A Lansing disability lawyer answers your questions about Social Security disability benefits

In 35 years as a Lansing disability lawyer, I have found that most applicants share one common trait: they all feel overwhelmed and confused by the Social Security disability application and appeals process. This comes as no surprise. The Social Security Administration is a large bureaucracy, operating under a complex set of rules and regulations; its disability determinations sometimes defy common sense. (For some interesting – and surprising – examples of disability determinations in real-life situations, read Examples of who is and who is not disabled.) If you have questions about filing for Social Security disability benefits or appealing a denial of your claim, then you have come to the right place. I built this website to provide answers. I suggest you start with the common questions and answers listed below; then, take a few moments to explore more specific information on the other 100+ pages of this site. You will find that the more knowledge you have in your quest to obtain Social Security disability benefits, the more power you will have and the stronger your claim will be.

What does it mean to be “disabled” for purposes of Social Security disability benefits?

In order to be awarded Social Security disability benefits, you must meet the Social Security Administration’s strict definition of “disability.” The Social Security regulations defines the term “disability” as an inability “to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” In other words, in order to be awarded Social Security disability benefits, you must establish that you have a severe physical or mental impairment that prevents you from working at your previous job or any other job.

How does Social Security determine if I am “disabled”?

In every case, the Social Security Administration uses a 5-step sequential evaluation process to make its disability determination. This process requires the Social Security decision-maker to answer each of the following questions, in the following order:

  1. Are you working now?
  2. Do you have a “severe” impairment?
  3. Is your impairment so severe as to render you disabled by law, under the Social Security Listing of Impairments?
  4. Can you do your previous job?
  5. Considering your age, education, work experience and present ability to work, can you do any other generally available job?

Why was my claim denied?

There are many possible reasons your claim may be denied, but they all boil down to one: the Social Security Administration determined that you do not meet the definition of “disabled.” Often, however, this denial is in error and can be reversed on appeal. For example, your claim may be erroneously denied if the Social Security decision-maker:

  • Overestimates your present ability to work (your “residual functional capacity”);
  • Underestimates the nature and intensity of your pain and other symptoms;
  • Fails to consider medical evidence that would establish that your impairment “meets or medically equals” a Listing impairment;
  • Improperly evaluates your education level;
  • Improperly evaluates the exertion required in your previous jobs; or
  • Fails to consider all of your impairments.

What should I do if my claim is denied?

If your initial claim for Social Security disability benefits is denied, do not despair; you are not alone. Nationally and in Michigan, approximately 65% of initial claims for benefits are denied. The odds of success turn in your favor, however, if you appeal your claim to a hearing before an administrative law judge. At the hearing, you get to speak directly to the person who will be deciding your claim. This personal interaction (as opposed to a paper-only review of your claim) may be the reason that more than half of all applicants who pursue their claim to a hearing are awarded benefits. Even if your claim is denied after an administrative hearing, you still have options. You may appeal to the Social Security Appeals Council and, if necessary, to federal district court. Bottom line: If you are unable to work because of a physical or mental impairment, you should appeal the denial of your claim.

Contact an experienced Lansing disability lawyer

I have been helping Michigan Social Security disability claimants for 35 years. I handle claims for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), at all stages, from the initial application to a final hearing in federal court. If you are feeling confused or overwhelmed by the Social Security disability benefits process and you would like to talk with a knowledgeable Lansing disability lawyer, please contact me. Use the Free Claim Evaluation form on this page to tell me about your situation or, if you prefer, send me an email or call me directly. I will respond promptly.

I wish you success.

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