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District Of Columbia


Social Security Disability Claims.

If you have recently become disabled or a family member has become disabled you probably have a lot of questions about applying for Social Security Disability.  My hope is that this article will answer some of your questions
Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or for short-term disability.
"Disability" under Social Security is based on your inability to work.   The Social Security Administration (SSA) considers you disabled under Social Security rules if:

  • You cannot do work that you did before;

  • SSA decides that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s); and

  • Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

How do I apply for Social Security Disability?

What can I do to help my case?

  • Make sure you see your doctor or doctors for all physical or mental problems you have – not just the most serious problem.  Visit your doctor as soon as you have a problem and see the doctor often.  This is how to document your case.

  • When you see your doctor make sure you are very specific about the problems you are having.  For example, “My low back hurts me when I walk more than ½ hour or sit more than one hour and I have to change positions all the time.”  Just saying “my back hurts” will not help your case.  Write down what your problems are before you go to the doctor so you will not forget to tell the doctor anything.   Don’t let the doctor rush you. 

  • Make sure you do what your doctor tells you to do.  Fill your prescriptions and take them as prescribed.  Make sure to return to your doctor when he tells you to return.  Go for x-rays if your doctor sends you for x-rays.

  • Keep a daily log of the pain and problems you are having.  For example, if you suffer from dizzy spells – write down the time and date when you were dizzy and what you were doing at the time of the dizzy spell.

  • Visit medical specialists.   Visit a neurologist if you migraine headaches or dizzy spells.  Visit a psychiatrist if you suffer from depression or anxiety. 

  • Apply for benefits as soon as you know you will not be able to work for one year or more.  You can lose benefits if you wait to apply because Social Security will only pay one year of back benefits.

  • Appeal your case as soon as it is denied.  You can lose benefits if you miss an appeal deadline.

  • Don’t use drugs, alcohol, or smoke.  If a disability is caused by alcohol or drug use that person is not entitled to benefits.

  • Don’t apply for unemployment benefits if you are disabled.  When you apply for unemployment benefits you are saying you are capable of work.  This can be used against you when trying to get social security disability benefits.

  •  A judge will believe your testimony if your past statements to your doctor and your testimony in court are consistent and detailed.  It’s hard to win a case if you say one thing to your doctor and something different to the judge.  Make sure you tell everyone the same thing.

How can a lawyer help me?

  • File the Initial Application and take care of the entire appeal process for you.

  • Make sure Social Security has all the necessary medical records and work records to prove your case.

  • Communicate with your doctor or doctors to help the doctor answer the right questions to help your case.

  • Refer you to the proper doctor to help make your case stronger.

  • A lawyer understands the complex laws of Social Security and knows the best arguments to make that will support your claim for benefits.

  • Make sure that you receive all the benefits that you have a right to.

  • A lawyer knows the system and will continue to push your claim forward in spite of denials and delay.  There are four levels in the disability adjudication process at the Social Security Administration level and a fifth level in Federal Court.   The first level is the Initial Application level.  Only about 36% of the Initial Applications are approved.  In the second level which is the Reconsideration level about 86% are denied.  The third level is the hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.  The Social Security Administration estimates that the average time it takes to get to the third level is 516 days in 2009.   A lawyer is accustomed to the denial and delay that occurs in the adjudication process and will continue to fight for you.  A disabled person can be more easily discouraged and give up the fight for benefits.

How can I pay a lawyer when I can’t work?         

  • You do not pay a lawyer unless you win. 

  • The attorney fee is no more than 25% of back benefits or $6,000, whichever is less.

  • A lawyer will not receive a fee for any future benefits that you receive as a result of the work your lawyer did on your behalf.

What should I bring to the first appointment with my lawyer?

  • Your Social Security number and proof of your age;

  • Names, addresses and phone numbers of doctors, caseworkers, hospitals, and clinics that took care of you and the dates of your visits;

  • Names and dosages of all the medications you are taking;

  • Medical records from your doctors, therapists, hospitals, clinics and caseworkers, that you already have in your possession;

  • Laboratory and test results;

  • A summary of where you worked and the kind of work you did; and

  • Your most recent W-2 form or, if you were self-employed, a copy of your federal tax return.


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Medical conditions that may entitle you to disability compensation include:

  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome - A condition that causes fatigue severe enough to interfere with your ability to participate in normal work, recreational, or social activities. Fatigue caused by CFS does not improve substantially with rest.

  • Multiple Sclerosis - A chronic neurological disease that involves the central nervous system-specifically the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. MS can cause problems with muscle control and strength, vision, balance, sensation, and mental functions.

  • Lupus - A chronic disease that can cause inflammation, pain, and tissue damage throughout the body. Lupus is an autoimmune disease, in which a person's immune system attacks its own tissues as though they were foreign substances. If you develop serious lupus, you may have problems with your kidneys, heart, lungs, or blood cells.

  • Degenerative Disc Disease - This encompasses an assortment of ailments to the spine, including herniated discs, spondylolisthesis, stenosis, idiopathic scoliosis, kyphosis, and other spinal diseases that occur as we grow older.

  • Bi-polar Disorder - Also known as manic depression, bi-polar disorder is a serious illness that can lead to crippling mood swings, irrational behavior and suicidal tendencies.

  • Cancer - a general term for more than 100 medical conditions involving uncontrolled and dangerous cell growth. Scientists suggest that some cancer is caused by genetic factors, while other forms are caused by environmental conditions.

  • Osteoarthritis - type of arthritis that is caused by the breakdown and eventual loss of the cartilage of one or more joints.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis - a type of arthritis that causes the body's immune system to attack the joints.

  • Congestive heart failure - potentially lethal condition in which congestion develops in the lungs that is produced by a heart attack, poorly controlled or uncontrolled hypertension, or disease processes that weaken the heart.

  • Chronic heart failure - a disorder in which the heart loses its ability to pump blood efficiently throughout the body. The oxygen and nutrients in the blood provide the body with the energy it needs to operate efficiently.

  • Anxiety disability - sudden bouts of intense fear or anxiety that causes frightening but not life-threatening symptoms such as a pounding heart, shortness of breath, and the feeling of losing control or dying.

  • Reflex sympathetic dystrophy - chronic progressive neurological condition that affects skin, muscles, joints, and bones. The syndrome usually develops in an injured limb, such as a broken leg.

  • HIV - Human Immunodeficiency Virus, the virus which causes AIDS. HIV is a retro- virus that attacks the human immune system.

  • AIDS - A serious (often fatal) disease of the immune system transmitted through blood products especially by sexual contact or contaminated needles.

  • Hepatitis C - Affects the liver and can cause liver damage. Hepatitis C infection happens by coming into direct contact with the blood of an infected person.

  • Schizophrenia - a wide range of mental disorders characterized by a disassociation of sensory input, feelings and emotions and thoughts. Symptoms can include hallucinations, hearing voices, a feeling that one's thoughts or actions are under someone else's control, and many others.

  • Crohn's disease - inflammatory disease most prominent in the small bowel, which may involve any part of the gastrointestinal tract and other organs, and which is associated clinically with diarrhea and irritable bowel.

More Information On Social Security Disability

İMary Buonanno, Copyright 2011. All Rights Reserved