Applying for disability is a challenging task that can take many months to complete. Here at Michles & Booth, we help many individuals apply for social security disability. We often are asked these 6 questions when someone is considering getting help applying for disability. We want to take a moment to discuss these questions with you.
How do I know when I need to hire a disability attorney?
This is obviously one of the first conversations I have with people. Generally speaking, when you need to hire an attorney is before you start the process of applying for Social Security Disability. I tell people all the time that coming in before they’ve even stopped working, while they’re just exploring their options, is honestly the best time to do it.
If you have a medical condition that’s already affecting your ability to work, if you’re missing time, if you know that at some time that this is going to affect you, that it could knock you out of work, if you’re in the position where that’s foreseeable, you should talk with an attorney.
A lot of time there’s an accident that’s a severe accident – you get in a car wreck or something, and you just don’t see it coming. In that case, see an attorney as soon as you can. But, if you see it coming, go ahead and talk to an attorney. Talk to them early so that they can start to work out a plan so you know what to expect. You can start to prepare for it.
So you can’t really speak to an attorney too soon. Once you’ve made the decision that it’s time to apply for disability, that’s when you need to be going to talk to an attorney. Here at Michles & Booth, we can do the application for you. I highly recommend letting an attorney do the application for you if at all possible.
An attorney cannot do an SSI application, and you can look at some of our other blogs for the difference between SSI and SSDI. SSDI applications can be done online, and I would highly recommend allowing us to do the application for that. There’s a lot of nuanced terms and trick questions in there that it’s just best to have an attorney when you’re filling that out.
When is it best to hire an attorney?
As quickly as possible. It’s always best to get an attorney involved as quickly as possible. There’s a lot of red tape and let us deal with it. That’s what we’re good at.
How much is that going to cost me?
The way attorneys get paid is set by statute and is standard across all attorney and even non-attorney representatives. It is contingency which means if we don’t get you anything, it doesn’t cost you anything. An attorney can work your case for dozens of hours and, if you don’t get disability, you don’t get a bill at the end. So, if you don’t get any benefits, it doesn’t cost you anything.
If you do get benefits, the way attorneys get paid is 25% of your back benefit or $6000, whichever is smaller. So, if it takes Social Security 12 months to figure it out and they take 12 months to pay you. The attorney would get three months, and you would get nine months of that first check, your back paycheck. However, your attorney’s fee cannot be more than $6,000. It’s the lower of 25% of back pay / your first check or $6,000, whichever is smaller.
Social Security will withhold that so, once your attorney lets Social Security know that he or she is representing you, Social Security will withhold 25% of that first check and send it to your attorney, then they will send 75% to you. Social Security will not withhold costs. Usually, your attorney will be pulling medical records for your case; if you’ve been to the hospital, they’ll put hospital records, and those records cost money, $.25 to $1 a page.
Your attorney will send you a ledger showing where that money went, how much the costs were and you would be asked to reimburse those costs out of your portion – your 75% that you get. Social Security will withhold the 25% but will not withhold the costs, and you would be responsible for that.
What if I can’t afford doctor’s bills and other bills during the case?
This is another big question that comes up all the time. As far as doctor bills go, there’s a lot of free clinics especially if you’re in our area, the Escambia-Santa Rosa County area. The Escambia Community Clinic is a great resource. There’s a lot of clinics and this is another reason to talk to an attorney as quickly as possible. The attorneys will know where the free and low-cost clinics are in the area, but you’re going to have to go to a doctor.
For SSD, there are no Letters of Protection which is where the doctor will just agree to be paid afterward if you win. Those are available in motor vehicle accidents. They’re not available in Social Security; so, you’re going to have to come out-of-pocket for your medical expenses or you’re going to have to find a free or low-cost clinic.
You are allowed to work while applying for disability.
As far as other bills, you’re allowed to work when you’re applying and receiving disability. The amount you can earn is limited. It’s approximately $250 a week gross. So, you can work a little bit part-time to help you with bills during the case. You can check out our blog post about working while applying for disability for more information.
You can work a little bit to help pay bills but, for the most part, you’re going to be responsible for paying the bills, both doctor bills and your personal bills while you’re waiting for a decision from the judge.
How long will it take to get a decision and to start receiving disability benefits?
This is really one of the big problems with Social Security. From when you apply to when you see a judge, an administrative law judge, is anywhere from 24 to 30 months in our district. Longer in other districts, slightly shorter in other districts, but national average right around two years before you see the judge. During that time period, you have to keep going to the doctor, you got to keep paying your bills, so it’s difficult but you’re looking at an average wait time of 24 to 30 months before you get a decision.
Fortunately, the silver lining to that dark cloud is the disability benefits usually show up about a month after the decision is made. Once the judge approves your benefits, the benefits start to flow almost immediately.
One of the things that can be confusing is when the benefits start. A lot of people think that the waiting period starts when they get that judge’s order. However, it actually starts back when you applied, so your benefits will start immediately. There is a five month waiting period on cash benefits but if you’ve waited 30 months to get to the hearing, your waiting period is already 25 months past so your benefits will start immediately.
If you have waited 25 or 30 months, your Medicare will start immediately. There’s a 24-month waiting period on Medicare for your health insurance but, if you’ve waited 24 or 30 months to get to the hearing, you’ve already waited past your waiting period. So, the silver lining is that, while it takes a long time to get a decision, usually by the time that decision is made your waiting periods are gone and your benefits will start immediately.
Get Help Today!
If you have any questions about applying for SSD, we are always available for a free no obligation consultation. Please don’t hesitate to give us a call at 1(800) 438-3606.
View the related video here:
View the related slidedeck: Social Security Disability FAQ.