Social Security Frequently Asked Questions

​1. Who is eligible for disability benefits?

If the Social Security Administration determines that you have impairments that prevent you from working and those impairments are expected to last at least 12 months, you may be eligible for disability benefits.  People who have worked and met certain earnings requirements for the required “quarters” are determined to be “insured” through a certain date for Social Security disability purposes.  If you are determined to have become disabled before your last insured date, you are eligible for disability benefits.

If you are disabled, but have not worked or earned enough to be “insured,” depending on your household income, you may be eligible for SSI benefits.  Your local Social Security office can tell you if you have worked enough to be eligible for disability benefits and can tell you your last insured date.  If you believe you are disabled, don’t hesitate to apply for benefits.  Because of certain restrictions on back-owed benefits, you may miss out on benefits if you wait to apply.

2. I was turned down after my initial application or appeal. Does this mean I have a bad claim?

No.  Statistically, very few disability claims are approved at the initial level or at the reconsideration level.  Claimants often have to appear at a federal administrative law hearing before being approved.

3. Do I need an attorney to get Social Security disability benefits?

Not necessarily.  Unrepresented claimants can be approved.  However, the laws and guidelines governing disability benefits are complex, and the hearing process can be intimidating if you are unprepared.  We believe an experienced disability attorney can greatly improve your chances of winning.

4. Can I get disability benefits if I am still working?

You may be able to get benefits if you are still working and the Social Security Administration determines that your work does not qualify as substantial gainful employment.  Realistically, you are less likely to be determined disabled if you are still working.

5. Can I get disability benefits for mental conditions?

Yes.  Any mental issue that causes memory problems, concentration problems, problems adapting to changes or problems interacting with others can form the basis of a disability claim.

6. How do I win my Social Security case?

Go to the doctor when you need to or whenever the doctor recommends.  Tell the doctor the issues you are having and be specific.  Make sure the doctor knows if you have difficulty sitting, standing, walking or lifting and carrying things.  Make sure the doctor knows if you must lie down during the day because of fatigue or for pain relief.  It may be helpful to let you doctor know you are applying for disability.  Make sure the doctor is making notes of what you say – disability determinations are largely determined by your medical records.

7. How much does a disability attorney cost ?

Disability attorneys are almost always paid a percentage of back-owed benefits and don’t recover a fee unless you win.  The fee charged is limited by the Social Security Administration and any fee agreement between you and your attorney must be approved by the Social Security Administration.

8. What happens at the hearing?

Generally, you, your attorney (if you hire one), the federal administrative law judge, a vocational or job expert and someone recording the testimony will be present at your hearing.  At the hearing, you will be placed under oath and asked questions about your work history, medical conditions, medications and limitations by the judge and/or your attorney.  The hearings are typically brief (30-45 minutes) and less formal than most claimants probably assume.  Although your medical records are of primary importance, the hearing is your opportunity to tell your story and explain why you are unable to work.  Depending on your location, the judge may appear via video, but the hearing process will be the same.

9. How long does it take to get disability benefits if I am successful?

Applying for disability benefits is a marathon not a sprint.  If you are fortunate enough to be approved at the initial level, it still takes 2-4 months (or longer) from the time you apply until you get your benefits.  A decision on the initial application usually takes 2+ months and the reconsideration level (which is often skipped for claimants in Louisiana) is similar.  These steps could take longer if the Social Security Administration sends you to a doctor of their choosing or requests additional information.  A hearing request generally takes 2-6 months, and you can expect it to take another couple of months for the decision to be mailed to you after the hearing.  It’s a bad idea to count on disability benefits to pay this month’s bills unless you have been approved and received payment information from the Social Security Administration.


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