Lakeland SSD Lawyer
Is a severe injury or other disabling condition preventing you from working? If so, you could be entitled to financial relief through Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. With more than 20 years of experience, the Disability Law Firm is devoted to helping Polk County residents navigate the complex Social Security Disability claims process to pursue the full payments they need. Whether you are just starting on an initial application or need help appealing a denied claim, a Lakeland SSD lawyer from our firm is here for you.
Contact the Disability Law Firm today for a free initial consultation with a knowledgeable Lakeland SSD attorney. Our firm does not charge any upfront fees to work on your case. You only pay us if and when we secure benefits for you.
Understanding the Social Security Administration’s Definition of Disability
Social Security regulations define a “disability” as the inability to perform any substantial gainful activity (i.e., employment) due to any medically identifiable physical or mental impairment that is expected to result in death or that has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 consecutive months.
The Social Security Administration maintains a listing of physical and mental impairments that may qualify as disabilities. This listing is known as the Blue Book. Even if you do not have an impairment or medical condition listed in the Blue Book, you may still be deemed disabled if you are found not to have residual functional capacity to perform any of your past work or any job that exists in substantial numbers in the national economy.
What Are the Different Types of Disability Benefits?
Disability benefits are provided through one of two programs that pay financial assistance to qualified applicants:
- Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which is available to those with a minimum work history who have paid into Social Security over the years
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is based on the applicant’s financial need
What Is the Difference Between SSDI and SSI Benefits?
Although the Social Security Administration has two types of disability benefits, each program is intended for a different category of applicant.
SSDI benefits are meant for working individuals who become disabled and can no longer work. Eligibility for SSDI is based on having sufficient past work credits and recent work history. A work history is required to show that an applicant has paid into the Social Security system and therefore is entitled to receive benefits from the system. The minimum work credits and recent work history required will vary based on the applicant’s age. Younger workers have lower minimum requirements as they have had less time in the workforce.
A disabled worker can receive SSDI benefits that are based on their pre-disability income, regardless of how much money they made prior to their disability or their current financial assets. A person receiving SSDI is not expected to work. However, the SSA offers programs that allow recipients to test going back to work while temporarily continuing to receive SSDI benefits.
Conversely, the SSI program is intended for disabled and blind individuals and people 65 or older who have low or no income or financial assets. SSI requires no work history because, although the program is administered by the SSA, SSI is not considered a form of Social Security benefit. Applicants may be eligible for SSI so long as their monthly income remains below the federal benefit rate and they have less than $2,000 in assets ($3,000 for couples), excluding certain assets such as a home, certain vehicles, and certain life insurance policies.
A person receiving SSI may perform some gainful employment. Blind and disabled SSI recipients are entitled to have certain portions of their income excluded in the calculation of their average monthly income for eligibility determination.
How to Apply for Disability Benefits in Lakeland
To apply for disability benefits, you will need to fill out the application form provided by the Social Security Administration. You can do this online, over the phone, or in person at your local Social Security office.
You will also need to submit supporting documentation, such as your medical records, workers’ compensation records, and financial records. You will need to collect these and other documents and information to fill out the application form.
Before you apply for disability benefits, you should have the following documents on hand:
- Your birth certificate or other proof of birth
- Proof of citizenship or lawful resident status
- W-2s or your 1040 from the past year
- Documents relating to any workers’ compensation benefits or workers’ comp settlement you have received
- Any medical records you have in your possession
- A completed Adult Disability Report, in which you describe your disability and work history
- A completed medical release form to allow the SSA to obtain additional medical records of yours
You may also need the following information to fill out the application form:
- Whether you or anyone acting on your behalf has filed an application for Social Security benefits, SSI, or Medicare
- Whether you have prior active military service, the dates of such service, and whether you have eligibility to receive military or federal civilian benefits
- Whether you have earned credits or benefits under another country’s social security system
- The dates of your marriages and divorces
- The names and dates of birth of your current spouse and minor children (if any)
- Whether you have a parent or other family member financially dependent on you
SSA Office in Lakeland
The Social Security Administration has a local office at 550 Commerce Drive, Lakeland FL 33813. Applicants are still encouraged to file online or to call the Lakeland office at 1-877-604-9837 (TTY number: 1-800-325-0778).
How Long Does It Take to Receive SSD Benefits?
The length of time that it takes to receive SSD benefits can depend on various factors. This includes how long it takes to collect documentation in support of your application and whether you end up needing to appeal the denial of your application.
Typically, initial review of an SSD benefits application takes three to five months, depending on whether the claims examiners need to obtain additional medical records or request that you undergo a consultive medical evaluation (at no cost to you). If your application is approved, you will begin to receive benefits in the sixth month following the date of onset of your disability. However, certain disabling conditions may entitle you to immediately begin receiving benefits following approval of your application.
If you need to appeal the denial of your initial application, it can take upwards of a year or more to work your way through the appeals process.
What to Do If Your SSD Claim Is Denied
If your initial SSD application is denied, you have the option to appeal that denial. The appeals process for SSD claims has four levels. At each level, you have 60 days from date you receive notice of the decision to file the required appeal form, otherwise the decision will stand as final.
The first level of appeal involves requesting reconsideration of your application. In reconsideration, a new claims examiner will conduct a review of your application. You have the option to submit additional documents or information to correct inaccuracies on your application or to supplement the evidence in support of your disability claim. You may also be asked to submit to a new medical evaluation to obtain more current medical information.
If your claim is again denied on reconsideration, the next step of appeal involves requesting a hearing by an administrative law judge (ALJ). The hearing typically takes place in person, but it can be done over the phone or via videoconference. At the hearing, which usually takes 30 minutes to an hour, the ALJ will hear testimony from you and a vocational expert. The ALJ and/or your attorney will ask you questions about your work history, your disability, and how your condition is affecting your ability to work and perform basic tasks. The vocational expert will testify about what a person with your limitations could or could not do for work. The judge may then ask for a closing statement or final comments. Once the hearing concludes, it can take one to three months ─ or more ─ to receive a ruling.
If the ALJ renders a decision that you disagree with, your next step of appeal involves requesting review by the Social Security Administration’s Appeals Council. When the Appeals Council receives you request, it may either choose to decline review upon finding no legal error in the ALJ’s determination, or it may grant your request for review and either issue its own decision on your case or return the matter to the ALJ for further review.
If the Appeals Council denies review or renders an unfavorable decision, the last step of appeal involves filing a civil lawsuit in federal court.
How Our Lakeland Disability Lawyers Can Help You
Applying for SSD benefits is not an easy process. The Social Security Administration strictly interprets the eligibility requirements for disability benefits. As a result, most applicants have their requests for benefits denied. A Lakeland disability lawyer can help you put together a strong, persuasive application and guide you through the review process by:
- Explaining your eligibility for each of the disability benefits programs
- Helping you collect the documents and information you will need to submit with your application for benefits
- Assisting you with filing your application to ensure it is not dismissed on a technical error
- Reviewing an explanation of determination if your benefits application has been denied and explaining what steps can be taken to remedy your application on appeal
- Guiding you through the appeals process, including representing you at hearings and taking your case to federal court if necessary
If you are considering filing an application for disability benefits, or need advice on appealing a denied claim, contact the Disability Law Firm today for a free case review. A Lakeland disability lawyer from our firm can answer all your questions and take the stress off you.