Social Security Basics and Hot Tips

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Social Security Basics and Hot Tips

Copyright Notice and Disclaimer of Liability

All original text contained herein are copyright © February 2014 by Lola Richey.

All rights are reserved.

This book consists of both original materials and official U.S. government forms. No copyright is claimed for the official government forms. Copyright is claimed for all original materials.

This book is intended to serve as a general guide for individuals seeking Social Security disability benefits. Every case is different, and this guide is not intended to serve as a substitute for experienced and knowledgeable legal counsel. Your purchase of this book does not create or imply an attorney-client relationship with Lola Richey and the law firm of Richey and Richey, P.A.

The contents of this book are provided as information only. Please note that no information contained in this book can replace your individual and personal consultation with an experienced Social Security lawyer who can consider and evaluate the specific facts and circumstances of your Social Security case.

Under no circumstances shall the author or Richey and Richey, P.A. be liable for any damages that result from the use of, or the inability to use, this book.

The Author

Lola Richey is a practicing Social Security lawyer in Greenville, South Carolina. During her almost two-decade career as a lawyer, Ms. Richey has represented many individuals in Social Security disability cases, consumer bankruptcy cases, and workers’ compensation claims. Her law partner and husband, Rodney Richey, also assists in Social Security disability cases as well as in workers’ compensation claims.

If you need any help with your Social Security case, please feel free to contact the Social Security lawyers of Richey and Richey. Richey and Richey can help with application and appeal rights. The Social Security lawyers of Richey and Richey do not charge a legal fee unless you win your case with the Social Security Administration.

You can learn more about Lola and Rodney Richey by visiting their website at www.richeyandrichey.com.

Introduction

Social Security touches almost every person at some point in life. Social Security helps not only older Americans (retirees), but also workers who become disabled and unable to work full time. Thus, Social Security is more than a retirement program. Although it is true that most of the people receiving Social Security receive retirement benefits, many others receive Social Security because they are disabled.

Types of Disability Programs

The Social Security Administration pays disability benefits through two programs: the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program (also called “Title II benefits”) and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program (also called “Title XVI benefits”). The SSDI program provides disability payments to individuals who have worked long enough and have paid Social Security taxes on their earnings, as well as to certain disabled dependents of disabled people. The SSI program provides disability payments to individuals (including children under age 18) who are disabled and have limited income and resources. The SSDI and SSI programs are the largest of several federal programs that provide benefits to people with disabilities. While these two programs are different in many ways, both are administered by the Social Security Administration. Only individuals who have a disability and meet certain medical and mental guidelines may qualify for benefits under either program.

Definition of Disability

Social Security’s disability rules are different from those of many private plans or other government agencies. For all adults applying for benefits, Social Security only pays benefits to people who cannot work because they have a medical or mental condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death. Federal law requires this very strict definition of disability. While some other programs give money to people with partial disability or short-term disability, Social Security only pays benefits for total disability from work.

Social Security defines “disability” as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity because of a medical or mental health condition that has lasted or is expected to last for 12 months. Social Security defines “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) as “work that involves doing significant and productive physical or mental duties and is done or intended for pay or profit.” Thus, part-time work could be considered SGA. Social Security considers SGA as any reasonable work, school, or work-like activities.

Disability under Social Security is based on your inability to work. Social Security would consider you disabled if (1) your medical and/or mental impairment meets or equals a medical “listing” (a medical or mental condition that is presumed to prevent most people from working) or (2) you cannot perform any of your past work and cannot adjust to other forms of work in the national economy. Disabling conditions for Social Security include arthritis, heart disease, back disorders, fibromyalgia, diabetes, and mental illness. Social Security maintains a listing of medical criteria that are considered so severe that a person who meets any of these criteria is presumed disabled. Each listing has several parts describing specific conditions and diseases.

You can find the adult listings at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/AdultListings.htm.

 

Hot Tip: Social Security also has a program called compassionate allowances. Under this program, Social Security provides benefits quickly to people whose medical conditions are so serious that their conditions obviously meet disability standards. These conditions includes certain rare diseases, cancers, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and stroke, early-onset Alzheimer's disease and related dementias, schizophrenia, cardiovascular disease and multiple organ transplants and autoimmune diseases. You can find more information on the compassionate allowance program at the following link:

 

You can find Social Security’s compassionate allowance list at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances/.

Meeting a listing can be very difficult, so please do not get discouraged or angry if your medical and/or mental condition does not meet a listing. Most people are found disabled if they are unable to perform their past work and they cannot adjust to other work in the national economy.

Hot Tip: Most listings are established through diagnostic testing. Although meeting a listing is difficult, Social Security places special emphasis on diagnostic tests. These diagnostic test results provide “objective” evidence to prove your disability. Social Security can use this objective evidence to find you are unable to return to your past work and any other forms of work. Therefore, I encourage you to talk to your treating doctor about performing objective tests regularly, such as an MRI, a CT scan, a cardiac functioning test, breathing/pulmonary function testing, a functional capacity examination, a nerve conduction study/EMG, and WRAT.

Thus, Social Security disability rules pay special attention to your ability to work and how your medical and/or mental conditions impair your ability to perform any form of work in the national economy. Social Security evaluates all work based on their “exertional level” (e.g., sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very heavy) and “skill level” (e.g., unskilled, semi-skilled, and skilled). Almost every job in the national economy can be classified based on its exertional and skill level. According to Social Security, you are not disabled unless your illnesses, injuries, or conditions prevent you from doing your past work or adjusting to other forms of work in the national economy.

Hot Tip: When discussing your prior work history with Social Security, always highlight the physical demands and work duties of your jobs (e.g., lifting 50 lbs, frequent standing and walking, repetitive grabbing) and minimize any supervisory or sit-down duties.

When deciding your Social Security case, Social Security will also consider physical functioning impairments such as your ability to lift, carry, stand, walk, sit, push, pull, and reach. Social Security will also consider your mental abilities such as your ability to understand, carry out, and remember simple instructions; make simple, work-related judgments and decisions; and respond properly to supervision, co-workers, and work situations. Social Security will also look at your daily activities that are equivalent to work activities, such as taking care of an elderly parent, babysitting your grandchildren, and performing household chores. If you can perform activities such as caring for relatives or doing routine household chores regularly, then Social Security will decide you are able to work in the national economy. These daily regular activities prove to Social Security that you can concentrate and be attentive enough to work. So, if you have problems handling household chores, caring for your children, or handling simple tasks, let Social Security know. Your lack of ability to handle even basic daily activities proves you would also have difficulty working in the national economy.

Hot Tip: When Social Security asks about your daily activities, you should do your best to focus on any difficulties you may have throughout the day and night, such as preparing meals, maintaining hygiene, shopping, and sleeping. Again, Social Security wants to know if you are doing any activities in the day that could be considered work or exertional activities. To find you disabled, Social Security wants to establish that you have a severe medical and/or mental impairment that interferes with basic work-related activities. If you are doing things such as visiting people, calling friends, shopping, exercising, or playing sports, Social Security will likely deny your claim and decide you are able to find work in the national economy.

 

Hot Tip: Also, you need to inform Social Security about any medication that causes side effects. If your medication causes severe side effects such as nausea, fatigue, vomiting, drowsiness, and lack of focus, Social Security will use those side effects as a basis for finding you disabled.

 

Hot Tip: Ask your pharmacist for a listing of all your medications and any medication side effects. This evidence from your pharmacy can be used to support your disability.

 

Hot Tip: If you have trouble concentrating, finishing tasks, or working at a consistent pace, Social Security will often find you disabled. Most jobs in the national economy require workers to concentrate, to be persistent, and to be able to work at a consistent pace without too many unscheduled breaks.

Moreover, Social Security looks at your education history, special training, and special licenses/certificates. If you cannot do your past work, Social Security will consider your age, education, training, and work experience to see if you can do other forms of work. During your case, Social Security will often use a vocational expert to give his or her opinion of your ability to perform other work given your age, education, training, and work experience.

Hot Tip: Your education plays an important role in determining whether you are disabled. For example, a person with a tenth grade education would not be expected to be able to perform non-physical, sit-down jobs. Social Security believes that the less education and training a person has, the fewer jobs are available for that person in the general economy. So, when completing your Social Security application and other paperwork, do not be embarrassed to admit your current education or grade level. The less education you have, the better your chances of being found disabled by Social Security.

If you are an adult age 18 or over, Social Security wants to know your ability to perform work-related activities such as sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, handling objects, gripping, fingering, hearing, speaking, and traveling. If you are an adult with mental impairments or mental functional limitations, Social Security wants to know your capacity to understand, carry out, and remember instructions, and to respond appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and work pressures in a work setting.

Hot Tip: Most Social Security cases are won by proving that the individual’s “functional capacity” for work has been reduced so much that he or she would no longer be a dependable and reliable employee. In other words, the individual’s medical and/or mental conditions would cause too many absences from work, or he or she would need several unscheduled breaks during a workday because of his or her condition. Social Security will consider you disabled if, despite your best efforts, you frequently miss one or more workdays each month and frequently have to leave work early or have to lie down during the workday. Often, your treating doctor or counselors can provide these work limitations on a functioning capacity form. Social Security wants specific limitations as to your work capacity. Here are some good examples of specific limitations:

 

“I can only walk about 50 feet before the pain in my back becomes so severe that my right leg gives out and goes numb. Then, I have to stop for at least 15 minutes to rest.”

 

“My daily pain is constant at a 7 or 8 on a 10-point scale, and my pain increases to an 8 or 9 on the 10-point scale with any activity. When my pain is at an 8 or 9, I cannot focus, remember, or concentrate. I have to take my medication and immediately go to my bedroom to relieve the pain.”

 

Hot Tip: If you are experiencing excessive crying spells, moodiness, and sadness, you should immediately seek mental health counseling. Many local mental health clinics will provide low- or no-cost mental health treatment. Also, ongoing treatment with a mental health professional will further document your inability to work full time.

 

Hot Tip: Seek vocational rehabilitation training or work counseling. Social Security wants to ensure you are not faking illness, seeking narcotic drugs, or simply lazy. Social Security readily gives benefits to people who hate the idea they are disabled and who first seek help from government re-training programs, vocational rehabilitation, and work counseling programs to find employment. You want to present yourself to Social Security as a hard worker who wants to work and does not seek disability benefits, but with a condition so severe that it prevents you from working. Often, if you have tried vocational training or work counseling programs and failed to complete them, Social Security will treat this attempt as a failed work attempt, and this evidence will support your claim for disability benefits.

Disability in Children

For children under age 18, Social Security considers a child disabled if the child has a physical or mental impairment (or combination of impairments) that causes marked and severe functional limitations, and this impairment has lasted or can be expected to last for at least one year or can be expected to result in death. Also, the child cannot be working at a job that is considered substantial work. Social Security wants to know the child’s functional limitations compared to those of children the same age without impairments in health and physical well-being, caring for themselves, acquiring and using information, attending and completing tasks, interacting and relating with others, and moving about and manipulating objects.

Applying for Benefits

Social Security pays disability benefits at any age. If you believe you meet their definition of disability (i.e., you cannot work because of a physical or mental condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death), do not delay filing your disability application with Social Security. You should file your application immediately, as it can take the Social Security Administration three to five months to process a disability claim.

You can apply for Social Security disability benefits online at the Social Security Administration’s official website at

For adults at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pgm/disability.htm

For children at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability/child.htm

In addition to using the Social Security Administration’s website, you can call Social Security toll-free at 1-800-772-1213. Social Security’s office hours are from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. Generally, you will have a shorter wait time if you call during the week after Tuesday.

You can apply for disability benefits in two ways:

1.         Apply online at www.socialsecurity.gov. Once at www.socialsecurity.gov, select “Apply online for disability benefits.” Next, fill out the Disability Benefit Application Form and then answer the questions on the Adult Disability Report. Finally, you can mail or take the documents Social Security asks for to your Social Security office.

2.         Call Social Security toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 to make an appointment to file a disability claim at your local Social Security office or to set up an appointment for someone to take your claim over the telephone. The disability claims interview lasts about one hour. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you may call Social Security’s toll-free TTY number, 1-800-325-0778, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on business days. If you schedule an appointment, Social Security will send you a Disability Starter Kit to help you get ready for your disability claims interview. The Disability Starter Kit is also available online at www.socialsecurity.gov/disability.

Hot Tip: If you apply for Social Security benefits at your local office, please come to the local office in your simplest clothes. Please remove all jewelry, excessive perfume, and makeup. I usually tell my clients, “Show Social Security how you look every day at home so the Social Security representative can see the ‘real’ disabled you.”

In addition to the basic application for disability benefits, Social Security has other forms you will need to complete. One form collects information about your medical condition and how it affects your ability to work. Other forms give doctors, hospitals, and other health care professionals who have treated you permission to send us information about your medical condition. Also, Social Security will ask your doctors for information about your ability to do work-related activities such as walking, sitting, lifting, carrying, and remembering instructions.

Faster Social Security Application

Social Security may be able to process your application faster if you help the Social Security Administration get the information they need. The Social Security Administration needs the following information to process your claim faster:

•          your Social Security number

•          your birth or baptismal certificate

•          names, addresses, phone numbers, and fax numbers of any or all doctors, therapists, caseworkers, hospitals, and clinics that took care of you, and the dates of your visits within the last seven years

•          names and dosage of all 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

•          names of your employers and job duties for the last 15 years

•          a copy of your most recent Wage and Tax Statement (W-2 Form) or, if you are self-employed, your federal tax return for the past year

•          the date when you became substantially unable to perform competitive work because of your illness, injury, or condition

•          all your illnesses, injuries, or conditions that limit your ability to work

•          any agency or anyone else that may have information regarding your

illness or condition, such as workers’ compensation claims and vocational rehabilitation

Do not delay applying for benefits if you cannot get all of this information together quickly. Our Social Security law firm can help you get this important information.

Hot Tip: When Social Security asks, “What are the illnesses, injuries, or conditions that limit your ability to work?” be very specific. You want to give Social Security every medical and mental condition that limits your ability to work. I recommend that you write or type out detailed descriptions of all your medical and mental conditions on a separate piece of paper for Social Security’s file. Make sure you include your name and Social Security number on that separate paper. You should also include your capacity and ability to work with specific limitations, such as “I cannot stand for more than 15 minutes.”

 

Hot Tip: Please provide Social Security with a complete and detailed listing of your medicines. One way to provide an accurate medication listing is to obtain a list of all medications filled by all your pharmacists in the last three years. Most pharmacists will provide this medication list to you upon request. Also, include non-prescription medication on your medication list for Social Security. Finally, make sure you note for Social Security any side effects from your medication.

 

Hot Tip: Medical evidence is critical to winning your Social Security case. This evidence proves the severity of your medical conditions and your claimed restrictions and limitations. It is important to see your doctor, free clinic, counselor, and any other health facility regularly. Do not miss appointments. Without proper medical evidence, you will have a difficult time proving to Social Security that you are disabled. Many people lose Social Security cases because they never go to the doctor, hospital, or free clinic to get medical treatment. Therefore, you should immediately seek medical treatment from area hospitals, free clinics, mental health offices, etc. You should also report to Social Security all visits to doctors, surgeons, orthopedists, therapists, counselors, clinics, hospitals, and emergency rooms within the last seven years or even longer, if that medical evidence proves your disability. Again, you are responsible for obtaining necessary medical evidence to prove you are disabled. During the Social Security application process, you should provide complete and accurate information on your treating providers, including complete addresses, telephone numbers, and dates of treatment. Be sure to list all your medical providers and/or the hospitals at which you have been treated within the last seven to 10 years. To prove you are disabled, you want all your medical evidence (no matter how old) to be considered. As your Social Security lawyers, our law firm will be able to track down all doctors, hospitals, clinics, etc. through the Medical Information Bureau (MIB) at www.mib.com from the last 10 to 20 years, if needed to prove your severe medical disability.

How Does Social Security Decide Whether You Are Disabled?

Social Security uses a five-step process to decide whether you are disabled.

1.         Are you working?

If you are working full-time without any restrictions, if you are working without special consideration from co-workers, and if you have earnings that average more than a certain amount each month, then Social Security generally will not consider you disabled. According to Social Security, you are performing competitive daily work. However, if you are not working, if you need special consideration from your employer, or if your monthly earnings average less than full-time earnings (e.g., $1,000 per month), then Social Security will go to the next step and look at your medical condition.

Hot Tip: If you have tried to work but were not able to keep your job due to your illness or condition, Social Security will consider your work effort a failed work attempt. Social Security will consider these unsuccessful work attempts as favorable evidence to support your disability, as these failed work attempts show that you are trying to work but unable to do so.

2.         Is your medical or mental condition “severe”?

For Social Security to decide that you are disabled, your medical or mental condition must significantly limit and interfere with basic work-related activities (e.g., walking, sitting, or remembering) for at least one year. If your medical or mental condition is not that severe, then Social Security will not consider you disabled. If your condition is severe, then Social Security will go on to step three.

3.         Is your medical or mental condition on the list of impairments?

Social Security has a list of impairments that describes medical and mental conditions considered so severe that they automatically mean you are disabled as defined by law. If your condition (or combination of medical and/or mental conditions) is not on this list, then Social Security will check if your condition is as severe as a condition that is on the list. If the severity of your medical or mental condition meets or equals that of a listed impairment, then Social Security will decide that you are disabled. If not, then Social Security will go on to step four.

Hot Tip: You can win your Social Security disability case in two ways: (1) by showing that your medical or mental impairment meets a “listing” or (2) by proving that your “functional capacity” to work has been greatly reduced. Most cases are won by proving that one’s “functional capacity” for work has been so reduced that one would no longer be a reliable employee. Proving that your medical or mental impairment meets a “listing” is very difficult and often requires specific diagnostic and laboratory testing. The Social Security Administration has several listings of serious medical and mental problems. Some medical conditions are so serious that a person’s conditions obviously meet disability standards. These conditions are called the “compassionate allowances.” The compassionate allowance programs identify certain diseases and other medical conditions that automatically qualify under the listing of impairments.

 

You can find Social Security’s compassionate allowance list at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances/.

 

You can find the adult listings at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/AdultListings.htm.

 

As a starting point, you should look through Social Security’s listings and compassionate allowances to find the general category or categories of the medical problem that is closest to your disabling condition. If you have support from your treating doctor, you can print out the listings and allowances, take these items to your treating doctor, and ask him/her to write a letter to Social Security stating that you meet both the medical and activity parts of a particular listing.

Before going to step 4, Social Security will establish your “residual functional capacity” (RFC). Ordinarily, your RFC is a function-by-function assessment of your maximum ability to do sustained work-related physical and mental activities regularly and continually (8 hours a day for 5 days a week) despite the limitations and restrictions resulting from your medical and/or mental impairment(s). In summary, your RFC determines your ability to work full time at steps 4 and 5. Social Security would consider you disabled if (1) your physical or mental impairment or impairments are so severe that you are unable to do your previous work and (2) considering your age, education, and work experience, you cannot engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work that exists in the national economy.

4.         Can you perform your past work?

At this step, Social Security decides if your medical or mental condition prevents you from being able to perform your past work. If your medical or mental condition does not prevent you from performing your past work, then Social Security will decide that you are not disabled. If Social Security finds that your medical and/or mental condition prevents you from performing your past work, then Social Security will go on to step five.

Hot Tip: In preparing your Social Security application and other filings, you should submit evidence to establish that you cannot return to your past work (e.g., “My work required me to lift 50 lbs, but my severe back pain prevents me from lifting more than 10 lbs.”).

5.         Can you perform any other type of work now or in the future?

If you cannot perform your past work, then Social Security will check if you would be able to do other forms of work. Social Security will evaluate your medical and/or mental condition, age, education, past work experience, and any skills/certificates you may have that could be used to do other forms of work. If you cannot perform other work, then Social Security will decide that you are disabled. If you can perform other forms of work, then Social Security will decide that you are not disabled.

Hot Tip: At steps 4 and 5, Social Security wants to know if you can perform the easiest and most basic job that exists in the national economy. These jobs are simple, unskilled, and low stress (e.g., hand packer, textile inspector). If the answer is no, then you will win your case. Often, a good functional capacity questionnaire completed by your treating doctor will help you win your case. These questionnaires turn your medical condition into working capacity.

Note: Social Security has special rules for the blind and the hearing impaired.

The Importance of Your Medical Evidence

Under both the SSDI program (Title II) and SSI program (Title XVI), medical evidence is the most important evidence in determining disability. Most people lose their cases because they lack ongoing medical treatment to prove their disability. Social Security expects disabled people to have ongoing and regular medical treatment. Regular medical or mental health treatment improves your chances of winning your case. Missed doctor visits and a lack of ongoing medical treatment can hurt your Social Security disability case.

Hot Tip: The best chance of winning your Social Security case is to work with a treating doctor who understands Social Security and wants to help your case. If you have a doctor who does not believe in disability or does not want to cooperate with your Social Security disability case, find another doctor.

 

Hot Tip: You must provide Social Security with as much medical history as possible, including all current and past treating doctors, hospitals, and clinics. I recommend giving Social Security a list of as many hospitals, doctors, clinics, and other medical information as possible. You can never have too much evidence. Most people lose their disability cases because they lack medical evidence to support their disability.

 

Hot Tip: If you have a treating doctor or counselor who is familiar with your medical and/or mental condition, ask the doctor or counselor to send a narrative report to Social Security on your behalf. This narrative report should provide your diagnosis, any limitations, and future outlook. Social Security normally places great weight on evidence from the treating doctor and counselor to support a claim for disability benefits.

Everyone who files a disability claim is responsible for providing medical evidence to prove they have a medical and/or mental impairment(s) and to prove the severity of the impairment(s). Social Security, with your permission, will help you obtain medical reports from your own medical sources. This medical evidence generally comes from hospitals, doctors, clinics, therapists, psychologists, schools, other health facilities, and caseworkers that have treated or evaluated you for your impairment(s). Ultimately, you have the burden of gathering all your medical evidence and presenting it to Social Security to prove you are disabled. Social Security considers all received medical reports during the disability determination process. Acceptable medical evidence includes evidence from licensed physicians (medical or osteopathic doctors), licensed or certified psychologists (including school psychologists), licensed optometrists, licensed podiatrists, and qualified speech-language pathologists.

Many disability claims are decided based on medical evidence from treating sources. Social Security focuses particularly on evidence from your treating doctors, counselors, and therapists. Therefore, timely, accurate, and adequate medical records from treating sources fast-track the processing of the claim because they can greatly reduce or eliminate the need for additional medical evidence to complete the claim.

Social Security also considers other non-medical sources to help show how much your impairment affects your ability to function in a work setting, or in the case of a child, the ability to function compared to that of children the same age without impairments. Other sources include public and private agencies; non‑medical sources such as schools, parents, caregivers, social workers, and employers; and other practitioners such as naturopaths, chiropractors, and audiologists.

If the medical evidence provided by your own treating doctor is not enough to determine if you are disabled, Social Security will arrange a consultative examination (CE). Your treating doctor is the preferred medical evidence if he or she is qualified, equipped, and willing to perform the examination for the authorized fee. Even if only a supplemental test is required, the treating source is usually the preferred source for this service. However, Social Security’s rules allow you to use an independent source (other than the treating source) for a CE or diagnostic study to determine your disabling condition.

In evaluating your case, Social Security also considers the effect of symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, or fatigue on your ability to work. Social Security also looks at the following:

·                     your daily activities;

·                     the location, duration, frequency, and intensity of the pain or other symptoms;

·                     factors that can make your condition worse;

·                     the type, dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of any medication;

·                     treatments (other than medications) to relieve the pain or other symptoms; and

·                     any measures you use or have used to relieve pain or other symptoms.

Appeal Rights

If your Social Security application is denied for any reason and you disagree with that decision, you can appeal. If you wish to appeal, you must make your request in writing to Social Security within 60 days of receiving your denial letter.

Hot Tip: Appeal, appeal, appeal! Many Social Security cases are won on appeal. So, appeal your Social Security case if you are denied. Do not give up!

Generally, there are four levels of appeal:

•          reconsideration

•          hearing by an administrative law judge

•          review by the Appeals Council

•          federal court review

Some people choose to handle their own Social Security appeal. But normally, most people hire an experienced Social Security lawyer to represent them. Our law firm will not charge or collect a fee from you unless we win your case. If you want more information about our legal representation, please feel free to contact our office at (864) 467-0503 or toll-free at (888) 882-4878. You can also visit our website at www.richeyandrichey.com.

Hot Tip: If you have previously applied for Social Security, you can request Social Security to reopen a previous application. Reopening previous applications can greatly increase your Social Security benefits.

If you are denied when you first file your Social Security application, do not get discouraged or angry. Instead, appeal your case. Most Social Security cases are denied at the initial level and must be appealed.

The first level of appeal in most states is reconsideration. Most Social Security lawyers find the reconsideration stage useless. Very few cases are awarded disability at the reconsideration stage. Still, Social Security requires a reconsideration of a Social Security application in most states.

If your Social Security application is denied at the reconsideration level, you should request a hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ). Most Social Security disability cases are awarded benefits at this level. At this appeal level, I highly recommend that you hire an experienced Social Security lawyer, because you will be appearing before a judge.

A Social Security hearing normally lasts about one hour. At the hearing, the judge will take your personal testimony as to why you feel you are disabled and unable to work. You can also ask friends and relatives to attend this hearing with you to provide further testimony and evidence to support your disability case.

Hot Tip: While your Social Security case is pending, please be careful about what you post on your social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. These social media accounts may be open to the general public. Many employers, Social Security employees, and organizations such as insurance companies may read your posts, comments, and videos. These posts and videos could even be used by Social Security to prove you are not disabled. So, you may want to avoid such social media activity during your Social Security case, or keep your posts and videos private.

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