SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY
Frequently Asked Questions
The law firm of Ungaro & Cifuni provides quality, affordable legal services to our clients throughout the Social Security Disability claim process.
If you are unable to work because of illness or injury, you may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. If you have been wrongfully denied benefits by the Social Security Administration, we can represent you in obtaining the benefits to which you are entitled. There is no fee for your initial office consultation, and we charge a legal fees only if we are successful in recovering back benefits for you. We do not receive any portion of any future benefits due you or your family. Our standard fee is 25% of your back benefits or $6,000.00, whichever is less.
The following information is being provided to assist you in answering some common questions about Social Security disability claims. This information is not meant to cover every situation, it is a general statement of Social Security law and procedures. This information is not to be used as a substitute for specific legal advice from an attorney.
Please remember that the law is always changing through actions of the Congress, the Social Security Administration and the Courts. Accordingly, the information provided herein may be subject to change or no longer applicable.
The following Questions and Answers are being provided to assist you in learning about the SSD application process.
Who Can Get Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits?
Social Security Disability Insurance benefits are available to any disabled person who can no longer work, if you are “insured.” Being insured means that you worked long enough and paid sufficient Social Security taxes to be eligible. The disabled person's spouse, dependent children and, in some cases, even parents may also be able to get auxiliary Disability Benefits.
How Can I Obtain Benefits For A Disability?
To obtain Disability Benefits, Ungaro & Cifuni must establish your medical disability and non-medical eligibility. Disability standards are not uniform and change according to your age, education or work experience. A disability assessment must be conducted by a Ungaro & Cifuni attorney to insure that you meet the particular standards required.
How Does Social Security Define Disability?
To be eligible for Social Security Disability means that physical and/or mental impairment or impairments keep you from working at a certain standard or level according to your age, education or work experience. It is normally not sufficient to show that you cannot do your past work in order to be eligible for Social Security Disability. We must often show that you cannot do any kind of full-time work. Different rules generally apply when you reach 50 years of age, and the rules change again when you turn 55.
When Should I Apply For The Social Security Disability Benefits?
Ungaro & Cifuni will begin processing your application as soon as practicable. You do not need to wait the year to apply and can even apply while you are on medical leave and receiving sick-pay. It is better to meet with an attorney early to insure that you properly document your disability. Improper documentation can result in the loss of retroactive benefits or the denial of your claim.
What Do I Have To Do To Initiate My Claim For Social Disability Benefits?
You should meet with an attorney at Ungari & Cifuni who will make recommendations regarding the medical documentation required and then assist you with the completion of forms. Ungaro & Cifuni will review, advise and then file your application. We recommend that you do not make a direct appointment with, appear at any Social Security Office or communicate directly with any Social Security employee.
What Evidence Should I Obtain And/Or Will Be Included With My Application?
To get Social Security Disability Benefits, we must have medical evidence that shows you have a degree of physical and/or mental impairment(s) that makes you unable to work at the functional level required by the Social Security Administration. This evidence may include doctor or hospital reports, medical charts, objective test results, and narrative letters. The more persuasive the medical evidence we provide, the greater the chances that you will be successful in winning benefits.
Are There Special Rules If My Disability Is Based On Alcoholism Or Drug Addiction?
Beginning in April 1996, people who are disabled because of the current use of alcohol or another drug are not eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits. If you have a drug addiction or alcohol problem, we must establish that your disability is caused by a separate and distinct medical problem that makes you unable to work.
What Happens After My Application Is Submitted?
The SSA will usually contact your doctors and request medical or psychological records directly from your care givers. They often require that you be examined by an “independent” doctor for a disability evaluation. Whenever possible you should contact Ungaro & Cifuni at each and every stage so that you do not submit information that has not been reviewed by an attorney and deemed helpful to your claim.
What Happens If I'm Found To Be Eligible For Benefits?
If you are found eligible for Social Security Disability Benefits, you will get benefits beginning 5 full months after you became disabled, but only for a maximum of 12 months from the date we file your application. If you delay filing, you can lose benefits.
What Happens If I Am Denied Benefits?
Most initial applications are denied. Ungaro & Cifuni will provide you with all necessary forms to appeal any denial and we will assist you with their completion. Most applications are denied because the SSA finds:
The evidence does not show a serious medical problem; or
The disability is not expected to last 12 months; or
The person can do some type of work even if it is not their regular work.
If the Social Security Administration has improperly denied your claim for Social Security Disability Benefits, Ungaro & Cifuni will contest this determination by filing an official Request for a Hearing. It is essential that you advise Ungaro & Cifuni if you have been denied and provide Ungaro & Cifuni with a copy of the denial notice (sometimes the SSA fails to provide a copy of a denial to our offices and you remain responsible for filing an appeal).
How Is A Hearing Requested?
We can appeal by asking for a hearing before a Federal Administrative Judge of Law. The hearing is our opportunity to explain your situation directly to an official who has the authority to grant you Social Security Disability benefits. Ungaro & Cifuni will prepare you for, and represent you at, the hearing (See below).
When And Where Will The Hearing Be?
After you request a hearing it usually takes approximately one year for the Social Security hearing offices to schedule a hearing date. Social Security will advise our firm of the date, time and place of your hearing at least 20 days in advance. The hearing will usually be held within the geographical vicinity of your home.
What Happens At The Hearing?
An Administrative Law Judge will preside over the hearing. The judge's job is to make an independent decision based on the evidence in your case. This evidence includes medical records, other documents, and testimony you and others give at the hearing. The judge will question you about your disability. The hearing is private and is held in the Judge’s conference room. People generally at your hearing include the judge, the judge's assistant, you, an Ungaro & Cifuni attorney, and any witnesses. The judge may ask a vocational expert to testify and may also ask a doctor to testify. The hearing will be recorded. We will cross examine these witnesses.
Ungaro & Cifuni Will Help You With:
Gathering medical and other evidence;
Analyzing your case under the governing Social Security law;
Drafting letters to your doctor and explaining Social Security Regulations and requesting assessments and reports consistent with the regulations;
Referring you to specialists for treatment and for medical reports to develop your application;
Reviewing actions taken by SSA;
Advising you on how to best prepare your testimony for your hearing;
Protecting your right to a fair hearing by objecting to improper evidence and procedures;
Cross-examining adverse witnesses at your hearing;
Presenting a closing argument at your hearing;
Preparing and filing any required briefs or legal arguments on your behalf;
If you win, making sure that you are advised on current restrictions or reviews;
If you lose, requesting and filing an appellate brief and appeal of your case to the Appeals Council; and
If we deem appropriate, representing you in a federal court review of your case.
Will Ungaro & Cifuni Prepare Me For The Hearing?
It is usually very important to prepare for a Social Security Disability hearing. Your chances of winning the hearing are much better if you take time before the hearing to:
Get the medical evidence you need, whether it is obtaining existing records or asking your doctors for their opinions; and
Prepare for and discuss the testimony you'll give.
An Ungaro & Cifuni attorney will meet with you and carefully prepare you for you hearing by giving examples of and explaining questions that will likely be asked of you by the Judge. We will point out the facts that the Judge will be seeking and the issues and standards the Judge will be considering.
When Will I Get The Results Of The Hearing?
It often takes several weeks up to several months to receive a decision from the judge. In rare circumstances, a judge can announce a decision at the hearing.
What Happens If I Win The Hearing?
If you win benefits, you will get Social Security Disability Benefits retroactively depending on (a) the date that you applied and (b) the date the judge determines that you first became disabled.
Will These Benefits Be Taxable?
You will have to pay federal taxes on your Social Security Disability benefits if you file a federal tax return as an "individual" and your total income is more than $25,000. If you file a joint return, you will have to pay taxes if you and your spouse have a total income that is more than $32,000. For more information, call the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) toll-free at 1-800-829-3676 and ask for IRS Publication Number 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits. People who are deaf or hard of hearing may call the IRS toll-free number, 1-800-829-4059.
What Happens If I Lose The Hearing?
If you do not want us to appeal your case we can apply again later, but you may no longer be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits or you may receive a smaller amount of retroactive benefits. If you lose your hearing we can ask that your case be reviewed by the Social Security Appeals Council. We must make this request within 60 days of your Unfavorable Decision. If the Appeals Council refuses to review your case or decides against you, you must appeal to the U.S. District Court within 60 days. Ungaro & Cifuni will review and advise you whether we believe your case has merit. We are not obligated to represent you in Federal District Court and will at that time determine whether we will handle the matter.
Our Legal Fees
Ungaro & Cifuni charge a fee for representing you, but you will be charged this fee only if you win your case. Our standard fee is 25% of your back benefits and is currently capped at $6,000.00, but may be raised by the Commissioner of Social Security from time to time. We are confident that you will view our fees as modest when you consider the value of years of retroactive and prospective benefits you may become entitled to if you are awarded a Social Security Disability benefit. Additionally, you will also be responsible for what are called "out of pocket" costs of your case whether you win or lose.