Florida Disability Claims Process
If you have suffered a long-term, permanent, or terminal medical condition that renders you unable to work, you may be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits. However, the federal government has a strict definition for what constitutes a qualifying disability, and it thoroughly reviews all applications for benefits. As a result, most applications for disability benefits are ultimately denied.
At the Disability Law Firm, we know how frustrating the disability claims process can be. Our legal team provides strong representation to ensure that our client’s rights are not overlooked. For more than 20 years, we have dedicated ourselves to fighting on behalf of those who have been severely disabled. Our track record of results speaks to our experience and skill in disability claims.
Reach out to us online or call the Disability Law Firm today for a free case evaluation to learn more about the process for applying for disability benefits in Florida. You will rest easier knowing that your claim is in capable hands.
Understanding the Disability Process in Florida
Although the process of applying for disability benefits is complex, a knowledgeable attorney can guide you through every step and answer any questions you have along the way. Here is a brief overview of the disability claims process so you know what to expect:
Applying for either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) requires you to fill out a form provided by the Social Security Administration (SSA). An application may be filled out online. You may also call the SSA to fill out an application over the phone with a representative, or you may go to your local SSA office to fill out an application in person.
In addition to the application, you will need to provide documentation of your work history and finances, along with copies of any medical records in your possession. You will also need to execute a medical release form to allow the SSA to obtain any further medical records.
Once you have submitted your application package, it is forwarded to a Disability Determination Services center in Florida. There, your application will be reviewed by medical and vocational experts to determine whether you have a qualifying disability and whether you meet the work history requirement or income limits when applying for SSDI or SSI, respectively.
The service center may contact you to request additional information or documentation or request that you submit to a consultive medical examination at no cost to you.
It usually takes three to five months to receive a decision on your initial application for disability benefits. The length of time may depend on whether the service center reviewing your application must obtain additional documents or whether you are asked to undergo a consultive medical exam.
If your application for disability benefits is approved, you will usually begin receiving SSDI payments in the sixth month following the date of the onset of your disability. (For certain disabilities, you may immediately begin receiving benefits, or SSI payments, in the month following the approval of your application.)
If your application is denied, you will receive an explanation of the determination and the reasons for the denial. This will include what information or documents formed the basis of the denial or indicate whether certain documents or information were missing.
If you choose to challenge the denial of your application, you will want to carefully review the explanation of the determination to see whether you may need to correct the information or submit additional information or documents to bolster your application.
When you choose to appeal an adverse decision on your disability benefits application, you have 60 days from the date you receive notice of the adverse decision to file the required appeal form provided by the SSA. If you file an untimely appeal, your appeal may be dismissed, and the adverse decision will stand.
The first step in the appeal process involves requesting reconsideration of your initial application. Reconsideration means that your application will be reviewed by new examiners who were not involved with the initial review. When you request reconsideration, you may submit additional information and documents to correct errors on your application or supply new evidence in support of your claim of eligibility for disability benefits.
As with the first decision, if your application is denied again on reconsideration, you will be provided with an explanation of the determination.
If your initial application has been denied, you are encouraged to seek legal counsel before requesting reconsideration. An experienced lawyer can review your application and the explanation of determination to advise you on what steps you can take to improve your chances that your application will be approved on appeal.
Deadline to Appeal for Hearing
If you are dissatisfied with the reconsideration decision, you again have 60 days from the date that you receive notice of the decision to proceed to the next step in the appeal process.
Hearing by an Administrative Law Judge
After reconsideration, the next step in appealing a denial of your disability benefits application involves requesting a hearing before an administrative law judge. Social Security Disability hearings usually last from 30 minutes to an hour and are less formal than a typical court hearing. While most hearings are in person, hearings are sometimes done via teleconference or even telephone. Regardless of how the hearing is conducted, they all follow the same format.
It is important for you to know who will attend your hearing and to understand their roles. At a minimum, it will be you, the judge, a vocational expert, and your representative if you have one. In rare cases, the judge may ask a medical expert to attend your hearing as well. While you are allowed to bring your own witnesses, it may not help your case and could even hurt your chances of winning. So you should discuss this with your attorney since your lawyer is in the best position to explain the impact, both good and bad, that having additional witnesses could have on your case.
Once all the participants are in the room, the judge will ask the hearing monitor to “go on the record.” The hearing monitor will begin an audio recording and will operate all the electronic equipment during the hearing. The entire recording of the hearing will be available later if you or your attorney need to review precisely what was said.
Once the recording has been started, the judge may take a few minutes to discuss with you (or your attorney if you have one) the issues, including when you say your disability began. Then the judge will swear you and any other witnesses in. Depending upon the judge’s preferences, they may ask for an opening statement from your attorney.
After that, you will be asked questions by either the judge or your attorney. Sometimes the judge will ask most of the questions, sometimes your attorney will, or it may be a combination. No matter who is asking the questions, they will be very similar. Generally, you will be asked about the work you have done in the past, what medical conditions are preventing you from work, and how your conditions affect your ability to do everything from sitting, standing, and walking to how you spend your day. If you have psychological issues, you will be asked about your ability to concentrate, complete tasks, and interact with people.
Once the judge and your attorney, if you have one, are done asking you questions, the rest of the hearing will concentrate on the testimony of the vocational expert. The vocational expert’s job is to testify about jobs someone with your limitation could or could not perform. This testimony is very legal and technical, and it is this testimony that will determine if you win or lose. That is why it is very important to have a highly skilled legal expert representing you, not only to understand the testimony but to cross-examine the expert if necessary.
Once the vocational expert testimony has been taken, the judge may ask for a closing statement and if you have any additional comments. The hearing is then concluded, and generally, the judge will not inform you of the decision at the hearing. It generally takes one to three months to get the order from the judge. However, the judge may request additional medical examinations or send questions to a medical or vocational expert to aid in a determination. Of course, if that happens, it could take even longer to get a decision.
Review by the Appeals Council
If the administrative law judge upholds the denial of your application, you can request a review of that decision by the Social Security Administration’s Appeals Council. The Appeals Council will look at your request for review but may deny the request if it finds that the administrative law judge’s decision is plainly correct under the relevant law.
If the Appeals Council does grant review, it may decide to reverse the determination and issue its own decision, or reverse the determination and send your case back to an administrative law judge for further review.
Federal Court Review
If you are dissatisfied with the Appeals Council’s decision or the Appeals Council declines to review your case, your last recourse involves filing a civil lawsuit in federal district court. Typically, you will file your lawsuit in the judicial district where you live.
When you file a suit in a federal district court, you must serve a copy of the complaint and summons on the Office of General Counsel for the Social Security Administration.
A civil lawsuit in federal court represents a far more formal process than the appeals process within the Social Security Administration. Without an attorney to handle your case for you, you run the risk of having your lawsuit dismissed on a procedural or technical error.
Talk to a Florida Disability Lawyer Now
If you have suffered a serious physical or mental impairment that has disabled you from being able to work, you may be entitled to disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. No matter how clear-cut your case seems, though, you could benefit from the help of an experienced Florida disability lawyer.