What You Should Know About Applying for
Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits
Allsup outlines what to expect, benefits of choosing expert representation
Belleville, Ill. - Feb. 2, 2011 - Social Security Disability Insurance. You have probably heard about the federal insurance program, but many people do not know as much as they would like to and often approach the process with many questions, according to Allsup, which helps tens of thousands of people to receive their Social Security disability benefits each year. Common questions include: What is SSDI and what does it mean to me? How do I qualify? Do I need professional help to apply? How much will it cost?
For a number of reasons, more people are applying for SSDI benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) reported nearly 3 million people applied for benefits in fiscal year 2010, and more than 211,000 applied in December alone. In the past two years, 6 million people have flooded the SSA with SSDI applications.
"SSDI benefits can be critical for your financial future if you can no longer work because of a severe disability. But these numbers show that you can expect a lengthy process for your claim to be reviewed and decided by the SSA," said Mike Stein, assistant vice president of claims at Allsup. "Choosing SSDI representation to help you get through this process may be the most important decision you make when it comes to seeking your benefits."
Social Security Disability Insurance is a government mandated insurance program that provides regular monthly income to people under retirement age (65 or older) who can no longer work because of a severe disability. You likely paid "premiums" for these benefits throughout your working life in the form of FICA, or payroll, taxes. The SSA uses strict criteria to determine who is eligible, but generally one can no longer work because of a disability (injury, illness or condition) that is expected to last for at least 12 months or is terminal. More details are provided in the SSDI Overview on Allsup.com.
The program is intended to be there when you need it most, but the road to collecting the insurance benefits that you paid for is stressful, complex and confusing. Answering reams of questionnaires, locating and copying fully documented medical records and gathering a complete work history are all part of the process. The application and disability review process is a challenge that you'll be facing at the same time you're dealing with a severe disability and loss of income. Making matters worse is that it may take years and multiple appeals to the Social Security Administration before a final decision is reached.
There is, however, a way to improve your odds for a favorable decision, get through the complex government requirements and reduce the waiting time for a decision. Get professional help. Just as many people seek help when filing their tax returns, expert help can provide significant advantages when seeking Social Security disability benefits through the federal SSDI program.
Choose SSDI Representation From The Beginning
There are two main "families" of SSDI representatives: attorney and non-attorney. What's the difference? There are law firms that may or may not have attorneys who specialize in Social Security disability claims. Many who do will not accept your SSDI claim until it's already been denied at least once. At the same time, some non-attorney organizations such as Allsup will take your case at the very beginning, with your initial application, or at any time during the SSDI adjudication process. Allsup has multiple representatives and specialists experienced in handling SSDI claims in communities across the country.
Another common question is what does this expert help cost? Allsup represents claimants on a contingency basis. That means you don't pay a fee unless they win your claim. If you do receive your SSDI benefits, the SSA determines the fee that any SSDI representative can charge. Currently, under the SSA's fee agreement approval process, it is 25 percent of the retroactive dollar amount awarded, not to exceed $6,000. Those who are approved quickly at the application level and receive no retroactive award typically pay much less. For example, if you receive benefits of $1,000 per month and your retroactive benefits were $12,000, your fee would be $3,000 and you would receive $9,000 of the retroactive amount. Your $1,000 SSDI benefit would continue each month.
The SSDI Claims Review Process
There are five levels in the SSDI application, adjudication and review process. Level one is the initial application. Once you appoint an Allsup representative, he or she immediately goes to work for you. Your representative will complete the necessary forms during a telephone interview so you never leave the comfort of your home. Allsup then develops the claim and submits all relevant medical and vocational evidence to the SSA.
Unfortunately, your condition may not precisely meet the SSA's strict requirements for SSDI benefits. In fact, about two-thirds of all initial applications are denied. That's when Allsup puts its experience to work. Your representative presents the evidence in the correct context of other conditions, and documents your education and lifestyle issues, in order to prove that your condition meets the complex SSA standards. Because Allsup is so familiar with the SSDI process, their award rate for initial claims is much higher than the SSA standard, with 55 percent vs. 35 percent.
Level two is called the reconsideration level, or first appeal. If your initial application is denied, Allsup promptly files an appeal. Your representative will review and update your medical and vocational information and stay in contact with the SSA.
If your reconsideration is also denied, your claim advances to the hearing level and an experienced Allsup senior claimant representative takes over. He or she will interview you on the telephone and complete the necessary forms for a hearing before an administrative law judge. Allsup pioneered the use of on-the-record decisions at this level-the goal is to have benefits approved without a stressful oral hearing before a judge. Most of Allsup's claimants receive their benefits without an in-person hearing. However, if one is required, your Allsup representative will accompany you to the hearing. Allsup's award rate is about 90 percent for claimants at this level of the process.
Level four is the Appeals Council. If your hearing ends in a denial of benefits, Allsup will review your case once more. They may submit an appeal, along with additional medical information and a written brief, to the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council will review your hearing decision to determine if it was rendered properly according to the law. Level five is federal district court. This level takes you into the federal court system, and it is pursued by less than 1 percent of all claimants.
It can be a lengthy process, but SSDI benefits are extremely important to people who can no longer work because of a severe or permanent disability. Not only do you receive regular monthly income, but you also are automatically eligible for Medicare benefits 24 months after receiving SSDI cash benefits. That means you'll also receive healthcare coverage and prescription drug coverage. Other benefits of SSDI include protected retirement benefits, benefits for dependents and return-to-work incentives.
Since 1984, Allsup has helped more than 150,000 people to receive their Social Security disability benefits. Allsup specialists designed their system to be hassle-free for customers. Experienced claims representatives-many with dozens of years of SSA experience-will gather necessary information over the phone, and then mail to you the appropriate forms for you to sign and return. More than 80 percent of Allsup's customers never deal directly with the SSA, and 98 percent of those whom Allsup represents throughout the entire process receive their SSDI benefits.
If you have questions about your disability and whether you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits, please contact the Allsup Disability Evaluation Center at (800) 279-4357 for a free SSDI evaluation.