Harrisburg Social Security Disability Lawyer
Physical or mental disabilities can affect almost every aspect of your life including your ability to earn a living. If you have a disability that prevents you from working, you may be eligible for Social Security benefits and should discuss your eligibility with an experienced attorney. The Harrisburg Social Security Disability lawyers at the law office of Ira H. Weinstock, P.C. can help you file a claim for the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, or for SSDI in conjunction with a workers’ compensation claim, depending on your circumstances.
Not everyone who claims that they are disabled automatically qualifies for disability benefits from Social Security, however, as the eligibility requirements are strict. When you apply, an examiner from the SSA will review your application and your medical records. Many factors may be considered including the following:
- Your education and training;
- Your vocational skills and experience;
- Your age;
- Your past record of earnings;
- The nature and severity of your impairment; and
- Your ability or inability to work.
Some disabilities are more challenging to prove than others and mental disabilities can be particularly difficult as the medical proof of your impairment is often less material. For example, a spinal injury can be seen on an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan, while most mental impairments are not visible or identifiable via imaging tests. This does not mean that obtaining benefits will be impossible, but instead that it is important to have professional assistance from an attorney when applying.
No matter what type of disability you have, your application should be as thorough as possible and should be accompanied by as much supporting evidence and medical records as possible to fully and accurately represent how much your disability impairs you. It is wise consult with an a skilled Harrisburg social security lawyer before you apply as they can help you put together the most persuasive application file possible.
Assisting You With Social Security Appeals
Less than one-third of SSDI applications are approved, however, the examiner’s decision is not set in stone. Instead, you have a limited amount of time to start the appeals process and have your file reviewed again. There are multiple levels of appeals for Social Security benefits, which include:
- Hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ);
- Review by the Appeals Council; and
- Review by a federal judge.
The appeals process has many different deadlines and requirements and it is imperative to fully understand what is expected from you at every stage. Our experienced Social Security lawyers can help you request your appeal, represent you in your hearing, and more.
Harrisburg Social Security Disability Benefits – How is Eligibility Determined?
Are you thinking about applying for Social Security Disability Benefits? The Social Security Administration will utilize a five step process to evaluate your claim and determine if you are disabled. The following five factors will be determined:
- Whether you have been engaged in work activity, referred to as “substantial gainful activity.” Whatever the health condition, earnings over a certain amount are a clear indication that you are able to work. Note that unearned income, such as income from investments, does not count toward this amount.
- Whether you have a severe impairment. A severe impairment can be any condition that significantly limits physical or mental capacities to perform work activity. The severe impairment must last or be expected to last 12 months or more, or result in death. The lack of a severe impairment will result in denial of the claim. If you are determined to have a severe impairment, the Social Security Administration will move on to the third step.
- Whether a specific medical condition involved meets or equals one of the “listings.” If the condition you have is not listed, the Administration will look to the most closely analogous listed impairment. The listings are found in 20 CFR Sub-part (P). They are separated and categorized by systems of the body, such as the digestive system, immune system, respiratory system, and cardiovascular system. If the condition is severe enough to meet a listing, the claim should be granted at that step. If the condition does not meet or equal a listing, the evaluator moves on to the fourth step below.
- Whether, even despite the impairment(s) the claimant can perform past relevant work, or that type of work as generally performed in the economy. Note that when determining the skills and abilities obtained from past relevant work, Social Security may only look back at work you have performed in the fifteen years prior to the date you are claiming you became disabled. If you cannot perform work in such occupations, the evaluator still moves on to the last step to determining disability.
- Whether the Claimant can perform any other kind of work that exists in the economy. If a sufficient number of jobs exist in the economy that can be performed despite the impairment(s), the claimant will be found not to be disabled. If there is no work that can be performed in view of the impairment(s), the claim should be granted.
In determining whether there is work that the claimant can perform, however, Social Security makes certain assumptions that can work in your favor. This is especially true if you are physically impaired and have reached on or more of the age milestones of 50, 55, and 60.
Social Security Disability: How Does Age Affect Eligibility?
Your age can play a large role in your eligibility for Social Security Disability benefits. Depending on the type of occupations you had in the past 15 years, at certain ages, especially over 50, 55 and 60 years of age, you may not have to demonstrate that there are limited or no jobs in the economy that you can perform. At these milestones, Social Security may utilize what are known as the “grid rules.” Keep in mind that past relevant work considerations still apply (see Step 4 here [link]), so if you had performed work within your restrictions in the past 15 years, the grid rules will not be used.
The grid rules take into account your skill and education levels, in the social security disability determination process. Generally, at or above 50 years of age, a high school graduate without additional specialized training or education or transferable skills is considered disabled if the physical limitations restrict possible work to the sedentary level. This generally is in the range of a less than 10 pound lifting or carrying restriction.
Your work may be characterized as something heavier than sedentary. “Light work” is generally work within a 20 pound restriction, and may require significant time standing. “Medium work” can mean lifting up to a maximum of 50 pounds. “Heavy work” can require lifting up to 100 pounds.”
Your age will classify you as “a younger individual,” as “closely approaching advanced age,” or “advanced age.” A younger individual is under 50 years of age, an individual closely approaching advanced age is at least 50 but not yet 55, and an individual of advanced age is at least 55 years old. There are also different rules pertaining to individuals over age 60 (approaching retirement age). If you have significant physical limitations on your ability to work and have attained any of these age thresholds, you would do well to see an attorney who can guide you through the rules and help you understand how they might apply to your situation.
Social Security Disability & Wage Records
Social Security Disability claimants often question the records Social Security has of their earnings after filing a claim or obtaining benefits. Ensuring that Social Security has accurate records of your earnings is something that is best checked on a yearly basis, and not many years later after obtaining benefits. The Social Security Administration itself recommends doing so at least every three years. If your wage information is incorrect, it can affect that amount of disability benefits you are entitled to and it can also impact whether you have enough work quarters to be eligible to receive any Social Security Disability benefits. Checking your wage information is relatively simple and free. You may be receiving written statements by mail at five year intervals between ages 25 and 60 that include your wage history. Also, you can check your yearly reported earnings at Social Security’s website by setting up an account. Be aware that if you sign up for an account online with Social Security, you will no longer receive written statements of your earnings history.
If you find an error in Social Security’s records of your earnings, you will need to contact your local Social Security office and provide evidence as to your correct taxed earnings in order to have the error corrected. The best evidence of your earnings is your W-2 form(s) for the year(s) in question. If a W-2 is provided and any other evidence contradicts the information in the W-2, the information on the W-2 is considered to be the accurate source. If you do not have your W-2 forms for the years in question, you may be able to obtain them from your employer.
If you can’t provide a W-2 form, other acceptable evidence includes an end-of-year pay stub, or a detailed signed statement by your employer, preferably on the employer’s letterhead. Such a statement must indicate the position and authority of the person making the statement, the position and identifying information for the employee including your Social Security number, and an explanation as to whether the employer submitted the information at the time. If the employer did not submit the same information at the time, Social Security will require an explanation for any difference from the information now being provided. Social Security may request that the employer fill out a form designed for this purpose. Be aware that 1099 forms are not acceptable evidence of wages.
If you are thinking about applying for Social Security Disability benefits and are unsure if you have enough wages or quarters of work to be eligible, contact our office to speak to an experienced Harrisburg Social Security Disability lawyer.
Social Security Disability & SSI
One of the most frequent causes for confusion on the part of applicants for Social Security is the existence of two separate programs: Social Security Disability and SSI. One program (Supplemental Security Income) includes a means test, while the other (Social Security Disability) requires coverage based on the number of calendar quarters worked. In addition, it is possible to apply for both, and to receive rejection letters from one or both. Below is a summary of the requirements and distinguishing features for each.
Social Security Disability requires that the applicant have paid enough quarters of Social Security taxes in order to be covered under the program, usually about one quarter of coverage for each year after age 21, and also be currently insured, which usually requires having sufficient work for 20 of the previous 40 quarters (half of the last 10 years). A successful application for Social Security Disability has a significant added benefit of Medicare coverage after two years of benefit entitlement. If you have not worked a sufficient number of quarters or a sufficient number of quarters in the past 10 years, your application may be rejected without a determination of whether or not you are actually disabled.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) may be available to an applicant who has very limited or no income, and limited resources. Currently, a single applicant cannot have assets of more than $2,000 (Social Security describes these as “resources”), and a married couple cannot have assets greater than $3,000. Not all types of property and income count toward these limits. If you have too much income or resources, your application may be rejected whether or not you are disabled, but you may still be eligible for Social Security Disability depending on your work history.
There are other differences between the programs, but it is important to remember that the medical requirements to prove disability are the same. You must be able to demonstrate an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of your medically determinable physical or mental impairment. That condition must be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months or to result in death.
Social Security Disability has a five full month waiting period from the onset of disability for receiving benefits, while Supplemental Security Income permits payments beginning as soon as all requirements are met. However, there is no retroactivity applied earlier than the application date for Supplemental Security Income, while Social Security Disability can accrue retroactively to one year prior to the application, provided all the requirements were met.
In at least two instances you may be eligible for both programs. First, if your income and resources are sufficiently limited, you could receive SSI during the course of the SSD waiting period. Also, if your benefits under Social Security Disability are sufficiently low, SSI may be added to it up to a certain benefit amount, again assuming very limited other income or resources.
Harrisburg Social Security Hearings
A common question asked by Social Security claimants is what to expect at a hearing. A hearing takes place after you have been denied Social Security Disability or Supplemental Income benefits and submitted an appeal. There is a difference between SSI and SSDI, which we explain in another post or review our Harrisburg Social Security lawyer page. The wait time between the appeal and the hearing can often exceed a year. Each judge may run his or her hearings differently, but some of the more common elements can be found below.
Typically, a hearing office will have a waiting area and attorney-client conference rooms. After you as the claimant sign in, you may be handed a CD. This CD contains all of the documents submitted up to that point in your case. You may also be asked if you have anything additional for the judge. This is the time to submit any recent records you may have obtained, if you have not submitted them already. When your hearing is set to begin, an assistant will take you to the hearing room.
In the hearing room will be the judge, a court reporter, who may also be referred to as the hearing assistant, and a vocational expert. Many people perceive that the vocational expert is there to testify against them, but the vocational expert is supposed to be impartial in order to aid the judge by providing testimony about jobs that a person with your medical restrictions can or cannot do. It is becoming more common for hearings to be held by video conference. If your hearing might be held by video conference, you will receive a notice of this well in advance. The notice will also give you the opportunity to object to the video conference and have your hearing held in front of a live judge. In some cases, it is to your advantage to have your hearing held with a judge present rather than by video, depending on your medical conditions, location, and other factors. If you receive this notice, you may want to contact a lawyer with experience in your area to help you determine whether or not you should object to the video conference format.
The judge will begin by explaining the hearing procedure. If you are not represented, the judge may also remind you that you have a right to be represented by a lawyer, and ask you if you want to proceed without one. If you tell the judge that you want a lawyer but have not obtained one yet for whatever reason, the judge may stop the hearing and allow you to obtain a lawyer for subsequent hearing. If you are not completely confident in your ability to present your case to the Judge, we highly recommend that you take this opportunity.
When the hearing begins, the judge will usually ask you questions about your education and past work, your daily activities, your medical treatment and your limitations. It is important that you describe all of your limitations. The judge may then ask you if there is anything else that you want the judge to know, or turn questioning over to your lawyer, if you have one. The attorney will ask you any questions needed to bring out helpful information that the judge has not already asked you about.
After you or your lawyer have finished, the judge will ask the vocational expert about your past work. The judge will ask the vocational expert hypothetical questions typically based on what the judge might find your limitations to be. The first set of questions will be about whether a person with your limitations can do any of your previous types of jobs. If the vocational expert says that a person with your limitations cannot do any work like your previous jobs, the judge will ask whether a person with the same limitations can perform any jobs in the economy. Depending on your age [hyperlink age affect social security eligibility article], the judge may restrict the questioning to any jobs in the economy at certain exertional or strength levels. If the vocational expert answers yes, the judge will ask for examples.
The judge may repeat the questioning to the vocational expert using different physical or mental limitations, and the answers might be the same or different. In the best case scenario, the judge will find your actual limitations to match his or her questions to which the vocational expert says there are no jobs that could be done.
Next will be your opportunity to ask the vocational expert questions. Depending on the vocational expert’s answers to the judge’s questions, the attorney may ask questions about the jobs mentioned by the vocational expert, and may ask hypothetical questions like the judge, except with limitations that you or your attorney think the judge should find better match your actual limitations.
The questions to the vocational expert are in order to determine if you meet the fourth and fifth factors to obtain Social Security Disability. After the vocational expert questioning is finished, the judge will often ask if your attorney has a closing statement or if you have anything else to tell the judge. That will end the hearing. You should know that this procedure can vary somewhat from region to region, and therefore that it is important for you to have a Social Security Disability lawyer who is familiar with the process in your area.
Frequently Asked Questions: Pennsylvania Social Security Disability Claims
How is my eligibility determined?
Your eligibility for Social Security Disability Benefits will be determined by a number of factors. Social Security uses a five step process to determine your eligibility. You may be found eligible because the severity your condition meets the requirements set forth in the regulations. Depending on your age and inability to perform work related tasks, you may also be found eligible based upon regulations known as the “grid rules.” In order to be found eligible, you must not be able to perform your past work or other work within certain exertional categories.
Do I have to be a certain age to apply for social security disability?
You do not have to be a certain age to apply for Social Security Disability. If you are under 31 years of age at the time you became disabled, you must meet certain earnings requirements. In general, you should have worked more than one half of the quarters since attaining the age of 21 years. If you are over the age of 31, you should have worked for at least 20 of the prior 40 quarters.
How much will I receive if I am found eligible?
The monthly amount you will receive depends upon your work history and average lifetime earnings. The average amount is slightly under $1200.00. However, based on your earnings, yours could be higher. The maximum amount you may receive is over $2600.00 per month. The formula utilized by Social Security is complexed, but you can access your social security statement online, which will tell you what your approximate benefit would be. Keep in mind that if you are receiving payments resulting from your disability from other sources, the amount of your Social Security benefits could be reduced.
What are some reasons I might be turned down?
There is more than one reason a claimant might be turned down after applying for benefits. Social Security may believe based on the restrictions that apply to you that you can do either your most recent job, or another type of job that you have performed within the past fifteen years. Also, Social Security may have found you unable to work, but claim that the onset of disability occurred while you were not insured. In this case, you may still be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
If I can still work, but I can’t do my old job can I be eligible?
If Social Security determines that you cannot perform your past work, it may determine that there is other work that exists in the economy that you can perform. In this case, you will be found ineligible. Exceptions exist for certain categories of work if you are over certain ages or if the severity of your condition meets the requirements in other regulations.
If I’m turned down initially is there an appeal process?
If you are initially found ineligible for benefits, you have 60 days in which to appeal the decision. This time may be extended for good cause in some circumstances. Therefore, it is a good idea to file your appeal well within that time period, or to have an attorney work with you as soon as possible. You may ask for your denial to be reviewed, or for a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge. The Administrative Law Judge is not bound by the initial determination made in your case, and may find that you are indeed eligible for benefits.
I’m disabled now, but I hope to go back to work. Will I be prevented from going back to work when I’m ready?
You will not be prevented from returning to work when you are ready to do so. However, your benefits will be stopped under certain circumstances. Also, if you earn less than a certain amount, you may continue to receive your benefits. Please see some guidelines and pitfalls to avoid.
If I’m found disabled how long will I collect Social Security Disability?
There is no set time limit for collecting Social Security Benefits. However, the status of your disabling conditions may be reviewed from time to time in order determine your continued eligibility. During the review process, Social Security may determine that your condition has improved sufficiently that there are jobs in the economy that you could do.
When you reach the standard age to receive Social Security Retirement benefits, your benefits will convert to retirement benefits.
Can my case be reviewed if I’m found eligible?
If you are receiving Social Security benefits, your disability status may be reviewed periodically. Continuing Disability Reviews are conducted approximately every three years, unless your condition is such that Social Security determines that you are not likely to improve. Continuing Disability Reviews may also be conducted more often if Social Security determines that your condition could improve more quickly.
Can I get medical insurance if I’m found to be eligible for Social Security Disability?
Once you have been receiving or entitled to receive Social Security Disability Payments for two years, you will automatically be enrolled in Medicare. Be aware that Medicare Part B (which covers doctor visits and outpatient services) will require you to pay a monthly premium, which will be withheld from your Social Security benefit. Medicare Part A (which covers inpatient hospital bills) does not charge a premium.
I haven’t worked much in the last few years. Can I still be eligible for Social Security Disability?
If you have not recently worked, you may still be eligible to receive Social Security Disability. This depends upon your insured status as of the time your disability began. Social Security looks to four factors to determine whether you are insured. Generally, if you are over the age of 31, you will be insured if you have worked 20 of the 40 quarters immediately prior to becoming disabled.
Do I need a lawyer to represent me?
You are not required to have a lawyer represent you in order to apply for Social Security Disability benefits. However, an experienced Harrisburg Social Security lawyer can assist you and advise you as to how to maximize the chances you will be found eligible. In addition, in the event you are denied benefits, you would be well served by obtaining an attorney to assist with your appeal. An experienced Central Pennsylvania lawyer will understand what factors Social Security and its local Administrative Law Judges look to in determining your eligibility.
Consult With A Skilled Harrisburg Social Security Lawyer Today
Social Security Benefits are critical for individuals who cannot earn a living due to a mental or physical disability. Do not risk a wrongful denial of benefits–instead, call the Harrisburg SSD law firm of Ira H. Weinstock, P.C. today. Our experienced Harrisburg Social Security Disability lawyers can assist you throughout every stage of the application and appeals process if necessary. Call for a free consultation at 717-238-1657 as soon as possible.