The first and most important question you can ask before starting the process for seeking Social Security disability benefits as an adult is a very simple one: “Am I disabled?”
This is not an easy question for your Baltimore Social Security disability lawyer to answer since it depends on so many factors beyond the mental or physical impairments that challenge you. Your work history, age, education, language abilities, medical documentation, and the judge reviewing your case are all important factors in answering this question.
Your work history will determine the types of Social Security disability benefits you may be eligible to receive and will have a significant impact on the judge’s decision on your claim. The judge will look at your earnings record for the past year. Every year, the Social Security Administration determines the maximum monthly dollar amount you can earn without being considered able to sustainably take care of yourself. The Social Security Administration set this amount at $1130 for 2016 (or $1820 for people who are statutorily blind). There are ways for a knowledgeable Social Security disability attorney to make some adjustments to your income if your earnings are close to the line. But if you regularly earn more than $1130 (or $1820 and blind) performing any kind of work, you will probably earn too much to be eligible for Social Security disability benefits.
Your work history will determine which types of Social Security disability benefits you might be able to receive. The two major types of Social Security disability benefits are Title 2 benefits based on a type of insurance for workers and Title 16 benefits which are based on income limitations. Your ability to apply for Title 2 benefits depends upon whether your work history shows that you earned a certain amount of money every three months over the course of ten years (40 quarter-years) and had Social Security taxes withheld from your paycheck. Counting these periods can be a complicated process, and certain workers may not be eligible based upon whether Social Security taxes were taken from their paychecks. Fortunately, the Social Security Administration will usually determine this eligibility factor on their own. Title 16 benefits are far more broadly available, but are intended to provide only minimal income to the disabled person and are determined based upon your income and household assets.
The final way your work history will affect your claim is in the judge’s evaluation of your claim. When considering all the factors of your claim, the judge will look at the physical and mental demands required by the work you used to do, how long you did a particular job, the skills you used to do the work, your ability to use those same skills to another type of job, and whether there are many similar jobs within our region.
Your age is a very important factor in determining your eligibility for Social Security disability benefits because it changes the assumptions that the administrative law judge is allowed to make about your ability to return to work or perform other jobs. The Social Security Administration divides the different age groups as follows:
- 18-49: “Younger Age”
- 50-54: “Closely Approaching Advanced Age”
- 55-59: “Advanced Age”
- 60+: “Closely Approaching Retirement Age”
Age alone does not really say much about you or how you can take care of yourself or work. However, these kinds of easily identified guidelines help the Social Security Administration add a small amount of predictability to what is usually a very subjective decision.
A regular point of misplaced anger at the system comes from people whose first claim or first few claims for disability benefits are denied, but who eventually are granted disability benefits. In so many of these cases, the person applying for Social Security disability benefits got older during the applications process, changed age brackets, and only then became eligible for benefits.
Education and Language Abilities
Your level of education and ability to understand the English language are considered important factors in determining the likelihood you may be able to get a job in our region. The Social Security Administration breaks these areas down as follows:
- Illiterate: Unable to read or write more than your name in English, or little formal education.
- Marginal: Education up to 6th grade or below. This indicates you have some ability to perform the reasoning, mathematic, and language skills to perform simple, unskilled jobs such as a laborer or factory worker.
- Limited: Education from around the 7th-11th grade levels. This indicates you have some ability to perform the reasoning, mathematic, and language skills to perform many more complex job duties needed to perform semi-skilled and skilled jobs such as truck driver.
- High School and Above: Having a 12th grade or higher education level. This indicates you have some ability to perform the reasoning, mathematic, and language skills to perform most of the more complex job duties needed for performing semi-skilled and skilled labor jobs such as an office worker.
Your medical treatment history and documentation will frequently be a very strong factor in getting a favorable judgment on your claim for Social Security disability benefits. Administrative law judges will pay attention to your testimony about the mental or physical impairments you suffer and how they affect your ability to work and take care of yourself. Even so, your ability to show a consistent history of seeking treatment for your problems will make your testimony more convincing for the judge.
Some factors judges consider include: the type and length of medical treatment you received, the medications you were prescribed and how you used them, your history and duration of complaints about different problems, and both if and how much the treatment you received improved your condition.
The particular administrators and administrative law judge reviewing your claim may have a significant impact on whether your claim for Social Security disability benefits succeeds. While these people are not physicians, it is their job to review the work history, medical records, and other information in your claim and attempt to determine whether you are capable of working on a sustainable basis.
All in all, the question of whether you are disabled can be a difficult one to answer. The Social Security Administration has its own set of rules for making this determination based upon a combination of your work and medical histories. People found disabled by other government entities such as the United States military, Veterans Affairs, or labor boards making workers’ compensation decisions will not necessarily be considered disabled when claiming Social Security disability benefits.
When consulting your Baltimore Social Security disability lawyer, make sure you are ready to discuss your work history, age, and education and English language abilities. Your attorney may help you secure copies of your medical records, get important testimonial statements from your medical care providers, and help you with your testimony before an administrative law judge. Applying for Social Security disability benefits can be a long and challenging process, and you will want help.