At Riddle & Brantley, we help hundreds of people just like you apply for and receive Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. We have compiled the most frequently asked questions our clients have about the benefits process to help you take control of your rights.

Have additional questions? Call (800)525-7111 or use our case evaluation form to have one of the experienced Social Security attorneys at Riddle & Brantley review your situation for free.

Social Security Disability Insurance

What are Social Security Benefits?

Social Security benefits include Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. These are the two largest federal programs which provide monthly payments to people with disabilities. Both programs are administered by the Social Security Administration, and both programs have strict requirements for what constitutes a qualifying disability.

The main difference between Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income benefits are the eligibility requirements. Social Security Disability Insurance benefits are based on a person’s work history, and require that a disabled person has spent a certain portion of the last several years working and earning income. Supplemental Security Income benefits are based on financial need, and require that an eligible person is too disabled to work.

What is a disability?

The Social Security Administration defines a person as “disabled” if that person has a medical condition which prohibits him or her from:

  1. Doing the work that s/he did previously;
  2. Adjusting to any other types of work because of the medical condition; and
  3. The medical condition will last for at least one year or result in death.

If your medical condition does not prohibit you from doing any type of job, or is expected to be short-term, the Social Security Administration may reject your claim for benefits. If you have been denied Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income benefits, call (800)525-7111 to speak with the attorneys at Riddle & Brantley about filing an appeal.

How does the Social Security Administration determine if I’m disabled?

After you file a claim for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income benefits, your application will be processed by your local Social Security Administration (SSA) office. Your application will include a description of your medical condition, supporting medical records, and your doctors’ contact information. A state agency called the Disability Determination Services (DDS) will then evaluation your medical condition based on the evidence provided.

The SSA has compiled an extensive list of more than all possible medical conditions which qualify for Social Security benefits, as well as the evidence a person needs to prove each condition. The Disability Determination Services will determine if a person’s medical evidence is sufficient to meet the standards of a disability under federal law. If the Disability Determination Services needs additional information, they may request documents from your doctors, or have you come in for an evaluation. Based on all available evidence, the Disability Determination Services will then determine if you are disabled or not. If the Disability Determination Services finds you are not disabled, you may appeal this decision or provide additional information supporting your disability claim. If your disability benefits claim has been denied, call (800)525-7111 or use our case evaluation form.

How long does it take to receive a decision?

It usually takes three to six months to receive a decision about your benefits. Your exact time will vary, depending on how long it takes to compile medical records or any other evidence the Social Security Administration needs. If you are denied benefits by the Social Security Administration, you may file an appeal asking for a hearing before a federal Administrative Law Judge. The average wait for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge is between 12 and 15 months.

What happens if my claim is denied?

If your initial claim for disability benefits is denied, your first level of appeal is called a “Request for Reconsideration.” At this level, you submit new or additional medical evidence supporting your claim and the SSA office reviews your original evidence and any new evidence you submit and determines if your original claim decision should be changed and benefits granted. However, this only happens in a small percentage of cases.

If, like the vast majority of claims, your reconsideration request results in another denial of benefits, you can appeal this decision and ask for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ schedules a hearing where he takes testimony and receives written evidence from you and your representative, reviews your claim information and any new medical evidence, and issues a decision regarding your case. The ALJ is not bound by the decision of the SSA at the initial or reconsideration phase; he or she will make a totally new decision on your case, based on his or her independent review of the evidence, the law, and the arguments you and your representative make at the hearing.

If the ALJ does not award you disability benefits after your hearing, you can request a review of that decision by the Appeals Council. This Council is made up of a panel of ALJ’s, with a large supporting staff. Their job is to review the decisions of ALJ for errors. The Appeals Council can affirm the decision of the ALJ, or reverse it and award you benefits, or remand it back to the ALJ to fix errors they believe can be corrected.

Finally, if the Appeals Council affirms the ALJ’s denial of benefits, you can file a lawsuit in Federal District Court asking that Court to reverse the ALJ’s decision. At this stage, your attorney files a document explaining why the ALJ and Appeals Council’s decisions were incorrect. After that document (and the SSA attorney’s response) are filed, there may be oral arguments before a federal court judge. The federal judge then issues his or her decision.

Our firm can assist you at every step of this process, from the initial application to a federal district court filing. Call (800)525-7111 to speak with the attorneys at Riddle & Brantley.

What should I expect at my Social Security Disability hearing?

If you have appealed your claim denial to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), you will likely attend a hearing with your attorney or representative. The Administrative Law Judge will review your claim and make a new decision independent of the findings of the Social Security Administration. You will have the opportunity to tell the Administrative Law Judge in person why you believe that you are unable to work.

There are dozens of Administrative Law Judges who hear cases in North Carolina, and each one has his or her own individual quirks and preferences. However, certain things are common to all hearings before all Administrative Law Judges:

  • All testimony is taken under oath. The significance of this is that if you or any other witness intentionally lies during the hearing, that witness can be prosecuted for the crime of perjury.
  • Audio recordings are made of all hearings so that there is a permanent record if needed for any later appeals or re-hearings.
  • The hearing will have different rules than a normal court of law. The Administrative Law Judge can choose to accept evidence in this hearing, like hearsay, which would normally not be admissible in a trial.

These hearings are relatively informal. The hearing will be held in a small, private room that is closed to the public. There will typically be only five people in attendance at this hearing: you, your attorney, the Administrative Law Judge, the person who operates the recording equipment, and a vocational expert.

A Vocational Expert is a person with special training and experience in the job market. The vocational expert’s job at your hearing is to help the Administrative Law Judge understand your work history and help the Administrative Law Judge understand how your medical problems may or may not affect your ability to work. Both the Administrative Law Judge and your attorney will ask the vocational expert questions about his or her opinions.

Normally, the hearing will start with the Administrative Law Judge giving you a brief description of the hearing process, then swearing in both you and the vocational expert. The judge and your attorney will ask you some simple questions so that the judge gets a full understanding of why you believe you are unable to work. You are likely to be asked about the jobs you have held in the past fifteen years, the reasons you stopped working when you did, the medical treatment you have received, the medications you take and their effects on you, and your daily activities since you stopped working. Keep in mind, the judge already has your work history and medical records, so he or she will know a lot about you before the hearing even starts.

Most judges do not announce their decision at the hearing. Usually, it will be six to eight weeks before the Administrative Law Judge issues an opinion in writing.

The appeals process can be complicating and intimidating. You don’t have to handle it alone! Call (800)525-7111 to speak with Riddle & Brantley's experienced Social Security attorneys who will guide you through every step of the way.

Can I receive Social Security Disability insurance benefits and workers’ compensation at the same time?

Yes, up to a certain point. A person’s Social Security Disability Insurance and workers’ compensation benefits cannot exceed 80% of his or her pre-disability wages. If your combined benefits are more than 80% of what you previously earned, your Social Security Disability Insurance benefits will be reduced until your monthly benefit amount is below this threshold.

An attorney experienced with both Social Security Disability Insurance and Workers’ Compensation benefits can create a Workers’ Compensation settlement which maximizes the amount of income you receive on a monthly basis. At Riddle & Brantley, our attorneys work with both areas of the law, and can expertly combine your settlement and Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. Call (800) 525-7111 to speak with an attorney about your benefits today!

Can I receive SSDI benefits while I’m receiving unemployment compensation?

Possibly. When you apply for unemployment compensation, you represent that you are ready, willing and able to work if a job is made available to you. When you apply for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, you represent that you are too sick or injured to work whether or not a job is made available to you. This creates a contradiction.

Many of our clients find themselves desperate for income to support their families after they lose their jobs due to an injury or an illness. As a matter of economic survival, they HAVE to seek unemployment compensation because they can begin collecting those benefits right away. In contrast, SSDI benefits can take months or even years to receive.

The Social Security Administration recognizes this economic reality. It also recognizes that the criteria for being “disabled” under their rules are different from the criteria for “able to work” under North Carolina unemployment compensation law. In certain situations, a claimant can collect both at the same time, as long as they are 100% honest in the applications they sign for both.

A first warning: even though some people have been able to collect both disability and unemployment benefits at the same time, many Administrative Law Judges still take an unfavorable view of them doing so. Each such case must be presented properly and skillfully to the judge.

A second warning: in almost every instance, no one who is under age 50 will be eligible for both disability and unemployment benefits.

Every case is different, and these principles may not apply to your case. Call (800)525-7111 to speak to the experienced attorneys at Riddle & Brantley and find out if your situation may qualify for both types of benefits.

We Can Help You Apply For Social Security Disability Benefits

The Social Security Administration tries to make the disability application process simple. They do not require you to have a lawyer to file an application. You can choose to complete the forms yourself.

However, most initial applications for benefits are denied, which means your benefits could be delayed for months while you wait through the appeals process. Mistakes on your initial application can give the Social Security Administration an easy way to deny your claim. Allowing us to help you apply will reduce the chance of minor mistakes causing months of delay, and will put you in the best position to get your benefits as quickly as possible. If your claim is denied, we will receive the same letters that you do, and and can quickly file the necessary paperwork or medical evidence needed to get your claim back on track.

If you are ready to apply for Social Security benefits, or if your claim for benefits has been denied, contact the experienced Social Security attorneys at Riddle & Brantley. Call (800) 525-7111 or fill out our case evaluation form to have your claim reviewed by a knowledgeable North Carolina disability attorney for free!