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Tips on Applying for Benefits


Call us and let us help you navigate through this confusing government system. I will provide a free evaluation of your case and let you know my opinion of whether you should qualify.

Key Facts about Disability under Social Security Law

  • You have the burden of proving to the government that you are disabled.
  • You must have objective medical evidence of a condition that could reasonably cause the symptoms you claim.
  • Your medical condition(s) must be expected to prevent you from working for at least 12 months.
  • Unless you are over 50 years of age, the question is whether there is any work in the national economy you can perform on a full-time basis (it does not matter if you would not be hired or there are no jobs available locally, but whether you could do the job if hired).
  • The job standards become easier after age 50, especially at age 55, when the rules for transferring skills from your past work to other work become much more helpful.

There are Two Types of Disability Benefits from Social Security

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are based on the Social Security taxes that you have paid; you must have paid for a sufficient number of quarters to qualify for coverage.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are for people who have not worked enough to qualify for SSDI benefits.

Stage 1: The First Step

You can apply by calling the Social Security Administration’s toll-free number at 800.772.1213, or visit their Web site at http://www.ssa.gov/. Download the required forms from the Web site or request they be mailed to you. When you fill out and return the forms, you must also mail a copy of your birth certificate. If your claim is denied, file a request for reconsideration. There is a 60-day deadline to file this request. Do not file a new application.

Tip 1: Talk to your doctors: SSDI and SSI typically request your medical records from your doctors. Have your doctor write a letter explaining medically why you are disabled, and what symptoms and limitations you are experiencing. Frequently, ordinary medical records do not indicate your limitations, because a doctor’s goal is to diagnose and treat your condition.

Tip 2: The application: When filling out the form, it is important that you list any children you have who are under the age of 18 and that you allege the correct “onset date” of your disability. (This is usually the last day you actually worked, unless you left the job for other reasons and became disabled later. It is not necessarily the date you were officially terminated). The “onset date” may be before the last day you actually worked if you worked less than 90 days or earned little money.

Tip 3: The disability report: When filling out the disability report, it is important to list all of the doctors and hospitals you have visited for your treatments. Social Security must acquire all of your medical records, and you must provide the information for obtaining the records (indicate from where your records should be requested).

Tip 4: Work history report: Errors are frequently made when filling out the work history report. This is not a resume! Do not attempt to make yourself look like you have tremendous accomplishments (as you would on your resume). You must be accurate about tasks performed, dates of employment and maximum physical requirements of the job. Don’t report that you were a supervisor or manager if you were not.

In order to determine whether you are disabled, Social Security must determine whether you can perform “past relevant work.” This is defined as all work lasting at least three months and long enough to learn the job within the last 15 years. If you fail to list the maximum physical requirements of the job, Social Security may determine that the job was easier than it actually was.

A determination will also be made as to whether there is any work you can perform. If you report that your job required high skills when it did not, Social Security may mistakenly determine that you have skills that can be utilized in other work.

Tip 5: Function Report: When completing the function report, it is important to be both accurate and complete. You will be asked how you spend your day and the tasks you are able to perform. Social Security must determine what kind of limitations you have. Usually, it is a determination as to whether you can work full-time. It is important that you list any difficulties you have while doing everyday tasks, and also how much rest you require.

Tip 6: Select your attorney carefully: If you are unsuccessful at the administrative law judge hearing, it may be years before you have the opportunity to have your case heard on appeal. If you did not have representation by an attorney experienced in Social Security Disability law, you are at a disadvantage. Ward Harper obtains the medical evidence, corresponds with doctors, and meets with you to review your case prior to your hearing. Preparation is the key to making a successful presentation to the judge.

Stage 2: Reconsideration

You will be required to fill out two forms:

  • The reconsideration request (SSA-561): This is an easy one-page form in which you are asked for your reasons you are seeking disability benefits. You may simply respond “I am unable to work.”
  • The disability report-appeal (SSA-3441-BK): This form requires you to document any changes that have occurred since you filed your application for disability benefits. The most important items for consideration are any medical records which were not received from your doctors or hospitals prior to Social Security making their decision. If you have worked for pay, you are required to report the work. Expect to be denied at this stage in the process unless there is some very important new evidence pertaining to your case.

Stage 3: Requesting a Hearing

The hearing request form (SSA-501) is similar to the reconsideration request. The disability report-appeal form is the same. If you have not contacted an experienced lawyer regarding your case, do so at this point. It takes time to prepare a case in order to make the best possible presentation to the judge.

Every legal matter is different. The outcome of each legal case depends upon many factors, including the facts of the case. An attorney's success in past legal matters should not be relied upon to predict a successful outcome in your own case.

Office Location

Ward Harper, Attorney at Law, Inc.
4001 South 700 East, Suite 500
Salt Lake City, UT

Send mail to:
PO Box 900458
Sandy, UT 84090

Phone: 801.272.7900
Toll-Free: 800.765.2141
Fax: 801.272.7906
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