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A Guide to SS Benefits

A Guide to Social Security Benefits Outlined by Premier Tampa Social Security Attorney

With 5 Tampa Bay offices, we serve clients seeking Social Security benefits in Clearwater, Tampa, New Port Richey, Springhill and Bradenton

In September 2006, 6.7 million Americans received an average of $944.90 in Social Security Disability Benefits. During that same month, 7.2 million Americans received Supplemental Security Income payments at an average of $453.50. The latest statistics available from the Social Security Administration show that as of December 2004, 377,030 Floridians received some type of disability benefit from Social Security.[1]

While the Social Security Administration has a website full of practical information, the process of filing for and appealing decisions made by the Administration can be a frustrating and daunting process. The purpose of this article is to provide you with some background. The best recommendation to ensure successful case results is to contact an experienced Tampa Social Security attorney at the Tampa Bay law firm of Carlson, Meissner, Hart & Hayslett, P.A. for a free initial consultation and case review. We keep your best interest in mind and fight for your rights to SS benefits. 

Types of Social Security Benefits

There are two main types of benefits available from the Social Security Administration:
  1. Social Security Disability Benefits (SSD) 
  2. Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
SSD is available to those individuals who meet the Administration’s criteria of being a disabled person and have earned the status of being an insured person. When you are not an insured person but are still disabled under the Administration’s criteria you may qualify for SSI benefits when you meet a minimum level of assets.

Qualifications for Social Security Disability (SSD)

To qualify for SSD, you must have paid in enough past earnings into the Social Security Administration through payroll taxes to be considered an insured individual. When you earn a certain amount of money and pay Social Security tax on it, you earn credits. For example, in 2006 you earn 1 credit for every $970.00 in wages. To be considered disabled and therefore eligible for benefits you cannot engage in substantial gainful activity (definition: you can’t make more than $830.00 per month for 2006), you can’t do any type of work that you have performed in the last 15 years (supported by the opinion of a doctor), and you will be in this condition for at least 12 months or your condition has not lasted for 12 months but you are terminally ill. It is important to have medical documentation to support your claims that you are unable to work.

Qualifications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

The SSI program is funded by general tax revenue, not by taxes specifically earmarked for Social Security. This program provides disabled individuals money benefits to enable them to meet basic needs. To qualify for SSI you can only have limited assets, meaning that you have these amounts available to you at any given time. Currently, the asset limit is $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 per couple.

Applying for SSD/SSI Benefits

There are three stages in the process for applying for SSD/SSI benefits:
  1. Initial Application
  2. Reconsideration
  3. Hearing
1. Initial Application

The initial application can be completed at your local Social Security office, or on line at www.ssa.gov. Whether you apply in person or on line, it is helpful to have available to you lists of your medications, any doctors that you have seen and copies of all of your medical records. Once a disability determinations officer reviews your application you will either be accepted as disabled or denied. This process takes approximately 30 – 90 days but can take longer.

2. Reconsideration

If you receive an initial denial from Social Security, your next step is to file a Request for Reconsideration. At the time of the Reconsideration Request, you provide Social Security with updated medical and personal information. You may also be asked to submit to an evaluation by a physician contracted by Social Security. This doctor will provide Social Security additional reports and comments regarding his or her opinion about your conditions and your ability to work. Once the additional information is gathered and reviewed by a different disability determinations officer, you will either be accepted as disabled or denied. This process also takes 30 – 90 days but can take longer. It is my recommendation that prior to requesting reconsideration you obtain professional representation.

3. Hearing

If you receive a denial at the Reconsideration stage, the next step in the process is to request a hearing. Currently, the wait to obtain a hearing is somewhere between 18 -24 months. Approximately 2 months prior to your hearing you will receive a list of the exhibits that are contained in your file at Social Security and it is your responsibility to update the Judge who will be hearing your case with any new records prior to the hearing. Some judges also require written memorandum regarding the legal issues involved in your case.

A Social Security attorney makes the process easy and stress free

While an attorney can help you at any point during your application process, if you do not have representation by the time you reach the hearing stage, contact a Social Security attorney from our firm. We have the skills and knowledge to make sure that you are properly represented at the hearing. We know how to elicit testimony from you and any professionals hired by the Administration, including medical and vocational professionals. It is often the case that the issues in Social Security disability cases rise and fall on the skill and savvy of your Social Security attorney, so it is in your best interest to obtain competent representation at this stage.

Some time after the hearing, generally 30 – 90 days, the Administrative Law Judge who heard your case will provide you with a written opinion of the decision made on your case – either Fully Favorable or Unfavorable. If you receive a Fully Favorable decision, great! In the decision will be the date that the judge determined you became disabled and your benefits, either back monetary benefits, future monthly benefits, and Medicare eligibility will be based upon that date. If your decision is Unfavorable, do not worry. There is another stage in the appeal process, review by the Appeals Council. As with other appeals, you must act on this within 60 days to preserve your appeal date. At this stage you ask the Appeals Council to review the Judge’s decision in your case. The Appeals Council has the ability to order a re-hearing on your case or may find that the Judge ruled properly in your case by denying your benefits. If this occurs, then the next step is filing suit in Federal Court.

While the process for obtaining Social Security benefits is arduous, it is important to keep your eyes on the prize, your ultimate monthly benefit and medical care. There are some social services available to assist you while your application is pending, but times may be tough. Representation by a Social Security Attorney makes the process smoother and leads you to a successful ending.

[1] Statistics listed were obtained on the official Social Security Administration website,www.ssa.gov.

[2] There are benefits available for disabled children and some disabled individuals may be able to draw on the insured status of their spouses, either living or dead. For information regarding those claims and individual eligibility, you should contact your local Social Security office.

The law firm of Carlson, Meissner, Hart & Hayslett, P.A. has 5 Tampa Bay office locations to serve you, including ClearwaterTampaBradentonNew Port Richey and SpringHill. We are proud to have more than 125 years of combined experience handling Social Security matters with success. 

Contact an experienced Tampa Social Security attorney today for a free consultation. Call 877-728-9653 or send us an email