Social Security Disability FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions About Social Security Disability

  1. What is the definition of disability used by Social Security?
  2. What is the difference between Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?
  3. How are your disability attorneys paid?
  4. What does it mean when an attorney is a "North Carolina Board Certified Specialist in Social Security Disability Law"?
  5. How soon can I apply for benefits after I have become disabled?
  6. What factors does Social Security use to determine if I am disabled?
  7. I've heard a lot about the "Social Security" backlog. What is that and how might it affect my case?
  8. Suppose I have become disabled due to a variety of health problems, rather than one specific health problem. Can I still get Social Security disability benefits?
  9. Is age a factor in determining my disability status?
  10. Can mental illness serve as a basis for a Social Security claim?
  11. Can I get partial Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments for a partial disability?
  12. How long will I have to wait for disability payments to start?
  13. How long do I have to be disabled to qualify for Social Security disability benefits?
  14. Can I get both Workers' Compensation and Social Security Disability benefits?
  15. What do I do if Social Security tries to cut off my disability payments?

  1. What is the definition of disability used by Social Security?

    "Disability" is defined by the Social Security Act as the "inability to engage in any Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months."

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  2. What is the difference between Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

    Both Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are federal income replacement programs designed to help those who are disabled and cannot work.

    Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a program geared toward people with a substantial work history who have developed a disability likely to last at least 12 months, or is likely to result in their death.

    Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is designed to provide a basic income for low-income disabled people who have never been able to work, or who have not worked long enough to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

    To learn more, click here.

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  3. How are your disability attorneys paid?

    It costs nothing to discuss a Social Security case with an attorney at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin because our attorneys work on a contingency basis. A contingency lawyer is not paid an hourly or "per job" fee from the client. Rather our Social Security Disability lawyers earn a percentage of back-due benefits subject to a maximum fee as determined by the commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA).

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  4. What does it mean when an attorney is a "North Carolina Board Certified Specialist in Social Security Disability Law"?

    The laws governing Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are complex. Therefore, the North Carolina Board of Legal Specialization of the North Carolina State Bar started certifying lawyers as Board Certified Specialists in 1987. These individuals are recognized by the North Carolina State Bar as having special knowledge and proficiency in Social Security Disability Law. North Carolina is one of only 18 states to offer a legal certification program.

    Attorney Rick Fleming of the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin is a Board Certified Specialist in Social Security Disability Law.

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  5. How soon can I apply for benefits after I have become disabled?

    You are potentially eligible for Social Security disability benefits as soon as you become disabled.

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  6. What factors does Social Security use to determine if I am disabled?

    The Social Security Administration (SSA) considers your medical records, age, education and work experience to determine if you are able to continue in your present employment. If you are not, it will use these same factors to determine if you are capable of other types of employment or retraining for future employment.

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  7. I've heard a lot about the "Social Security backlog." What is that and how might it affect my case?

    The backlog applies to cases waiting to be adjudicated due to underfunding by Congress and normal staff attrition.

    During the last decade, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has lost 10 percent of its administrative law judges, while the number of disability cases has more than doubled. This has resulted in a record-setting backlog of 765,000 hearing requests nationwide. As a result, the processing time for disability hearings has increased by 200 days during the last seven years. In some parts of the country, the waiting time for Supplemental Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) hearings is more than 800 days. Processing times for hearings for North Carolina cases range from 402 days to 557 days (13 to 18 months) from the date the hearing is requested (not from the date the application itself was filed).

    Backlogs are also being reported nationwide at the initial application and reconsideration stages of the process, due to state furloughs of Disability Determination Services (DDS) employees.

    The Social Security Administration (SSA) is taking several steps to minimize the problem, such as hiring more judges and improving technology. In addition, the stimulus bill signed by Pres. Obama in February 2009 provided $500 million specifically to "reduce the backlog of disability claims." Since that time, however, Congress has reduced funding for SSA again, and the backlogs are beginning to increase again.

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  8. Suppose I have become disabled due to a variety of health problems, rather than one specific health problem. Can I still get Social Security disability benefits?

    When determining disability, the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers a person's combination of medical conditions and the impact of those conditions on his/her ability to work.

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  9. Is age a factor in determining my disability status?

    The Social Security Act requires the Social Security Administration (SSA) to consider age when making a determination because the same disability can affect an older person much differently than it affects a younger one. As people get older, they become less adaptable and less able to switch to different jobs to cope with health problems. A severe foot injury that might cause a 30-year-old to switch to a sit-down computer job might completely disable a 55-year-old person who could not make the adjustment.

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  10. Can mental illness serve as a basis for a Social Security claim?

    Yes, mental illness is a frequent basis for awarding Social Security disability benefits, whether Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

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  11. Can I get partial Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments for a partial disability?

    No, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is an all or nothing system. You are either disabled or not disabled. There is no such thing as partial disability under Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

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  12. How long will I have to wait for disability payments to start?

    Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments cannot begin until five months after the date of the disability, and can extend back no more than one year before the date of the application. Social Security Income (SSI) payments cannot be made prior to the month after the date of the application.

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  13. How long do I have to be disabled to qualify for Social Security disability benefits?

    You can qualify if you have been disabled for at least 12 months, or your doctor expects that your disability will last for at least 12 months, or if you have a condition that is likely to result in death.

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  14. Can I get both Workers' Compensation and Social Security Disability benefits?

    Yes, but there is an "offset" that may reduce Social Security Disability payments based on the amount of Workers' Compensation benefits paid. In many cases, there is still some Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefit received. Also, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments may continue after Workers' Compensation payments have ended. The Law Offices of James Scott Farrin has both a Workers' Compensation and a Social Security Department, so it can potentially handle both aspects of a claim.

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  15. What do I do if Social Security tries to cut off my disability payments?

    If your payments have been stopped, typically you have 10 days to appeal the decision after being notified that disability benefits are being ceased. You may also want to speak with a North Carolina Board Certified Specialist in Social Security Disability Law, such as Attorney Rick Fleming, about your situation. However, you should appeal right away.

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Note: Much of the information contained on this Web page came directly from the nonprofit National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives (NOSSCR). Attorney Rick Fleming at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin is a sustaining member of this organization.

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