most judges to be an “unsuccessful work attempt,” and would not preclude you from getting paid your SS benefits even for the period of time you were working.

Other people will try to work part-time while applying for disability benefits. If it is part-time and sporadic, most judges will agree this is also an "unsuccessful work attempt.” However, if you’ve still managed to work in spite of significant health problems and you are working 25 or 30 hours per week, then most all judges will deny your claim. Unfortunately, those who struggle to work generally will have a harder time winning than those who simply stop early on.

HOW MUCH CAN I EARN AND STILL RECEIVE SSD BENEFITS?

It is presumed that somebody working and earning under $1,010 per month is not working. But be careful! Just because you are earning less, it doesn’t mean you are safe from SSA saying you are able to work and are not disabled. They might rule that you are being underpaid (intentionally or unintentionally) or that you can actually work more than you are doing. So, while you can use the above amount as a rough guide, the only safe way to be considered “not working” is not to work at all or working substantially under the amount.

IF I AM DISABLE, CAN MY CHILDREN RECEIVE BENEFITS?

Children can receive benefits if an eligible parent is disabled, retired or deceased. They can receive benefits until they graduate high school or until age 18, whichever is later. The amount they receive depends on how much the adult receives. Certain adults who never earned very much money may find that the children do not receive cash benefits.

WHAT TYPE OF DOCUMENTATION SHOULD MY DOCTOR PROVIDE ME ABOUT MY CONDITION?

The best report from a doctor is a report he would give as if he were explaining your condition to other physicians. First, he should give a long history. What were the initial symptoms, when did they start, when did they become significant? He should then mention his initial examination or workup. What clinical observations did he make? Next, what treatment did he give and how well did it work? He should give the diagnosis and the prognosis. He should explain the basis for the diagnosis and the prognosis, that is, how did he make these determinations, what medical tests were used.

He should also describe your current clinical findings—that is, what he finds when he examines you. Lastly, he should summarize the impact on your ability to work—how these conditions have affected your ability to function. He should describe whether they limit your ability to sit, stand, and walk, to lift, to carry, to work on a regular eight-hour-day basis. If it is an emotional condition or has emotional components, he should describe the impact of stress, working with others, working under deadlines, your ability to concentrate and deal with the general public or coworkers, to remember instructions and learn a job.

Many times doctors are not aware of how to write an opinion about disability for Social Security. It is not enough for your doctor to just say you are disabled. If you have a doctor that is willing to help you, our attorneys routinely review medical records and consult with doctors about the type of language that will help you prove your case.

MY HEARING NOTICE SAYS A VOCATIONAL EXPERT AND MEDICAL EXPERT WILL BE AT THE HEARING. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

Let me start here by saying if you are not represented and your hearing notice says there will be a vocational or medical expert at your hearing, it would be a good idea to get a Panama City SSD lawyer as soon as possible to help you prepare for the hearing. Vocational Experts testify about the physical and mental requirements of your past work, as well as the jobs that may be available to you.

The Medical Expert will answer questions about your condition and what he/she believes about your ability to function either physically or mentally with your condition. You should have an experienced lawyer familiar with your medical records and condition who can also question the vocational and medical expert based on your limitations. Vocational testimony may sound very bad or good to your case but might actually be quite the opposite. It takes a lawyer who has cross-examined many vocational experts to know the difference and how to approach a given case.

Are you ready to pursue a workers' comp claims? Syfrett, Dykes & Furr can help. Contact us to request a free consultation today.

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