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Advocates for the Disabled Blog

Posted on: 05/29/13

Gathering Information is the Hard Part!

Planning to apply for Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits online? Here's the good news: the process is relatively simple. The Social Security Administration's (SSA) web site is well designed and easy to navigate. Anyone with minimal web experience should have no trouble:

These five steps should take you no more than 30 seconds, and you are on your way!

Sort of. Here's the bad news. SSA will work hard to make a fair decision on your claim, based on all the evidence available. But YOU must provide much of that evidence. While submitting your claim online, you will enter dozens of pieces of information.

Take a Tip! Make your claim submittal as quick and easy as possible. Gather your information first, and then apply for benefits.

Gather this information:

  • Military Service discharge information (Form DD 214) for all periods of active duty.
  • W-2 Form (or your IRS 1040 and Schedules C and SE if self-employed) from last year.
  • Social Security Number(s) for your spouse and minor children.
  • Checking or savings account number and bank routing number, if you want Direct Deposit for your benefit checks.
  • Name, address and phone number of someone SSA can contact who knows about your medical conditions and can help with your claim.
  • Names, addresses, phone numbers, patient ID numbers, and dates of treatment for all doctors, hospitals, and clinics. You may want to refer to any Medical Records you have.
  • Names of medicines you are taking and who prescribed them. You may want to have your medicine bottles available. Be prepared to list the condition treated by the medicine and side effects, if any.
  • Names and dates of any medical tests, and who sent you for them.
  • Types of jobs and dates you worked for your last 5 jobs.
  • Information about any insurance or workers' compensation claims you filed, such as claim number and name, address and phone number of insurance company.
Even with everything on hand, set aside at least two hours to complete your online application. And good luck!


Posted on: 05/16/13

A Social Security Disability claim can take a long time. Many claimants wait up to two years. It can be a long, lonely process.

Friends and family often ask how they can help their loved one. There are obvious answers, like helping the claimant cope with their physical or mental limitations, or driving them to medical appointments.

But friends and family play an important role in helping Social Security understand the claimant's limitations. After all, doctors see the patient for fifteen minutes every few months. Friends and family see them every day.

Friends and family can capture their observations in letters to Social Security. These letters become part of the claimant's case file, and are carefully considered as part of the record as a whole.

Letters from family and friends should include four things:

1) Who they are and how they know the claimant

2) What that person understands the claimant suffers from

3) A description of the symptoms that they have seen the claimant struggle with

4) How those symptoms affect the claimant's daily activities

Letter writers should avoid emotional pleas or requests to Social Security. Stick to the facts. Review a sample letter below.

Yes, friends and family can make a big difference. All it takes is a letter!



January 27, 2010

To whom it may concern:

My name is Joan Smith and a neighbor of John Jones. I have known John for about six years. We were neighbors and soon became close friends.

For the duration of our friendship I have seen John struggle with several things that seem a direct result of injuries from his car accident four years ago. When I first moved into the neighborhood, John's house and yard was immaculate. He had the most beautiful flower gardens on both sides of his house. The other neighbors all joked that we wished John would hire out as a gardener because no one could make a garden nicer than him.

But since his accident he cannot walk as well. He can't kneel or bend over. He has given up on his flower beds though he mows when he can. It is sad to see him walk because he used to be so healthy looking. Now he struggles even to get to the mailbox at the street. Sometimes I will walk across the street after the mailman comes and take the mail to his door.

He talks about being in constant pain, and how none of the medicines he is taking seem to work. He tells me his doctor has tried a million medicines but he is still always in pain.

Even worse, John is always depressed now. He talks about suicide although says he isn't serious. But he is depressed all the time and says he is on medication for that too. He says he hates even going to the store now because he walks too slowly and feels he is in everyone's way.

Since the accident, his life is completely changed. He used to be so self-sufficient and outgoing, but now everything is different.

I hope this letter helps someone understand what he is going through.


Joan Smith

Posted on: 05/02/13

What's the Difference?


When applying for Social Security benefits, you submit claims for two different disability benefit programs managed by the Social Security Administration (SSA). You will see references to SSDI benefits and SSI benefits. What's the difference and which program do you want?

There are several difference between the programs:

Social Security Disability Insurance is known as SSDI or simply SSD.

  • The program pays benefits to individuals who meet the SSA definition of disability.
  • Income level or financial resources are not considered.
  • The program is financed through Social Security "FICA" taxes paid by workers, employers, and self-employed persons.
  • To be eligible for SSD benefits, workers must earn sufficient credits based on taxable work to be "insured" for Social Security purposes.
  • Social Security automatically enrolls claimants in Medicare insurance after they receive disability benefits for two years.
  • Your monthly benefit amount is based on your average lifetime earnings covered under Social Security. Your annual Social Security Statement estimates your monthly disability benefit.
  • Payments you receive from worker's compensation, a public disability benefit, or pension based on earnings not covered under Social Security can reduce your Social Security disability payment.
The Supplemental Security Income program is known as SSI.
  • The program pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources.
  • Payments are made on the basis of financial need.
  • SSI benefits are also payable to people 65 and older without disabilities who meet the financial limits.
  • SSI is financed through general revenues.
  • Many states, including Idaho and Oregon, consider you eligible for Medicaid insurance if you are eligible for SSI. Idaho and Oregon require you to file a separate application, however.
  • Effective January 2009, the SSI payment for an eligible individual is $674 per month and $1,011 per month for an eligible couple.
  • Generally, the more income you have, the less your SSI benefit will be. If your countable income is over the allowable limit, you cannot receive SSI benefits.
There is no penalty for applying for both programs. Since the programs have different purposes and eligibility requirements, you may be accepted by one program and declined by the other. In certain circumstances, you may receive payments from both programs simultaneously. So typically it is best to apply for both programs.


Posted on: 04/18/13
Can't work? File now!


People seeking Social Security Disability benefits must answer an important question: when should I file?

Here's the simple answer. Once you can no longer work, file immediately! If you believe your symptoms will prevent you from working for 12 months or more, file right away.

Here's why.

Consider this example. Let's say you decide today you can no longer work. You file for disability benefits tomorrow. Social Security takes two years to decide your claim. But when they eventually find you disabled, they pay for nearly all the time you have waited. That's nearly two years of benefits in one big check!

Now consider a second example. You decide today you can no longer work. But you wait five years to file. When Social Security grants benefits, they will NOT go back five years to today's date. They will go back one year from your filing date. Since you waited five years from now, you will lose FOUR YEARS worth of benefits. Big difference!

Here's another reason to file now. Old medical records are sometimes hard to obtain. Doctors move or change clinics. Trying to prove a disability many years old can prove challenging. By filing now, you can easily collect the evidence you need to win your claim.

So if you can't work, file right away. You'll reap the benefits!

Posted on: 04/05/13

Social Security denied your benefits claim. What now?

Nearly two percent of the American population applies for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits every year. SSD benefits are available to people with medical conditions preventing them from working for 12 months or longer. Yet the Social Security Administration denies approximately 65% of initial claims, leaving a huge number of Americans without benefits ... and wondering what to do next.

If you have been denied Social Security disability benefits, don't panic. There is still hope for your claim. The Social Security appeal process is long and complicated, but it is manageable.

First, visit and file an appeal. Social Security gives you sixty days to appeal their decision. Expect to wait two weeks for a decision on your appeal. Sadly, Social Security approves only 10% of appeals.

If your appeal is denied, you may take the next step and request a hearing in front of a Social Security judge. The average wait for a hearing in our area is 14 months.

While awaiting your hearing, see your doctor regularly and stay on any prescribed medication. Carefully document your condition and how it affects your ability to work. When you appear before the judge, carefully explain why your medical symptoms prevent you from working.

If you represent yourself at your hearing, your chances of winning are a little less than 50%. Obtaining qualified representation can boost your chances of winning to 70% or higher. Before retaining representation, make sure to ask about their success rate in Social Security hearings. Successful representatives win 90% or more of their cases.

Obtaining Social Security disability benefits can be a long and daunting task, but it is possible. You can do it!

Posted on: 02/21/13

... or "I can't go back to being a roofer, so why am I not disabled?"

I hear this all the time from people. They have become injured, or time has taken its toll and they are no longer able to do the job they used to do. This does not mean that they are disabled. Social Security defines disability as the inability to sustain any job on a full time basis. Certainly age can enter into how they make their decision, but if an individual is under 50 and their conditions prevent them from returning to their former career, Social Security will deny the claim and tell them to do something else.

Posted on: 02/12/13
In the state of Idaho, with few exceptions, when you file for unemployment you claim that you are ready, able, and willing to work. When you file for disability during that same time period, you are telling them that you are unable to sustain any employment. This is an inherent conflict! While it's not a "deal-breaker" for your disability claim, it can certainly cause problems. Let us know if you are receiving unemployment while your disability claim is ongoing so that we can discuss options and ramifications with you.

Posted on: 02/07/13

With states around Idaho approving recreational and medicinal marijuana, I want to plainly state that SSA is a federal program, hence federal laws apply. When we argue your claim, if drug use is happening, it can negatively impact your claim. In some instances it can cause your claim to be completely denied. In others, the past use of drugs can change when a judge finds you disabled, potentially costing you thousands of dollars.

A few years ago I represented a client who had an extensive drug history, but about a year before he filed his claim he went through rehab and was sober. He maintained sobriety for about 18 months, then went on a fishing trip with some friends, and smoked one joint. He was then sober again from that point going forward for another 14 months when we had the hearing. The judge found him disabled, but refused to find him disabled prior to that fishing trip because of the one joint. He lost out on 18 months, and over $20,000 of past due benefits because of that one joint. So, as I have told people since that time, "If you find a joint worth $20,000, call me and I'll smoke it with you."

Posted on: 08/22/12

When you start receiving disability benefits, members of your family may also qualify. Family disability benefits may be paid to your spouse and/or children. Your family members would need to apply, and provide documentation such as birth certificates, proof of marriage, and Social Security numbers.

There is a limit to the amount that can be paid to your family, which varies depending on your circumstances. For more information, you can visit the Social Security Disability website, or contact us!


Posted on: 08/02/12

August is National Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) Awareness Month. Did you know that Social Security awards disability benefits for SMA through Compassionate Allowances? Learn more about Compassionate Allowances at the Social Security website.

Ernest Shell's succussful claims include

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Diabetes
  • Seizures
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Meniere's disease
  • Crohn's disease
  • Schizoaffective disorders
  • Learning disabilities
  • PTSD
  • Bipolar disorder
  • And more
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