Social Security Disability Benefits - An Overview

By Pitt Dickey

What happens when you get sick or injured and can't work? You could be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, SSI disability benefits, Medicaid, or Medicare. This column will describe what Social Security Disability are payable to people who are unable to work. A person may qualify for Social Security disability benefits if he has medical or mental health impairments that can be expected to last at least a year which not only prevent the person from being able to perform the work that he has done in the past, but also prevents him from being able to do any other type of full time work.

Like all federal programs, there is an application process to be followed to apply for SSA disability benefits. You can file an application by going on line at www.ssa.gov. You can also go to the SSA District Office at 145 Rowan Street, Fayetteville NC and request the paper application forms. You can set an appointment to have someone at the local office help you complete the forms either in person or by telephone appointment. If you are comfortable with a computer, filing on line is preferable as it speeds up the application process.

The SSA forms ask for your name, age, address, employment history, medications, where you have been treated for your health problems, and a brief description of your health problems, treatments, and symptoms. Once these documents are filed, your claim will be assigned to the Disability Determination Section (DDS) in Raleigh, NC. A Disability Agent will be assigned to your case to gather your medical information and ultimately make a decision as to whether you qualify for disability benefits. It is crucial that you cooperate with the Disability Agent as that person decides whether your claim is approved or denied. The DDS agent may ask you to go for a medical evaluation by a doctor at SSA expense.

The easiest way to visualize how the Disability process works is to think of a step ladder.

The SSA tends to deny claims at the first two steps. The first step is called the initial decision. If the claim is denied you have 60 days to appeal to the second step called the Reconsideration. A new DDS agent will be assigned to review your application. If denied at the Reconsideration step, you will get a letter allowing you 60 days to appeal to the third step on the ladder for a hearing before a Federal Administrative Law Judge.

The Judge is not bound by the two earlier denials and will make a new decision on your claim. The Judge's hearings are held in Fayetteville and are closed to the public. The Judges, who are uniformly polite, want to hear the person's description of his symptoms and how that condition affects his ability to work. The Judge then makes a new decision based upon the evidence in the hearing and the medical records which can result in a favorable decision.