What are the steps I need to take?
The first step is to file an application. In the Self-Help section we have listed the addresses of most of the local Social Security Offices. If your application is denied the next step is to file what is called a Request for Reconsideration. If this is denied, the next step is to file a Request for Hearing. You then will be entitled to a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge.
What must I prove to be eligible?
The law defines disability as the inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. (20CFR 404.1505(a))
Do I need to wait until my state disability is used up before I apply?
No. The law requires that you either have been disabled for 12 months or that your disabling impairment can be expected to last for at least 12 months. Often, Social Security takes a long time to process claims for benefits. It is a good idea to apply right away if you think your condition is going to last. Otherwise, there could be a substantial time period after your SDI runs out but before your Social Security begins in which you have no income coming in.
Are the standards for Workers Comp and State Disability the same as Social Security?
No. Each program has different standards and rules. Eligibility for State Disability does not automatically mean that you would be eligible for Social Security Disability.
Does it make a difference if I have other income or assets?
It might. If you are applying for Title II benefits based upon your own earnings record your assets are not an issue. However, if you receive Worker?s Compensation or State Disability there may be an offset for months in which you also receive Social Security. If on the other hand, you are applying for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI, your assets and other income will be an issue.
Where do I find the rules that apply to Social Security claims?
The applicable statutes are set forth in 42 U.S. Code, the Public Health and Welfare, and 20 Code of Federal Regulations Sections 404 and 416. Additionally, there are various Social Security Rulings that apply to these cases. Some of these can be rather technical. Some incorporate information from other government documents such as the Dictionary of Occupational Titles by the Department of Labor. Jurisdiction for litigation is in the Federal Courts. In California the governing case law is from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court.
If I get an attorney, do I need to pay money up front?
No. Attorneys who specialize in Social Security cases do not require that you pay either fees or costs up front. These cases are handled on a contingent basis. That means that you do not owe a fee unless the case is won. The attorney will then charge a fee of 25% of the past due benefits as long as that amount does not exceed $6,000. If 25% works out to be less than $6,000 then you pay the smaller amount.