Q & A

Ask Rusty – Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits

Dear Rusty:  My question is how to apply for disability? I suffer from blepharospasms (facial dystonia) of both eyes, non-diabetic neuropathy in both feet and lower legs, and have a hearing loss related to my occupation as a police officer (now retired). I also suffer from an old injury that occurred while on duty to my lower back which inhibits my ability to lift anything very heavy or be on my feet for very long. Can you please help with the procedures for filing for disability with Social Security?  Signed:  Disabled Public Servant

Dear Disabled Public Servant:  First, I’d like to point out that Social Security Disability isn’t available to anyone who has already reached their Social Security “full retirement age”, or “FRA”.  You didn’t tell me your age, but if you were born anywhere from 1943 to 1954 your full retirement age for Social Security purposes is 66 (up to 67 if your birth year is later).  If you’re older than your FRA now, you can no longer apply for SSDI; in fact, anyone on SSDI automatically converts to retirement benefits when they reach their full retirement age.  If you’re younger than your FRA and totally disabled, you can apply for SSDI benefits online, however we suggest that you instead apply in person at your local office.   I recommend you first get the SSDI starter kit at https://www.ssa.gov/disability/disability_starter_kits_adult_eng.htm .  This kit will tell you everything you need to know about qualifications, and how to apply.  Although you can apply online, applying in person will ensure the process is fully initiated as early as possible.  You can find your local office information at www.ssa.gov/locator.  You should be aware that about 2/3rds of initial applications are denied, but there is an appeals process you can pursue if that happens.  It could take several months for an initial decision and, if denied, 1 to 2 years for the appeals process to play out.  Be aware too than the qualifications for SSDI are quite stringent, including not only that you’re physically disabled but also that you have earned disability benefits by paying SSDI premiums via withheld FICA taxes from recent employment.  Your entitlement to SSDI benefits can expire; you must have worked in SS-covered employment at least 5 of the last 10 years to be eligible.  As you can see, SSDI can be quite complicated which is why many people choose to engage a Social Security Disability lawyer to facilitate the process.  An SSDI lawyer should not charge a retainer or any upfront fees, and Federal law limits the amount a disability lawyer can charge in contingency fees. The fee is limited to no more than 25% of any retroactive benefit you are awarded, up to 12 months or $6,000, whichever is lower. The amount of back-pay depends on the onset date of your disability and when you filed for your benefits. Lawyers’ contingency agreements do not require you to pay any fees unless you win; however some attorneys will charge a nominal fee (usually around $100) for expenses such as paperwork, regardless of whether or not you win. Be sure to check the agreement before you sign it.  Thank you for your service, and good luck with your application for Social Security Disability benefits.

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