How can I afford to pay a social security disability lawyer?
If your claim for Social Security disability benefits has been denied and you want to appeal, then you might be thinking of hiring a lawyer. Although preparing, filing, documenting and appealing a claim for Social Security disability benefits can be expensive and time-consuming, the good news is that you might not have to pay anything unless your lawyer recovers benefits for you.
Many disability lawyers, such as John T. Nicholson, work on contingency. For example, suppose that a disability attorney with offices in Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton and Springfield, Ohio takes on a new client whose initial application for Social Security benefits was denied by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). The client has very little money, so the attorney agrees to work on contingency. This means that the attorney charges no up-front payment and no monthly or installment payments. Instead, the attoney’s fee will be paid from whatever benefits she recovers for her client. If the attorney does not recover any benefits for her client, then her client owes her nothing (the attorney’s client might have to pay for expenses along the way, such as photocopying of records).
Furthermore, the SSA has established strict rules about how, and how much, disability lawyers may be paid—even if they are working on contingency. For any contingency fee agreement made after June 22, 2009, a disability lawyer may only be paid 25% of past-due benefits or $6,000.00, whichever is less.
Suppose that Attorney’s new client had filed an application for Social Security disability benefits. The SSA denied the application, so the client hired Attorney to handle the appeal. If Attorney wins the appeal, then her client will receive disability benefits not only from that point onward, but also retroactively from the date on which the SSA determines that Attorney’s client officially became disabled. In other words, a successful appeal means that the client would receive future disability benefits and past-due disability benefits. Because Attorney represented his client on contingency, under the SSA’s rules she would receive 25% of the past-due benefits she won for her client, up to a maximum of $6,000.00.
The appeal described in the example would be heard by the SSA itself, not in a regular court of law (an example of a court of law is the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, or the Dayton Municipal Court). Different rules apply to attorney’s fees in other kinds of cases. For instance, cases in state or federal courts of law are not subject to the same rules. Also, some cases involving overpayments (i.e. the SSA mistakenly pays more benefits than it owes to someone) are not subject to the 25% or $6,000.00 limit.
This discussion of attorney’s fees in Social Security disability cases is a simplified example. The SSA has established detailed rules that include exceptions which might apply in your case. In addition, not all disability lawyers work on contingency. If you want to appeal a denial of an application for Social Security disability benefits, or if you simply have questions about Social Security, then you should speak with a lawyer who focuses on Social Security law by filling out our free consultation form.
What is residual functional capacity?
In Social Security parlance, the term “residual functional capacity” refers to the remaining abilities of someone who has a disability, after taking the disability into account. For example, imagine that you were paralyzed from the waist down and could not walk. The Code of Federal Regulations would define your residual functional capacity as “the most you can still do despite your limitations.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.945 (2010).
The term “residual functional capacity” also refers to a pair of forms, one for assessing mental residual functional capacity, and one for assessing physical residual functional capacity. When someone files an application seeking Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) or Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) on the basis of a disability, Disability Determination Services (a network of local Social Security Administration field offices and state agencies) evaluates the applicant’s residual functional capacity using these forms.
Suppose that Nathan Bonaparte, who lives in Beavercreek, Ohio, has been blinded permanently as the result of an accident at work. If he decided to apply for SSDI benefits, then he could apply online, by mail, by telephone or in person at a Social Security Administration field office. His application would be evaluated by an examiner working for the Social Security Administration. The examiner would evaluate Nathan’s application based on non-medical eligibility requirements, such as age, employment, marital status and so on. After that, Nathan’s application would next be reviewed by Disability Determination Services (“DDS”).
DDS would then make the initial determination of whether Nathan qualified as disabled for purposes of SSDI benefits. To make this determination, DDS would rely on the medical information provided by Nathan and, depending on whether Nathan provided sufficient documentation, on a consultative examination conducted by physicians working for DDS. Although Nathan’s disability might not automatically qualify him to receive SSDI benefits, DDS might determine that he qualified as the result of limited residual functional capacity. In other words, if Nathan’s residual functional capacity were not sufficient to allow him to return to his job, or to find a new job, then he might be approved for SSDI benefits.
The analysis of residual functional capacity can be complicated, particularly if an applicant has more than one disability or medical condition. Unfortunately, DDS denies applications more often than it approves them. If you have questions about applying for SSDI or SSI benefits, or if your application has been denied and you want to appeal, then you should speak with an attorney who specializes in Social Security issues. If you would like more information or have been wrongfully denied Social Security Benefits then call the Law Offices of John T. Nicholson at 1-800-596-1533 or complete our online free consultation form.
How to collect Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits at the same time?
Can I collect Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits at the same time?
The Social Security Administration runs two programs that provide disability benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). SSDI pays disability benefits to “insured workers.” An “insured worker,” for purposes of SSDI, is someone who pays FICA taxes (“FICA” stands for “Federal Insurance Contributions Act”). SSDI also pays benefits for the disabled children of insured workers, so long as the children became disabled before they reached the age of 22, as well as to the disabled surviving spouses of deceased insured workers.
SSI, on the other hand, pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have little or no income, or other financial resources. The program also provides benefits to adults without disabilities who are age 65 or older and whose financial means fall within the applicable limits.
As an example, suppose that Edith Keeler, who rents an apartment in Springfield, Ohio, is 45 years old, is unmarried and has liver cancer. Her medical condition has forced her to stop working, leaving her with no income.
Edith decides to apply for disability benefits. She visits a Social Security Administration field office and submits an application. An examiner reviews her application and then forwards it to Disability Determination Services (“DDS”). DDS, a network of local Social Security Administration field offices and state agencies, is responsible for determining whether an applicant for disability benefits has a disability that qualifies under the applicable rules. In Edith’s case, DDS determines that she is disabled. Therefore, she is eligible to receive SSDI benefits.
In order to be eligible to receive SSI benefits, Edith’s financial resources and monthly income—including her SSDI benefits—must be less than the corresponding amounts established under the Social Security Administration’s guidelines. All of the property that Edith owns (for example, bank accounts, cars, cash, real estate, and stocks and bonds) constitutes her “resources.” Edith rents her apartment and does not own any real estate, nor does she own any stocks or bonds. She does own one car worth $1,500.00, and she has $250.00 in a checking account. Edith otherwise owns no property. She also has no income because she is unemployed as the result of her medical condition.
Currently, the limit on the value of a single applicant’s resources (property, in plain language) is $2,000.00. Some resources, however, are exempt and do not count towards this limit. Among other things, an applicant can exempt one house and one car. Accordingly, Edith has resources worth only a total of $250.00 (the balance in her checking account) because her car is exempt.
With respect to the monthly income limit, the Social Security Administration uses a formula to determine eligibility. The value of Edith’s resources is under the limit, and because Edith has no income, she would probably be eligible to receive SSI benefits.
Given that Edith is disabled for purposes of SSDI, and given that her financial resources and income are under the limits applicable to SSI, Edith is eligible to receive both SSDI benefits and SSI benefits. The total amount of Edith’s monthly benefit, however, cannot be more than the maximum possible benefit that she would receive from SSI alone. For 2011, the maximum monthly SSI benefit for a single recipient is $674.00.
In other words, were Edith to receive $600.00 per month in SSDI benefits, then her total monthly benefit would still be $674.00, which would consist of $600.00 per month from SSDI and $74.00 per month from SSI. Were Edith eligible to receive $700.00 per month from SSDI, then she would not be eligible to receive any SSI benefits.
ssi payment amount Applying for either of these programs can be complicated, and qualifying is often difficult. The examples above have been simplified and are offered only to give a very basic understanding of SSDI and SSI. In fact, a significant percentage of applications in Ohio are initially denied by the Social Security Administration. When an application is denied, however, the applicant has the right to appeal. If you would like more information or have been wrongfully denied Social Security Benefits then call the Law Offices of John T. Nicholson at 1-800-596-1533 or complete our online free consultation form.
Can I draw early retirement benefits from Social Security and receive Social Security Disability Insurance benefits at the same time?
Lately, a number of my clients have asked me whether they can receive early retirement benefits from Social Security and, at the same time, also receive Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) benefits. Believe it or not, the answer is “yes” in many cases. Suppose that Susan B. Anthony, who is currently 62 years old and lives in Troy, Ohio, worked for 30 years at the Spacely Sprockets factory in Wilmington. She has leukemia, and as a result of her condition, she had to stop working on June 1, 2010. At that time, she did not apply for SSDI benefits. Now that she has reached age 62, she would like to begin drawing early retirement benefits from Social Security. She also wants to apply for SSDI benefits.
Normally, were Susan to elect to draw early retirement benefits, the amount she would receive would be reduced by 25% compared to drawing benefits at full retirement age. For example, if Susan would have received a monthly retirement benefit of $1,000.00 had she retired at age 66 (the full retirement age for someone born in 1949), then her monthly early retirement benefit would be $750.00. If she were married, then her spouse’s benefit would be reduced by 30%. Furthermore, Susan’s monthly benefit would not increase once she reached full retirement age—the 25% reduction would be permanent.
In Susan’s case, however, she stopped working as the result of her disability. Because her disability forced her to stop working before she reached full retirement age (again, Susan is currently 62; her full retirement age would have been 66), Susan could effectively receive her full retirement benefit if her application for SSDI benefits is approved.
Assume that Susan began drawing her early retirement benefits shortly after her 62nd birthday, which was July 1, 2011. She then applied for SSDI benefits. On her application, she listed June 1, 2010, as the date on which her disability began. A decision on an application for SSDI benefits usually takes several months, and can sometimes take longer. Suppose, therefore, that the Social Security Administration approves Susan’s application for SSDI benefits on December 1, 2011, and that it determines that Susan’s disability began on June 1, 2010.
In this scenario, Susan would be paid her SSDI benefits retroactively from January, 2011, through July, 2011—when she started receiving her early retirement benefits. Then, for August, 2011, through December, 2011, Susan would be paid the difference between her early retirement benefit, which she already received, and her full retirement benefit. From December, 2011, onward, Susan would receive SSDI payments in the amount of her full, monthly retirement benefit. Effectively, because Susan’s early retirement was the product of her disability, the Social Security Administration treats her as if she had stopped working at her full retirement age.
Keep in mind that the foregoing example only applies when the Social Security Administration approves an application for SSDI benefits. For instance, had her application for SSDI benefits had been denied, Susan would have received only her reduced, early retirement benefit.
In addition, the amount of Susan’s monthly benefit would also have been different had the Social Security Administration determined that her disability began on a later date. Had the Social Security Administration determined that Susan’s disability began on September 1, 2011, then Susan would be treated as if she retired two months early (i.e. full retirement age less, less two months). In other words, if the date on which Susan’s disability officially began (as determined by the Social Security Administration) came before the date on which she stopped working, then she would be treated as if she had stopped working at her full retirement age. On the other hand, if the date on which her disability officially began came after the date on which she stopped working, then she would be treated as if she had retired early.
Drawing Social Security early retirement benefits and receiving SSDI benefits at the same time is possible. For some, this is the best option. For others, waiting until full retirement age to begin drawing benefits is the best option. If you have questions about early retirement and SSDI benefits please contact the Law Offices of John T. Nicholson at 1-800-596-1533 for a free consultation.
Can a Child Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits?
Many parents and guardians with children under the age of 18 wonder whether their children could qualify for Social Security disability benefits. Disabled children under the age of 18 can qualify for benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) program, which is administered by the Social Security Administration, depending on the nature of their disabilities, on their income, and on the resources available to them. According to 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i), a child under the age of 18 is disabled if the child “has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, which results in marked and severe functional limitations, and 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.” In simpler language, a “disability” for purposes of SSI benefits must be a very serious medical condition that will last for at least one year. For example, a child who suffers from partial or total paralysis, or from mental retardation, could qualify for SSI benefits. A child with a broken leg, however, would likely not qualify.
In addition to satisfying the definition of “disabled,” a child may not earn more than a certain amount from employment. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(ii) states that a child under the age of 18 who “engages in substantial gainful activity” does not satisfy the definition of “disabled.” This means that a child who is employed and who earns more than $1,000.00 per month from employment would not qualify for SSI benefits in 2011 (the limit on a child’s total monthly income changes every year). At the same time, a child who is unemployed, or who is employed but earns less than $1,000.00 per month, could qualify.
Further, a determination of a child’s eligibility for SSI benefits also involves the income of the child’s parents or guardians. This part of the eligibility determination can be relatively complicated, but in short, a child whose parents or guardians could be described as among the working poor would probably qualify, whereas a child whose parents could be described as among the middle or upper class would probably not qualify (or would qualify for only minimal benefits).
Normally, a determination of eligibility can take three to five months. Children with certain conditions, however, can qualify for immediate benefit payments while the determination is pending. Examples of conditions that would qualify a child to receive immediate payments include cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, HIV infection, muscular dystrophy, total blindness and total deafness.
Although the Social Security Administration publishes a number of self-help guides regarding the eligibility of children for SSI benefits, the process of applying for SSI benefits can be complex. If you have questions about whether your child could be eligible to receive benefits, then you should consider a free consultation with an attorney focusing in Social Security law.