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Well, if you live in the Memphis Metro Area or Mississippi, Arkansas, or Louisiana and are thinking about applying for Social Security Disability, you have probably asked this question. Mr Heermans, of Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm says that, “On average there are generally five steps to completing an application and obtaining disability benefits. But how long this process takes and how much you will receive will vary applicant to applicant.” An average Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiary receives about $1,360 a month. But, depending on the applicant’s work history and prior income, that payment could be as high as $3,300 per month if you were earning a high six digit income. But, if you are disabled and unable to work or hold down a steady job, any income is better than no income! Plus, once you start to receive SSD income, the door opens to being able to apply for many other federal, state, and local benefits including access to health care benefits. 

These life-changing benefits are difficult to obtain. And getting harder as the years go by. Mr. Heermans says, “I have seen the application process become increasingly more complicated…not less over the years”. And this is expected to continue as the strain of our economy becomes more obvious in our daily life. It is good that Americans believe in the strength of our country and when veterans file for VA disability, there’s a latent presumption that they deserve those benefits due to their service to our country. When disability applicants ask for SSDI benefits, there’s a latent presumption that the applicant also deserves those benefits, because they are American citizens and they also have worked to earn them. Most importantly, Mr. Heermans says, “It’s critical that an application is solid and filled out correctly in all five areas listed below. Otherwise, the first application process might be a waste of time and have to be resubmitted after a denial”.

A Social Security Disability attorney from The Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm makes a tremendous difference, especially in a marginal claim. A marginal claim is where you do not specifically fit within the guidelines of having the documentation or condition that allows you to be clearly and easily approved. In other words, you might just be approved by the skin of your teeth…but then again maybe not. Attorneys are good litigators as well as good negotiators. However, no attorney is a miracle worker. If the claim is shaky on any point, initial Disability Determination Services denial is inevitable, and subsequent Administrative Law Judge denial is likely.

Step 1 – Good Faith Unemployment

This initial step might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a lot harder to establish than many people think it is.

Many people who reach out to disability lawyers are marginally disabled. Assume Mary has chronic arthritis. Her doctor prescribed painkillers. But since they cause brain fog, she cannot take them in the morning. Nevertheless, even on her bad days, she’s able to work and make it through the day. 

However, by about 3 p.m., she’s spent, done, gonzo… the pain is too much and the brain fog from having to take a pain pill has set in. Then, when she gets home, she doesn’t feel like eating with her family. She certainly doesn’t feel like going to her daughter’s choir concert. And the list goes on. 

Under many standards, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, Mary is disabled. Her physical condition regularly limits her ability to get through the day. But according to the SSA, Mary isn’t disabled, since she’s working.

Furthermore, to qualify for SSDI benefits, Mary must be unemployed because of her disability. If Mary suddenly quit her long-term job immediately prior to her application, and she had no disability-related issues during her employment, that would look suspicious. If Mary’s personnel file included various absence warnings and/or she’d changed jobs several times over the past few years, this may be more in line with what a common or typical disability history will show. 

There’s a practical consideration as well. Mary, like other people, has bills to pay. These are things that Mary will discuss with the help of a disability lawyer so that she can better understand what it means to have a disability and how it affects her daily work and overall financial situation. 

Step 2 – Severe Impairment

From a legal perspective, the twelve-month rule is straightforward. A person must have experienced a disability for at least twelve months and you either meet this requirement or you do not. But, an applicant who believes they will likely be unable to work for a 12 month period of time should not wait to apply, as the process can routinely take longer than 12 months to get through.

From a practical perspective, things aren’t as clear. Different doctors often have different opinions in this area. That’s especially true if the condition is relatively new, like Long COVID. The symptoms of Post- COVID-19 syndrome could easily last more than a year. But, those symptoms may or may not have disabled the person for more than a year. This is a very gray area and all the more reason to have a Heermans attorney by your side!

This step includes another requirement. Your impairments are severe if they interfere with basic work-related activities. Common work-related impairments include physical issues, like sitting or standing, and mental impairments, like trouble concentrating or difficulty following directions. Other impairments could interfere with work activities as well.

Individual capacity (a.k.a. physical constitution) counts as well. Let’s go back to Mary. Long-term employed Mary obviously has a stronger constitution and gift to tough it out. Job-hopping Mary is more frail and fragile and susceptible to severe impairment.

Step 3 – Listed Condition

This step is not do or die. It’s simply easier to proceed to Step Four if you can check the Step Three box.

Listed conditions are presumptively disabling. If the applicant doesn’t have a listed condition, that’s okay. A Heermans Social Security Disability lawyer must be able to prove the applicant’s condition is substantially similar to a listed condition. This approach is very common. Almost half of SSD applications are substantially similar applications. However, if you do have a straightforward listed condition, your application may be able to be expedited and moved to the front of the line for benefits. 

Furthermore, the listed conditions have specific requirements. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a good example. PTSD is basically an umbrella term for a number of stress-related mental conditions. Some of them are disabling, at least according to the SSA, and some aren’t.

This list is not set in stone. Conditions come and go, as do the specific requirements for listed conditions.

Most applicants do not meet a listing and have to be approved with another criteria. 

Step 4 – Unable to Do Past Work

Generally, the SSA looks back fifteen years to determine if a disabled applicant can work at a previous job.

Assume Mary most recently worked as an office IT troubleshooter. However, a number of years ago, she was a freelance computer programmer. An SSA lawyer could argue that computer programmers do minimal walking, sitting/standing, and other physically demanding tasks. Additionally, most freelance positions are WFH (Work From Home) positions. 

A DDS officer, and most likely an ALJ, would agree with that assessment. Even if Mary’s freelance computer programmer income was much smaller than her current income, she’s still able to do prior work, as long as her freelance projects paid enough to keep her above the poverty line.

So, from a practical standpoint, this step is a lot like Step One. It goes back to the question of being able to work…if Mary doesn’t want to go back to freelance work, she should seriously consider toughening it out at her current job if she truly is able to work. 

Step 5 – Unable to Work at other types of jobs.

The evaluation involves not only the applicant’s medical condition, but also the applicant’s educational and vocational background. To bring it back to home base, this is where an applicant might partner with vocational experts, in both Step Four and Step Five. Vocational Education and Work Professionals will assess the SSDI applicant’s likelihood of getting another job or changing careers, based not only on the applicant’s abilities and disabilities, but also based on the prevailing economic conditions and job availability at the time.

We understand that this is a lot of information and really it is more just like the tip of the iceberg. This is why The Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm offers a FREE Disability Evaluation if you have been unable to work for the past 12 months. Our lawyers specialize in helping you apply for disability benefits or re-apply if you qualify and your application has been denied.  For more information about the available benefits, contact the disability lawyers in Memphis at the Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm – call/text 24/7 us at (901) 244-0057. More value added FREE information can be found in our online article library.


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