Social Security Disability Benefits
Spinal Cord Injury Victims: You May be Eligible for Social Security Disability Benefits
Living with a spinal cord injury isn’t easy. You may not have the same level of independence you used to enjoy. Everyday activities that you once did without a second thought may be challenges now.
On top of adapting to a new lifestyle, you may worry about your financial security. Medical expenses from hospital stays, long-term rehabilitation, and adaptive devices pile up quickly, and while all the free tools for taxes can help with medically-related deductions and credits, it can still become overwhelming. If you can’t work due to a spinal cord injury or spinal disorder, it may seem impossible to pay your medical bills.
There is an option that may help. You may be eligible for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits. However, the Associated Press has reported that people are flooding the Social Security Administration with applications for SSD benefits – especially laid off Baby Boomers and workers who have lost their jobs. Applications are up nearly 50 percent from a decade ago. As a result, the government currently denies over three-quarters of claims, even for people who are entitled to SSD benefits.
Learning about the system and the application process can help increase your likelihood of receiving SSD benefits.
SSD Benefits and Eligibility
SSD benefits are part of the Federal Social Security Act. They provide financial help for people with physical disabilities and severe mental health conditions that prevent them from working full-time – including those with spinal cord injuries.
Unfortunately, the Social Security Administration doesn’t accept claims from every person with a spinal cord injury. Every spinal cord injury is different, and ranges in severity. To qualify, your spinal cord injury must impact your ability to work.
You may be eligible for SSD benefits if you can answer “yes” to the following questions:
- Does your spinal cord injury prevent you from working?
- Does it prohibit you from working in any capacity – not just the job you held previously?
- Has your condition lasted – or is it expected to last – for at least one year?
- Is your spinal cord injury (and other medical conditions) life-threatening?
You also must have paid into the Social Security system within the past five years. If you haven’t worked long enough or recently enough to qualify for SSD benefits, you may be eligible for Social Security Income (SSI) benefits instead.
SSD Benefits: The Application Process
If you want to apply for SSD benefits, or if you have questions, contact the Social Security Administration at 1-800-722-1213 to get started. You can visit www.ssa.gov to file online or make an appointment at a local Social Security District Office as well.
The evaluation process can take 120 days or more. The Social Security Administration will review your medical records and other details, including age, education, and work history. They will look for proof of diagnosis, treatments, prescription medications, and other details about your spinal cord injury to determine whether you should be approved for SSD benefits. It’s critical that you see your physician regularly and follow your prescribed treatment plan.
If you're approved, you will receive SSD benefits after your sixth full month of disability. SSD payments are retroactive from the date you’re evaluated as disabled. The money you receive is based on your average top earnings over the past 15 years of work history. Note however, that your SSD medical benefits will not kick in until the 29th month from the date you’re considered disabled.
Denied Claim – What Now?
If the Social Security Administration denies your claim, don't give up. But, you must act quickly. You have only 60 days to appeal. You can reapply after that time period, but the process starts all over again.
If you appeal the decision, you'll go to a hearing, which can take anywhere from 12-18 months. The judge may take an additional several months to issue a decision. If that doesn’t work, you can move on to the Appeals Council. Finally, you can pursue a case in Federal Court. You must have an attorney at the federal level.
SSD and SSI are considered lifelong benefits, but the Social Security Administration could terminate your benefits if they believe you’ve earned too much money or if your condition has improved. If that happens, you can appeal the decision within 60 days (10 days to continue receiving checks while the appeal is pending). However, if you don’t win the appeal and you continued receiving checks while the appeal was pending, you will have to pay back the money you received during that time period.
Getting Approved for Benefits:
Understand the SSD System
Applying for SSD benefits can be a long and difficult process for people living with spinal cord injuries and their families. There are several things you can do to increase your chances of getting approved for SSD benefits.
First, learn about the Social Security disability system. Know what the Social Security Administration will look for when they evaluate your claim. Be sure to see your doctor regularly and follow your prescribed treatment plan. Failing to do so will likely make you ineligible for SSD benefits. Last, don’t be surprised if your claim is denied. Remember, the government denies three-quarters of initial claims. Be ready to file an appeal within 60 days.
Knowing how to navigate the system could mean the difference between whether or not you ultimately receive SSD benefits.
Article by: Dennis Liotta, Esq. Attorney Dennis Liotta, a partner at the law firm of Edgar Snyder & Associates, has over 20 years of experience and has helped people with physical and mental disabilities get the Social Security disability benefits they deserve. For a comprehensive overview of SSD, with answers to commonly asked questions, download a free guide at: http://www.edgarsnyder.com/ssd-guide
See also: The Social Security Administration