Filing a Claim for Social Security Disability Benefits in Michigan
Filing a claim for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits can be a frustrating process. With long waiting times and high claim rejection rates, many people who are entitled to Social Security benefits may decide it simply isn’t worth the trouble.
However, understanding the claims process and securing the help of the right attorney can make the SSD process a little less painful.
Filing the Initial Claim
Filing an initial claim for SSD benefits is relatively easy. An individual can file his or her claim on-line at www.ssa.gov, over the phone at our office or in person at one of the many Social Security Administration (SSA) offices located throughout Michigan (or any other state).
After the initial claim has been received by the SSA, it is then passed on to a Disability Determination Services (DDS) office in the individual’s home state. Michigan is part of the Chicago region and has DDS offices located in Lansing, Traverse City, Kalamazoo and Detroit.
At the DDS office, the initial claim is given to a disability examiner, who then will review the application and determine whether the applicant has a qualifying disability. The disability examiner may ask the applicant to submit to an independent medical examination (IME) and/or provide additional information. It takes on average three months from the time the application is filed for the DDS examiner to notify the applicant whether or not he or she has been approved for disability benefits.
Appealing a Denial of Benefits
It is estimated that as many as 65 percent of all initial applications for SSD benefits are denied. The reasons for the denials vary from the applicant failing to provide sufficient medical documentation of the disability to failing to complete the application correctly.
By this point, many SSD applicants decide not to continue pursing their claim for benefits or erroneously believe they should start the entire process over with a new application. Either choice would be a big mistake. It is during the next step in the appeals process -a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) – that many requests for SSD benefits are finally approved.
Applicants have 60 days from the date of the denial to request a hearing with an ALJ. Even though it can take up to one year to receive a hearing date, this arguably is the most crucial part of the appeals process. During the hearing, the applicant is given the opportunity to explain in person before a judge why he or she is entitled to Social Security Disability benefits.
Paying for Attorney Services
Working with an experienced attorney on a SSD claim can make all the difference. In fact, some statistics show that those who work with an experienced SSD/DIB attorney have a 60 percent chance or greater of successfully receiving disability benefits as compared to those decide to go it alone.
Unfortunately, some may choose not to hire an attorney to help them with their SSD claim because they are concerned about the additional expense. What many may not know, however, is that the amount an attorney can charge for working on a SSD claim is limited. The attorney must receive approval for his or her fees from the Social Security Administration first and then may only collect the amount authorized by the agency.
There are two types of attorney fee structures for handling SSD claims:
· Fee agreements generally are submitted to the SSA by the attorney before the client’s SSD claim has been decided. The agreement is in writing, signed by both the attorney and the client and states the total cost for attorney fees. The fee cannot be more than 25 percent of the total amount of past due benefits awarded to the client or more than $6000, whichever amount is less.
· Fee petitions are submitted to the SSA by the attorney after he or she has completed work on the client’s SSD claim. The petition will state the amount of time worked on the claim and the attorney’s fees for this time. A copy of the petition also is sent to the client for review. The SSA then will determine how much compensation is reasonable in consideration of the value of the attorney’s services and then send written notice to the client of the final amount of attorney fees approved.
In general, the SSA will hold back up to 25 percent of an individual’s past due benefits to go towards paying the approved amount of attorney fees. Once the back benefits are awarded, the SSA then will send the amount owed to the attorney first and the remaining amount to the client.
In some cases, the individual may have to pay the attorney directly for his or her services, which may include:
- If the amount approved for attorney’s fees is more than the 25 percent withheld by the SSA
- If the attorney incurred out-of-pocket expenses in handling the claim, such as the costs for obtaining medical records
- If the attorney is not eligible for direct payment from the SSA
- If the SSA failed to withhold money for attorney fees and sent the entire award to the client
Attorneys who do not have their fees approved by the SSA or who charge and collect more for their services than authorized by the SSA may be subject to criminal penalties. Additionally, they can be suspended or permanently disqualified from representing anyone else before the SSA.
For more information on filing a SSD claim, appealing a denial of benefits or other questions about the SSD claims process in Michigan, contact an experienced attorney today.