Social Security Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between SSI and SSDI?
SSDI or Social Security Disability Insurance is available to claimants who have earned enough “work credits” or quarters to be eligible for the program. Generally, if you have worked 5 out of the last 10 years, you have earned enough work credits to be eligible for SSDI.
SSI or Supplemental Security Income is for individuals who have not worked long enough to meet the requisite number of work credits or whose work credits have expired. These benefits are particularly for persons with limited resources who may need help paying bills or purchasing their medicine.
Keep in mind that some claimants may qualify for benefits under both programs. Contact a lawyer or Social Security directly if you have questions about your eligibility for these programs.
How much can I collect on disability?
The answer to this depends on your work history. The answer can be found on the annual Social Security Statement sent to all workers each year. If you cannot locate that Statement, you can contact your local Social Security office and they should be able to assist you.
When will my payments start?
Generally speaking, benefits begin in the sixth month after the disability began. In most cases, it is the last day you were able to perform work and coincides with the date alleged by the claimant on their initial application. Depending on the severity and progression of the condition(s) and the age of the claimant however, this date can be determined to be different than the last day the claimant performed work. An attorney can help you navigate this area.
Additionally, the Administration will only pay past due benefits for one year prior to the application date. For instance, if a claimant is awarded benefits in January 2008, with an onset date of January 2002, but an application date of January 2005, the past due benefits only cover January 2004-January 2008.
There are however other factors that may affect the general payment scheme such as previous applications, prior denials, etc. so consultation with an attorney is especially important when navigating this complex area.
What are my chances of being approved?
Every applicant for Social Security benefits asks this question.
There are three key levels for applications are (1) Initial Application, (2) Reconsideration and (3) Hearing before an ALJ. At each level the applicant has the opportunity to provide additional information regarding treatment, symptoms, restrictions, limitations and conditions. In 2006, Wisconsin’s approval rate at the initial level was slightly below the national average at 33%. The reconsideration level is approved at about 13% in Wisconsin.
The Hearing level is considered the best opportunity for approval. At a hearing level, an Administrative Law Judge has the opportunity not only to review your medical records and read your submitted forms but also to listen to your story first hand and assess your credibility. The ALJ observes your behavior and asks questions about your daily life and work history. Claimants should retain counsel and appear at the hearing in order to increase the chances of approval.
What effect will Social Security have on my Long-Term Disability?
Most LTD plans contain an offset provision related to income, including Social Security benefits. An offset provision means that during a given month, if you receive other income, the long-term disability carrier will reduce your monthly LTD payment by the amount of that income. This will not always include ALL income, so it is important to read your policy. If the LTD policy does provide an offset provision, Social Security Disability benefits are the most common type of income to be offset.
Offset provisions are common in long-term disability plans and every plan is different. Consult with an attorney regarding your particular policy if you have questions.
How long do I have to wait for a decision?
Generally speaking, the amount of time from initial application to receipt of benefits can take years depending on the number of appeals required for the case. Working with an attorney however and being prompt about filing appeals can shorten that time.
In general terms, a disabled individual has a medical impairment or combination of medical impairments that prevent the claimant from working. The impairment(s) must be expected to last more than one year or result in death.
I have a letter from my doctor saying I’m disabled, why were my benefits denied?
Social Security determines who is disabled according to the rules, not your doctor. That being said however, your doctor(s) play a significant role in your quest for benefits. Medical records and reports are the most important part of a disability case and the doctors who treat your condition regularly are the best source of information regarding your particular condition, symptoms, side effects, medications, treatment options and progress.
Are my Social Security Benefits taxable?
If you are collecting disability benefits, whether you will have to pay taxes on your benefit depends on your filing and income status. As of 2008, if you file a federal tax return as an “individual” and your total income is more than $25,000, you will have to pay federal taxes. If you file a join return, you have to pay taxes only if the total income between you and your spouse exceeds $32,000.
Since most beneficiaries live on a monthly fixed income, there is concern regarding ability to pay any taxes at the end of each year. For this reason, the Social Security Administration offers beneficiaries the option of having a select percentage of their monthly benefit check (7, 10, 15, or 25%) withheld for federal tax purposes. If you are interested in having federal taxes withheld from your benefits, please contact your local Social Security office to obtain the proper forms.
Beginning in 2008, Wisconsin exempted Social Security benefits from state taxes.
If you collect Supplemental Security Income, those payments are not subject to federal taxes, so you will not receive an annual form SSA-1099. However, if you receive both SSD and SSI, the SSD payments are still taxable.
What can I do to help?
Most importantly, claimants should continue with treatment as directed and keep appointments with their doctors. If you have a chronic illness and have not seen a doctor recently (i.e., within the last three months), we suggest scheduling an appointment immediately.
If you begin to see a new doctor after your application or appeal, notify your representative or Social Security immediately. This holds true for any hospital stays, emergency room visits or testing (including X-rays and MRIs). Keeping your representative and Social Security up to date on your treatment can go a long way in shortening the time you have to wait for a decision.
In addition to having open communication with your doctor, do not overlook the benefit of your own observations. You are your own best advocate when it comes to your day to day life. Keep a regular journal, whether daily, weekly or monthly that documents your condition and its affect on you. Describe limitations you encounter such as having to give up a hobby or reducing how far you can walk without having to rest. Be detailed; discuss the symptoms or side effects that cause you to abandon a particular hobby or the day-after soreness when you’ve pushed yourself too the limit. Keeping these notes can provide Social Security and your representative with a clear picture of how you maintain your day to day activities. You can also get your family and friends involved in this by asking them to write down what changes they’ve noticed in your activity level and personality. Remind them to be detailed and to discuss their observations in relation to your condition.
Be patient with Social Security and your representative. Try not to take out your frustrations on your representative and NEVER take them out on a Social Security employee; it will only hurt your case. That being said, stay involved in the process and contract your representative or Social Security if you have questions. Do not be offended if there is no change though; just knowing that your case hasn’t been forgotten can help ease some of the frustration.
To schedule a free initial consultation, contact MyLTDbenefits.com through this Web site.