Hi, I’m Cindy Speaker, and I have with me today Noell Black who is a non-attorney representative with Gardberg & Kemmerly.  Noell is going to share with us some of the frequently-asked questions concerning Social Security disability. I’m going to ask you a few questions here and we’ll get your input on that and your feedback. By-the-way, you deal with these cases on a regular basis. Is that correct?

Noell Black: Yes. Everyday. Everyday.

Cindy Speaker: Everyday. Okay. All right. Let me get my first question here. All right. If I become disabled, when should I file for Social Security disability benefits?

Noell Black: You should do so immediately. The Social Security process is a long process and it can be time-consuming. The sooner you get filed, the sooner you get the ball rolling, hopefully the sooner you’ll get benefits. Do not wait. You can contact your local Social Security office, go to your local Social Security office in-person, or you can file online at www.ssa.gov.

Cindy Speaker: Okay. Very good. What do I need from my doctor before filing for Social Security benefits?

Noell Black: Well, you need to have a treating physician, or if you go into one of the local clinics if you do not have insurance, you should discuss with your doctor or nurse practitioner the fact that you’re filing for Social Security disability benefits. The Social Security Administration, or if you have a representative, will be requesting records and documentation from them. Sometimes, we ask for their opinion about your abilities to work. Those are the most important things is to be getting treatment.

Cindy Speaker: Okay. On that note, do I need an attorney’s office to assist me in the claim and is that helpful?

Noell Black: Well, it is very helpful. You do not have to have an attorney or a representative in order to file a claim or have a claim for Social Security benefits. I am a non-attorney representative, which means that I’ve been approved by the Social Security Administration to represent claimants in a Social Security disability case.

Statistically, ssa.gov has some statistics about people who file for disability benefits and the denial rate. Over half of the people who initially file are denied. In some states like Florida and Mississippi, they have what’s called a reconsideration stage. After you’re initially denied, you request reconsideration. Over 80% of those files are denied.

Cindy Speaker: Wow.

Noell Black: Yeah. The next stop is to request a hearing for an administrative law judge. That is when most people seek representation. Once they have that hearing or at that hearing level, they’re like, “Oh no. I need help.” Over 80% of those cases are approved at that level. That just shows you how much more having a representative assists you.

If you have mental health problems, lack of social or family support, or a serious physical illness, a Social Security disability process is long, and it’s time-consuming, and it’s overwhelming, and it’s confusing. Having someone like our office help you allows you to focus on your health, and getting better, or seeking treatment, and us to focus on getting the benefits that you need.

Cindy Speaker: Okay. Noell, at what point do you recommend getting the attorney involved? At the beginning or do you wait until you get denied? At what point would you recommend calling an attorney?

Noell Black: I would call an attorney as soon as you file that application. As soon as you get that application in with the Social Security office, contact us. It is a free consultation for us just to see if we’re able to help you. Sometimes you can get approved at that initial level even though over half of those cases are denied. Mostly it’s people who do not have representation.

Cindy Speaker: Let me ask you this. What have you seen in terms of the climate? Are you seeing more approvals in Social Security disability claims or less? Is it getting tougher? Is it getting easier? Just a judgment call. What do you see?

Noell Black: I think it’s getting tougher. The Social Security Administration just recently changed some other regulations. They don’t want to make it easy. Knowing all those rules, knowing those regulations, knowing what you need and what you don’t need really helps when you have an attorney’s office to assist you in getting what you knowing what is there and what you don’t need to do.

Cindy Speaker: Right. Right. Now, how long is the process if I am denied?

Noell Black: If you are initially denied in Alabama, the next step is to request a hearing before an administrative law judge, like I said, and once you request that hearing, it is about 12 to 18 months before you get a hearing date. During that time, we work with the Social Security office to make sure they have the documentation that they need. We try to get that hearing scheduled as soon as possible. A lot of times we win cases without going to the hearing because we properly developed the file and we worked with the Hearings Office to get that done.

Cindy Speaker: Okay, so is a lot of the time issues because you’re waiting for a hearing?

Noell Black: Right. Well, they’re so backlogged and there’s so many claims in the system that it just takes that long. There’s only so many judges to hear those cases.

Cindy Speaker: Yeah. yeah. Okay, show me the money. At what point, if I’m approved, will I start getting the benefits?

Noell Black: Well, I get that question a lot. Once you go to that hearing before the judge, everybody wants to know, “When am I going to get my money? When am I going to get my money?”

Cindy Speaker: Sure. Sure.

Noell Black: Once again, it’s a long process and there’s a backlog. It takes at least 90 days right now to get that decision from a judge. Once you get the decisions, generally, I mean it changes case-to-case, but it takes about four to six weeks before you’ll start getting any benefits or even know how much you’re going to get when you’re going to get it.

There’s two different types of Social Security disability. If you have SSI, which is supplemental security income, you have to meet with your local office and you have to give them your information regarding your income and resources. That depends on you, how long you take to get that information to them or supply that and how long it takes them to get you your appointment.

If you have a disability insurance benefits claim, those are processed through a payment center in either Baltimore or Birmingham, Alabama. Those tend to go a little bit quicker, around two to four weeks, but it’s still a long process no matter what. We sit here and we help all the way.

Cindy Speaker: Yeah. Let me ask you this. At what point do the benefits … Do they go back retroactively? Do they start the day you’re approved? How’s that work?

Noell Black: Well, it’s a case-by-case basis, but an SSI claim, it typically goes back to the date that you filed the application. All this time you’ve been waiting, you’ll get retroactive benefits paid for that period of time.

Cindy Speaker: That’s another reason to apply right away.

Noell Black: Yes. It is. In a disability case, it can go back about 12 months prior to the date that you filed. Either way you’re looking at, the math is really important. If you are unable to work, if you have become disabled, the important thing is to file that claim.