Frequently Asked Questions About Social Security Disability

In these FAQs, find some of the most common questions about obtaining Social Security disability in New Mexico. Here, our knowledgeable legal team shares their thoughts and perspectives—whether you’re just getting started or you need help later in the process.
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  • What is a trial work period for Social Security disability recipients?

    Social Security Disability Paperwork in TypewriterIf you are eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and are receiving monthly benefits, you may want to try to go back to work if your medical condition improves. However, you may be afraid to do this because you do not want to lose your benefits. Fortunately, the Social Security Administration (SSA) allows you to return to work without jeopardizing them during a trial work period.

    Your Right to a Trial Work Period

    SSDI recipients are entitled to a nine-month trial work period without risking their SSDI benefits during a 60-month rolling period. There is no limit on the amount of income they can earn during the trial work period. The months that a person attempts to return to work do not have to be consecutive.

    While an individual may make a conscious decision to try to work again under this program, this time period can also be triggered if he makes too much total monthly income. The amount that triggers the trial work period is set by the SSA and changes yearly. Here are monthly amounts that start a trial period:

    • 2018: $850
    • 2019: $890
    • 2020: $910

    If a person is self-employed, he will be considered in the trial work period if he works 80 hours or more in any month.

    How Many Trial Work Periods Can You Have?

    An individual is only entitled to one nine-month trial period during a five-year period. Once it is exhausted, a recipient is not entitled to a new trial period unless his SSDI benefits end and he either qualifies for SSDI benefits by filing a new application or through an expedited reinstatement.

    What Is the Extended Period of Eligibility?

    Once a recipient completes his trial work period, he enters into a 36-month Extended Period of Eligibility. During this time period, he can continue to receive SSDI benefits as long as he remains disabled and does not earn more than the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) amount set by the SSA every year. For non-blind individuals, the SGA is $1,220 in 2019 and $1,260 in 2020.

    Do you have other questions about the trial work period or your eligibility for SSDI benefits? Call our Roswell office today to schedule your free consultation with our experienced Social Security disability lawyers to get the answers you need and to learn how we can assist you.

     

  • Should I hire an advocate or Social Security disability lawyer?

    A Client and Lawyer Shaking Hands at the Start of a SSDI CaseWhen you apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you have the right to be represented by a Social Security disability attorney or an advocate.

    Reasons an Attorney May Be a Better Choice Than an Advocate

    The cost to hire a lawyer is the same as for an advocate. In addition, both are only paid if your application is approved, and their fees are taken out of your award. Because of this, it makes more sense to retain an attorney. Here are other compelling reasons you should choose an attorney rather than an advocate.

    Reason #1: An Attorney Is More Experienced

    A lawyer has more training and experience than an advocate. He is required to have these qualifications to represent clients:

    • Bachelor’s degree, which requires four years of college
    • Juris Doctorate (JD) degree, which requires three additional years of study in law school
    • Admission to the state bar association, which requires passing a state bar exam and meeting other requirements.

    In contrast, an advocate is a non-lawyer representative that is permitted to represent you by the Social Security Administration (SSA). In order to qualify, he would only need to have these qualifications:

    • Bachelor’s degree or equivalent qualifications from work experience and training
    • Criminal background check
    • Professional liability insurance
    • Passage of an exam administered by the SSA
    • Continuing education course

    Reason #2: You Have Attorney-Client Privilege With Your Lawyer

    When you hire an attorney, you have the benefit of the attorney-client privilege. Your lawyer is bound to keep anything you tell him and your information confidential. This is not true if you work with an advocate.

    Reason #3: A Lawyer Must Follow Strict Ethical Guidelines

    Attorneys are required to follow strict ethical guidelines that advocates do not have to abide by. For example, your lawyer would have a duty to zealously represent you.

    Reason #4: An Attorney Can File Your Appeal

    If your application for SSDI benefits is denied, a lawyer can file an appeal of the decision for you in federal court. An advocate cannot do this because only licensed attorneys are permitted to represent clients in court hearings.

    Contact Us for the Legal Representation You Need

    Are you applying for SSDI benefits? Our New Mexico Social Security disability lawyers are here to file your application, collect the evidence you need, and fight for the benefits you are entitled to. Call our Roswell office or start a live chat to schedule your free consultation today.

     

  • Can I receive Social Security disability benefits for hearing loss?

    Man With Severe Loss of Hearing on disabilityYou may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) if you are deaf or suffer significant hearing loss. However, these claims are complicated, and you need the assistance of an experienced disability attorney if you want your application to be approved.

    When You May Automatically Qualify for SSDI Benefits for Loss of Hearing

    The Social Security Administration (SSA) has an impairment listing which states when you can be automatically considered disabled and eligible for SSDI benefits for hearing loss if you do not have cochlear implants. A cochlear implant is a medically inserted device that can provide a person with a sense of sound. You may qualify based on the results of one of these two tests:

    • Audiometry. In your better ear, your average hearing threshold sensitivity for air conduction must be 90 decibels or less. In addition, you must have a bone conduction hearing threshold of 60 decibels or less in your good ear.
    • Word recognition test. If you can repeat 40 percent or less of a list of standardized words, you can automatically qualify for benefits.

    Your Right to SSDI Benefits If You Have Cochlear Implants

    You are automatically eligible for SSDI benefits if you have cochlear implants in one or both ears for one year after they were implanted. This is true whether or not your hearing improves. After 12 months, your word recognition on a “Hearing in Noise Test” (TNT) must be 60 percent or less for you to continue to receive benefits.

    What Happens If Your Hearing Loss Does Not Meet the Automatic Impairment Requirements?

    Even if your hearing loss does not satisfy the requirements of the tests listed above, you may still be eligible for SSDI benefits. You would need to show that there are no jobs that you can perform with your hearing loss. In deciding your application, the SSA will consider your ability to communicate, follow instructions, and do various job tasks.

    Do you have questions about whether you suffer from sufficient hearing loss to qualify for SSDI benefits? Call our office to schedule a free consultation with a member of our legal team to learn about your eligibility for benefits and how we can assist you.

     

  • What are Social Security disability work credits?

    Social Security Disability Claim Form on the InternetIn order to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you must be disabled and unable to work under the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) definition of a disability and must have worked long enough in a specific time period under their rules. When you are working, you earn work credits and must have a sufficient number of them to qualify for SSDI benefits.

    What Are Work Credits?

    Work credits are based on your annual income from a job or through self-employment. You can earn one credit per each quarter of the year and a maximum of four work credits yearly.

    The amount of earnings to earn a work credit changes each year. In 2019, you need $1,360 in work or self-employment income to earn one credit. The maximum amount of income you would need to earn your four credits for the year is $5,440.

    How Many Work Credits Do You Need to Qualify for SSDI?

    The number of work credits needed to qualify for disability benefits depends on the age when you became disabled. If you are 62 years old or older, you need 40 work credits, and 20 of them must have been earned within 10 years of when you became disabled. However, if you are younger than 62 years old, you may qualify with fewer work credits. Here are some examples of what is required:

    • Before age 24. You need six work credits earned within a three-year period before the date of your disability to qualify.
    • Ages 24 to 31. You must have worked half of the time for the time period between when you turned 21 years old to the date of your disability to have enough work credits.
    • Ages 31 through 42. You need 20 work credits.
    • Ages 43 through 61. The number of work credits increases as you age. For example, you would need 21 credits at age 43, 28 credits at age 50, and 38 credits at age 60.

    How Can You Determine If You Have Enough Work Credits?

    You can determine an estimate of your Social Security disability benefit and whether you have enough work credits by reviewing your Social Security Statement. To learn how to do this, watch our video on this topic. Then call our Roswell office to schedule your free consultation with our experienced disability attorneys to learn more about your eligibility for SSDI and how we can assist you in obtaining the benefits you deserve.

     

  • What is a cumulative medical exam?

    Stethoscope With an Appointment CalendarWhen you apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you may be asked to go to a cumulative medical exam (CME). This is a medical examination that is scheduled by the Social Security Administration (SSA) with a physician that they choose. A CME can include a physical examination, diagnostic tests, and lab work.

    Why You May Be Asked to Attend a Cumulative Medical Exam

    The SSA frequently requests that SSDI applicants attend a cumulative medical exam and will use it to determine the existence and severity of an individual’s disability. Some of the reasons that the disability examiner may request that you attend a CME include:

    • The examiner needs a key piece of medical evidence to make a decision on your application.
    • You have not received medical treatment for 60 days or longer.
    • The medical evidence that you provided is not sufficient.

    What to Do If the SSA Requests a CME

    A cumulative medical exam can be a quick procedure, but it can have a big impact on your SSDI application. You should not be charged for the exam. It is important to remember that the doctor performing it does not work for the SSA, but is being paid by them. Here are important tips on how to handle your exam:

    • Be polite and respectful during your exam.
    • Expect to be asked about your symptoms by the examining doctor. You want to give him short answers and include concrete examples.
    • You should be truthful when discussing your illness or medical condition. Do not exaggerate or downplay the symptoms that you are experiencing.

    Importance of Attending Your Cumulative Medical Exam

    You must attend your CME if the SSA requests that you attend one. If you fail to attend your exam, the disability examiner could determine that you are not being cooperative and deny your application.

    Retain an Attorney Immediately If You Receive a Notice of a CME

    One of the most important first steps you should take if the SSA notifies you of a CME is to retain an experienced disability attorney. Your attorney can give you advice on how to best handle your exam and ensure that you receive the SSDI that you deserve. Call the Injury & Disability Law Center today to schedule a free consultation to learn how our skilled lawyers can help you with your SSDI claim.

     

  • What can I do to stay afloat financially while I wait for my Social Security Disability benefits application to be approved?

    Numerous People in a Waiting Room Looking for Public AssistanceIt can be very stressful to be too disabled to work and have no income coming in while waiting for your Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) application to be approved. It can take at least three months for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to make a decision on your application and months or longer to get your application approved if you must file an appeal. If you are like most people, you may not have the financial resources to pay your basic monthly bills while you are waiting to receive disability benefits.

    Places to Go for Financial Help

    You may need to seek financial assistance from outside sources while your application is pending. Fortunately, the SSA generally will not consider these funds in deciding whether you qualify for SSDI. Here are possible sources of help that you should explore:

    • Public assistance. Depending on your financial situation, you may qualify for public assistance through the New Mexico Human Services Department. One of your first steps should be to apply for any benefits that you may be eligible for.
    • Family and friends. It may not be pleasant to ask family and friends to help you out, but they may be a good source of financial assistance. They may be sympathetic to your temporary financial challenges and have the resources to assist you.
    • Churches and religious organizations. If you are a member of a church or other religious group, you should contact them to see if they have any resources for members struggling financially. There may be other religious organizations in your community, such as the Salvation Army, that provides people in need with help for basic needs, such as rent or mortgage, utilities, food, and clothes.
    • Food bank. Many communities have food banks for residents going through challenging financial times. Going to a food bank for food can help you feed your family and free up some of your money to pay your other monthly expenses.

    How to Speed Up the SSDI Application Process

    One of the best ways that you can make the SSDI application process go faster is to retain an experienced disability attorney to help you complete your application properly and provide the SSA with the information they need to make a decision. A lawyer can also file a prompt appeal on your behalf if this is necessary. To find out how The Injury & Disability Law Center can assist you, start a live chat to schedule your free consultation.

     

  • How is my disability onset date determined?

    Calendar With a Date Circled in Red MarkerWhen you apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you must establish the date that you were unable to work due to a medical condition or disability. This is known as your disability onset date. The date you pick is an important one and can have a significant impact on the amount of back benefits you will receive.

    How Your Disability Onset Date May Be Determined

    It can be easy to establish your disability onset date if you become disabled due to an accident. However, if your disability has been caused by a medical condition or illness, you may have become disabled over time. Determining your onset date can be complicated in this situation. Here are some of the factors that the Social Security Administration (SSA) will consider when determining this date:

    • The date you list on your SSDI application
    • The date that you stopped working, or only worked in a limited capacity, and did not earn substantial income
    • Your physician’s determination of the date you became disabled
    • Your medical records

    Why Your Disability Onset Date Is Important

    Your disability onset date determines the amount of back disability payments you will receive. When you apply for SSDI, there is a five-month waiting period before you are eligible for benefits. In addition, you are only entitled to a maximum of 12 months in back disability benefits from the date that you apply for benefits.

    Here is an example of how your disability onset date will affect the amount of your back benefits if your application was approved by SSA on 12/1/2018 and you claimed your disability onset date was 9/1/2017:

    • If the SSA agreed with your onset date of 9/1/2017, you would be entitled to back benefits from 2/1/2018, which is five months after your onset date, to 12/1/2018.
    • If the SSA does not agree with your onset date and instead claims your disability began on 2/1/2018, you would only receive back benefits from 7/1/2018, which would be five months after 2/1/2018, until your approval date of 12/1/2018.

    Get the Legal Assistance You Need When Applying for SSDI Benefits

    Do you have questions about your disability onset date? Was your application for benefits denied? Our experienced Social Security disability attorneys are here to explain your right to SSDI and ensure that you receive all the disability benefits you deserve. To schedule a free consultation, call our Roswell office today.

     

  • How can I pay a Social Security disability attorney if I am not working?

    Potential SSDI Client Holding an Empty WalletIf you are unable to work due a medical condition or disability, the process of filing for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and fighting with the Social Security Administration (SSA) about your right to benefits can be complicated and lengthy. You may know that you need the assistance of an experienced Social Security disability attorney but fear that you will not be able to pay his attorney fees when you have no paycheck anymore. Fortunately, you can afford to retain a lawyer even if you have limited funds.

    How Social Security Disability Attorneys Are Paid

    Lawyers who represent clients filing for SSDI are paid on a contingency fee basis, which means they do not charge any attorney fees up front. In addition, the SSA has set limits on how much an attorney can charge for his services. Here is how a contingency fee agreement works:

    • You only owe attorney fees if you win your case.
    • If your claim is denied, you would not be charged any fees by your lawyer.
    • Your lawyer will receive a percentage of your disability benefits as his attorney fees. Under SSA rules, an attorney can only receive 25 percent, but no more than $6,000, of your back disability benefits at the time your application is approved.

    How Legal Fees Are Paid in SSDI Cases

    When you hire your attorney, you will sign a contingency fee agreement. It gives the SSA permission to pay your lawyer for his services when your claim for benefits is approved. Your lawyer would file an application for his fees with the SSA rather than sending you a bill. Once approved, his attorney fees would be paid out of your past-due benefits.

    Out-of-Pocket Expenses You May Owe

    Your lawyer is permitted to charge you for out-of-pocket expenses as well as attorney fees for his services. These costs can include the fees for obtaining medical records, expert witness fees, and postage. You may owe these expenses whether or not you win your case. It is important to discuss these additional fees with your attorney before you hire him so you understand what they are and how their payment will be handled.

    Let Us Help You File Your Claim for SSDI Benefits   

    Unfortunately, many SSDI applications are denied by the SSA even when the applicant qualifies for benefits. Our experienced Social Security disability attorneys are here to guide you through the process of filing your application and fight for the benefits you deserve. Fill out our convenient online form to schedule a consultation to learn more about how we can assist you.

     

  • Can I receive Social Security disability benefits if I’m self-employed?

    Red and White Self-Employed BlocksAccording to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 9.6 million self-employed workers during 2016, including entrepreneurs, business owners, and freelancers. Self-employment has numerous advantages, such as having more freedom in the workplace and the ability to work from home. However, self-employed individuals sometimes wonder if they can still qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) should they suffer from an injury or illness that prevents them from working. The good news is, self-employed workers can still receive these benefits, under certain circumstances.

    Self-Employment and Social Security Insurance

    Self-employed individuals may qualify for SSDI if:

    • They have paid Social Security taxes. While employees pay into the Social Security system automatically when taxes are deducted from their paychecks, self-employed workers must pay these taxes on their own.
    • They have accurately reported their income. Self-employed individuals must accurately report their earnings when filing federal income taxes.
    • They have worked long enough to qualify for benefits. All workers are required to pay Social Security taxes for a number of years before they can collect benefits in the event of a long-term disability. While the amount of work necessary to qualify for disability benefits varies with a person’s age, they are typically required to have worked for at least five out of the last ten years.
    • They have a qualifying disability. Just like everyone else pursuing SSDI benefits, self-employed individuals must prove that they have a disability that is expected to last for over a year. Furthermore, this disability must prevent them from continuing to work.
    • They can no longer engage in substantial gainful activity. Substantial gainful activity (SGA) means that a person is engaged in significant physical or mental labor. For 2019, SGA is defined as earning $1,220 or more per month from employment.

    An Attorney Can Help You Get the Compensation You Deserve

    If you’ve been self-employed, and qualify for SSDI benefits due to an injury or illness, an experienced disability benefits attorney can help you receive the compensation you deserve. To learn more, contact the Injury & Disability Law Center by clicking the Live Chat button on this page.

     

  • What is the Social Security Administration’s definition of disabled?

    Man Holding a Disability Sign in His HandsAn individual must be considered disabled in order to qualify for Social Security disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a strict set of requirements that must be met before disability benefits will be paid.

    Qualifications for SSA Disability Benefits

    The SSA uses a five-step sequential process to determine whether or not a claimant qualifies to receive Social Security disability benefits. These five steps are:

    1. Work Status. Social Security disability applicants cannot qualify for benefits if they are engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA). For 2019, any individual earning more than $1,220 a month is considered to be engaged in SGA. Most claimants have no difficulty complying with the work status requirement since they have already stopped working due to their disability.
    2. Severity Assessment. To qualify for disability payments, a claimant’s impairment must be severe enough to completely interfere with basic work-related activities. It also must last, or be expected to last, at least 12 months. Disabilities that only mildly interfere with an applicant’s ability to work for less than one year are unlikely to be considered severe.
    3. Disabling Conditions. The SSA has established an extensive list of medical conditions that may qualify claimants as disabled, known as the listing of impairments. If the claimant’s medical ailment is found in the listing of impairments, it will typically qualify for disability benefits. Even if the medical condition isn’t specifically listed, it may still qualify for benefits if it is of equal severity to an ailment that is on the list.
    4. Previous Relevant Employment. The next step in the sequential evaluation process involves determining the claimant’s ability to perform past relevant work, which relies upon their residual functional capacity (RFC). Determining RFC involves assessing the claimant’s medical records to discover which tasks may still be performed. If the applicant is found to be incapable of doing the lightest possible work they have performed previously, the claim will move on to the final step.
    5. Performing Other Work. In the final step of the assessment process, the SSA considers the applicant’s education, work experience, and age when determining the claimant’s ability to perform other work. This step may involve consulting a vocational expert to determine the jobs that a claimant may be capable of performing.
     

    Receiving Social Security Disability Benefits

    As you can see, the SSA considers many factors when determining whether or not a claimant qualifies as disabled. If you are entitled to SSA benefits, an experienced disability benefits attorney can help you receive the compensation you deserve. To learn more, contact the Injury & Disability Law Center by clicking the Live Chat button on this page.