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Questions frequently asked by those in Chicago applying for Social Security disability benefits

When you first consider applying for Social Security disability benefits in Chicago, you will have a lot of questions.  Here are answers to many of the topics applicants are most concerned about.


1. How long does it take the Social Security Administration (SSA) to decide after I apply?

Most of the time SSA will accept or reject your initial application within 4 months.

2. How long do I need to wait to apply after I become disabled?

You can apply immediately upon becoming disabled, but your disability must be expected to last 12 months or result in your death.  You will not be awarded benefits for a short-term disability.

3. Must I wait until my employment sick leave ends?

No, you can apply immediately.

4. If I am receiving worker’s compensation, must I wait until it ends?

No.  You can apply while receiving worker’s compensation benefits.  Those benefits will offset any Social Security disability benefits, but there is nearly always some Social Security left over.


5. What are the basic requirements for being awarded benefits?

The primary consideration is whether you can work.  SSA will review your medical records and health problems, factor in your age, education, and work experience, and then decide whether you are able to perform your past work.  If SSA decides you cannot, then it will consider whether there is any other work you can do, taking into consideration your health problems, age, education, and work experience.

6. Why is age a factor?

It is frequently harder for an older person to switch to a different type of work, so SSA makes it progressively easier to qualify for disability benefits for those over 50.

7.  May I work part-time and still be eligible?

Yes, so long as the type of work you perform is consistent with your claimed limitations and you do not earn too much.  The limit is roughly $1,000/month, but it is best if you stay well below that sum.

8. May I work part-time at my own business?

It is possible but not recommended.  SSA’s rules allow it to find that a person working part-time in his or her own business and losing money is engaged in substantial gainful activity, which will disqualify you.


9. What evidence of my disability does SSA find persuasive?

Medical records are critical.  SSA figures that if your medical condition is severe enough to keep you from working, then it should justify doctor visits, tests, diagnosis, and treatment.  To help build a persuasive record, keep a detailed medical file.  Obtain the business card of every doctor you see.  Save your pill bottles.  Keep notes of your doctor visits and other medical events.

10. Should I obtain a letter from my doctor describing my disability?

A properly-drafted report from your doctor can win your case.  However, most claimants and many doctors do not understand what SSA is looking for.  You should probably let your disability lawyer obtain this report.

11. What helpful evidence can I provide?

What SSA wants to learn directly from you is how your medical condition affects your daily activities.  First, SSA wants to learn the details of your symptoms.  How severe is your pain?  Is it constant or intermittent?  What aggravates it?  What reduces it?  Do you suffer from shortness of breath or fatigue?  Second, SSA wants to learn the impact of your impairment.  How does it affect your hygiene, dressing, and bathing?  Can you run all the errands needed?  Do the housework necessary?  What impact has your impairment had on your hobbies, sports, and interaction with friends and family?

12. Who decides if I am disabled?

Your initial application will be evaluated by a disability examiner who works at the disability determination agency in your state.  Working with a doctor, this examiner will make the initial decision.  If your claim is denied, as 65% are at this stage, and you request reconsideration, a second disability examiner will review your claim using the same process.  If your claim is denied at reconsideration, as 85% are, you may request a hearing.   At this stage your claim is sent to an administrative law judge who works for Social Security.  After a hearing with you present, this judge will make an independent decision.  55% of applicants are awarded benefits after a hearing, so it is worth proceeding to this level.


12. If successful, how much will I receive?

The amount you receive depends upon how much you have worked and earned in the past.

13. How far back will I be paid?

Benefits begin 5 months after you became disabled.  Your award will include back benefits to this date.

14. How much will my Chicago disability lawyers receive?

The typical disability attorney fee is 25% of your back benefits, up to a maximum set by the Commissioner of Social Security, which is currently $6,000.


15. Should I hire Chicago disability lawyers?

As you would expect, the success rate for represented claimants is higher than those proceeding on their own.  If you are the do-it-yourself type, you can file the initial application on your own, but if you are denied you will want Chicago disability lawyers to help you assemble medical proof and represent you at the hearing.

When you first consider applying for Social Security disability benefits in Chicago, you should talk to an attorney to get a professional opinion on your eligibility and obtain advice on how best to present your case.  To contact my office and speak with qualified Chicago disability lawyers, use the case evaluation form on this page.