By David S. Bross, Esquire
The Social Security Disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) entitlement programs are the product of the first major expansion of the Social Security Act in 1954. These programs were radically expanded by amendments to the Social Security Act in 1957, 1960, 1965 and 1967.
I continue to be amazed, despite the fact that these important programs have now been in existence for many years, at how little the American public really understands about such an important component of the federal program which most directly affects the greatest number of Americans. Here are a few of the most common myths, which many people have come to believe as truth:
Myth #1: “You have to be disabled for a year before you can apply for Social Security Disability/SSI.” False. Confusion about this alleged requirement stems from the definition of disability, which provides that you must have an “impairment, which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” While the law requires proof that you have been disabled or expect to be disabled for at least one year, there is nothing in the law that says you cannot apply for benefits earlier than this. My general advice has always been to apply for disability benefits as soon as you and your doctor expect that you will likely be unable to work in any capacity for at least one year. Unnecessary waiting to apply only prolongs what is already a very lengthy process.
Myth #2: “You can not apply for Social Security Disability benefits while you are getting workers compensation.” False. Not only is this belief not true, but also I’ve noticed that some workers’ compensation lawyers have the same misconception. While it is correct that, if you do receive Social Security Disability benefits after receiving workers compensation, your disability benefit may be reduced (the “workers’ compensation offset” rule), there is nothing in the law that prevents someone from getting both benefits. Of course, because the laws governing these two programs differ greatly, remember that entitlement to workers’ compensation does not assure qualification for Social Security Disability.
Myth #3: “Everyone who applies for Social Security Disability/SSI is denied the first time.” False. According to the Office of Disability Programs, 36% of initial claims are allowed (granted). This means that roughly two-thirds of claims are initially denied, but certainly a significant percentage of people have their disability applications approved without the need to appeal. Note: The percentage of denied initial claims for persons under the age of 50 is considerably higher than those over age 50.
Myth #4: “Everybody gets denied the first time but wins when they go before a judge.” False. As an attorney who tries hearings before judges on a regular basis, I only wish this was true. The fact is, the judges who hear disability cases — for any number of reasons — frequently deny claims. Among the most frustrating telephone calls I receive are from people who appealed their disability denials and went before a judge without an attorney, after being told by someone that all they need to do is “show up” at a hearing and they would win. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although it is statistically true that your chances of obtaining benefits improve when you appear before a judge, this is hardly a guarantee of success, and, without a Social Security attorney to effectively prepare your case and represent you at the hearing, you may lose your best opportunity to prove and win your claim.
If you have questions, I suggest you call your local Social Security office or the National Social Security toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213. You may also obtain helpful information by logging on to www.socialsecurity.gov. If, however, you still have questions, a Social Security attorney can be your best source of accurate information.