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Even though Social Security Disability hearings are administrative hearings and the normal rules of evidence do not apply, there are still rules and regulations that the SSA has issued which must be followed.  After May 1, 2017, the SSA issued a regulation, 20 C.F.R. § 405.331, which states that you should submit any written evidence to the ALJ no later than 5 business days before the date of the scheduled hearing.  If you do not comply with this requirement, the ALJ may decline to consider the evidence unless certain circumstances excuse your ability to comply with the rule.
     
Those circumstances include:  the actions of the SSA misled you, you had physical or mental limitations that prevented you from submitting the evidence earlier, some other unusual or unexpected circumstance beyond your control prevented you from submitting the evidence.  If one of these circumstances exist, then the ALJ has the option to accept the evidence if there is a reasonable possibility that the evidence, alone or when considered with other evidence of record, would affect the outcome of your claim. 

In order to avoid problems with submitting evidence, please understand that there is a firm and fast deadline for you to submit all medical evidence and other written evidence in your disability case.  All evidence is due 5 BUSINESS DAYS prior to the hearing.  To be safe, that means all of your evidence must be submitted to the judge at least ONE WEEK prior to your scheduled hearing date.  If you need help submitting evidence or preparing your case for hearing in front of a judge, contact Cannon Disability Law. We will be happy to help you and answer your questions.
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You are the witness at your Social Security Disability hearing. The Judge is going to be asking you specific questions about your background and your disability.  If you have an attorney, your attorney should also be asking you questions. You may be asking yourself, what will I be asked? How do I know what to say? Will I know the answers?

Be assured that you will know the answers to the questions that you are asked because all of the questions are about you and your disability. You will be asked your name, date of birth, address, and possibly your Social Security Number. You will usually be asked if you were in the military and if your are married, single, or divorced. These are questions that are easy for most people. However, once those questions are answered, you will be asked about your disability. There are things you can do to prepare to answer those questions.

The main thing you can do to help yourself is think about your disability and how it keeps you from working. Specifically, the Judge wants to know how much you can lift, how long you can sit, stand and walk, and if you are able to concentrate on job instructions. All of the questions are asked in the context of an 8 hour work day. For example, if you lay down every afternoon for 2 hours because of back pain or other reasons, you need to tell the judge that you lie down, because that amount of lying down eliminates all work. Can you imagine an employer letting you lay down on the job for two hours during an eight hour shift? Of course not. That is why it is important to use numbers and examples when you talk about your disability. If you tell the judge you lay down "a lot," that doesn't help your case. No one knows what "a lot" means to you. So, instead of answering with general statements, be specific. If the judge asks how many pounds you can lift, the answer isn't "not very much." The answer is 5, 10, or the number of pounds you could lift repetitively throughout the course of an 8 hour work day without pain. Before the hearing, mentally review your limitations so you can be prepared to explain, using numbers and examples, how you are not able to complete an 8 hour work day due to your disabling impairments. If you need representation at your upcoming hearing, call us at Cannon Disability Law. We can help you win your case.
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      In most cases, applicants for Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) will present with a representative before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). This is a vital step for many reasons, including that YOU can testify as to how your disabilities affect you on a daily basis. This is your chance to speak your mind. So, what now?
      Once your hearing has been scheduled, the SSA’s Office of Hearings Operations will send you a packet in the mail. This Notice of Hearing includes important information, including the date, time, and location of your hearing. It also includes additional information, such as whether a vocational or medical expert will be called to testify. Typically, your Notice of Hearing will also include forms to update your medications and recent medical treatment. These forms not only ensure accuracy to the ALJ, but to Cannon Disability Law, as well. When you receive your Notice of Hearing, make sure you fill those forms out quickly and accurately and forward them to our office.
      It is important to be on the same page with the person that will be representing you at your hearing. A paralegal will be in contact with you soon after your hearing has been scheduled to go over your file. This includes eligibility questions for SSI, your work history, and your medical records. Ideally, your file should already be updated with medical records, with the possible exception of recent progress notes. Work with your paralegal to ensure that everything is in your file; medical records are the most important piece of evidence, so make sure your chance at success is at its very highest!
In addition to medical records, your representative may request additional documentation. This may include letters from your doctor or former employer, or forms that have been designed to meet SSA’s disability determinations. While this documentation only supplements what is already in your file (your medical records), they can provide valuable support for your claim.
      With your file complete and ready to go, you will then talk with your representative. This pre-hearing provides crucial information regarding your claim, the hearing process, and what questions you will be asked at your hearing. Your pre-hearing is likely the final stage before going before the ALJ, so make sure to ask questions before your hearing.
      Your hearing is scheduled. You have ensured accuracy (the Notice of Hearing forms), development (updated medical records, provider forms, and letters), and preparation (pre-hearing). Now it’s time for the ALJ to hear your story. So take a deep breath, focus, and speak your mind. It’s the very best way to ensure you receive the help you need.
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Many people become confused about collecting retirement benefits and Social Security disability benefits from the SSA.  While it is correct that the SSA administers both benefits, qualifying for the benefits are two different processes. An individual cannot elect to take early retirement, for example, and then decide to apply for disability benefits instead.  Disability benefits are specifically designed for individuals who can no longer work because they are disabled.  And, as you may know, electing early retirement benefits at the age of 62 reduces the amount of your retirement benefit.  If you are thinking of taking early retirement benefits because of a disability and being unable to work, it is better to apply for disability benefits. Why? Because the monthly amount of disability benefits is the same amount of money that you would receive if you retired at your full retirement age.  Therefore, if you are awarded disability benefits, you will receive a higher monthly benefit amount and your eventual retirement amount will be the higher too, as it will be the same amount as your disability benefit.  Taking early retirement if you are disabled and can no longer work, instead of filing for disability benefits, can mean that over your life-time you will lose a lot of money that you may be entitled to based upon your hard work.
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Recently, there are ads on the internet that seem to promise that people who apply for disability benefits will be awarded almost $3000 a month. These ads are alluding to a benefit amount that is not available to most working people who pay their taxes. 

Social Security Disability benefits are paid once you are found disabled, but the amount that you receive on a monthly basis depends upon the amount of money you have earned during your working life, your age, and also whether or not you have paid taxes on your earnings and therefore, contributed to the  Social Security system. Many people think they are automatically qualified for a certain amount of monthly disability payments and they are surprised to learn that their monthly benefit is not as high as they hoped. Do not be misled by internet or TV ads. The average person's monthly disability benefit is usually between $1000-$1500. Supplemental Security Income benefit amounts vary by state, but they are not usually more than $1000 per month.

In order to receive a disability benefit that is close to the maximum amount payable, you would need to earn a high salary and pay taxes for over 20 years. For example, the maximum monthly Social Security retirement benefit at full or normal retirement age is $2,788 for 2018 and $2,861 for 2019. However, it is important to remember that the maximum allowable benefit amount is only available to those individuals who had the maximum taxable earnings for at least 35 working years.  It is a similar calculation in order to determine the monthly benefit for disabled individuals. If you need further information about how to apply for disability benefits or want to know if you are eligible, contact Cannon Disability Law
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There is a good chance that you have never heard of the Medical Vocational Guidelines or the "GRID" Rules, even though they can be an important part of SSA's regulations that may help you win your Social Security Disability claim.  If you are over 50 years old, the GRID rules apply to you.  Once a person is 50 years old, if they cannot perform their past work and are limited to performing sedentary, unskilled work, they win their claim. Yes, you read that correctly. Even if the 50 year old can work, they are still eligible for benefits. But why?

The GRID Rules are designed to acknowledge the reality that older workers are less likely to be hired, particularly at entry-level, unskilled seated jobs. Those jobs are given to younger workers. The rules become more favorable to the claimant the older they are. Your disability attorney should know about these rules. Ask your attorney if they apply to you. Meanwhile, if you have questions about your disability claim, contact Cannon Disability Law. We can help.
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For a number of years, the SSA has been moving toward a video/telephone format for claimant. What this means is that even though you, the claimant, may be required to appear at a hearing - the judge may be on a video screen and the witnesses who are testifying about your case are on the phone.  As attorneys who represent Social Security Disability claimants, we believe it is our client's right to appear in front of a judge who is in the court room. We also believe it is the client's right to cross-examine witnesses in person. The SSA may think moving toward video hearings is more efficient, but is also impersonal. Below, you will find the Notice of a Proposed Rule that has been issued by the SSA. When you read the proposed rule you will see that the SSA wants to make it impossible for you to opt out of appearing before a judge and witnesses who are in the courtroom. 

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Setting the Manner for the Appearance of Parties and Witnesses at a Hearing (Nov. 15, 2018)
Summary: We propose to revise our rules to explain that the agency retains the right to determine how parties and witnesses will appear at a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) at the hearing level of our administrative review process, and we will set the time and place for the hearing accordingly. We also propose to revise our rules to explain the State agency or the Associate Commissioner for Disability Determinations, or his or her delegate, will determine how parties and witnesses will appear, and will set the time and place for a hearing, before a disability hearing officer (DHO) at the reconsideration level in continuing disability review (CDR) cases. At both levels, we propose to schedule the parties to a hearing to appear by video teleconference (VTC), in person, or, in limited circumstances, by telephone. We propose that parties to a hearing will not have the option to opt out of appearing by the manner of hearing we choose. We also propose rules that explain how we will determine the manner of a party's or a witness's appearance. We expect these proposed changes would improve our service to the public by increasing the efficiency of our hearings processes and reducing the amount of time it takes us to schedule and hold hearings.

​If you think it is unfair of the SSA to take away your choice of having an in person hearing, contact your local Congressman and ask for your right to a fair hearing.
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So, you received a denial of your disability application in the mail. Now what do you do? The first thing to realize is that you should not give up. The majority of people who apply for disability benefits are denied multiple times, but in order to keep your chances of obtaining disability benefits alive, you will need to appeal the denial. The first thing you need to do is read the denial letter. It will tell you that you have 60 days in which to appeal the denial. That is a serious deadline. It shouldn't be hard to appeal the denial within a 60 day time frame, especially now that you can appeal online at ssa.gov.  If you don't have access to the internet, you could go to your local library and go to SSA's website and appeal there.  If you don't have access to the internet at all, you can still appeal by going into the local SSA office and completing the forms by hand.  If you cannot physically go to the local SSA office, you can call Social Security's 1-800 number, which is 1-800-772-1213, and they will send you the paperwork that you need to appeal. The reason you want to appeal is that eventually, you will be able to have a hearing in front of a judge and you will be able to explain your disabling impairments to that judge. But that will never happen unless you appeal. 
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Social Security disability benefits are monthly payments that support disabled individuals who cannot work a full-time job. There are two different government programs that pay disability benefits:  Social Security Disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). 

Although both programs use the same basic definition of "disability," there are fundamental differences between the programs. The benefits and qualifying requirements differ, because SSI includes a component of financial need and can be obtained by those who are disabled but did not pay into the government system.

SSD, on the other hand, is the program that pays monthly benefits to people who are disabled and have paid into the system through working and paying their taxes.  Many people confuse these two programs, which is easy to do because one person can receive payments from both programs.  For example, if you worked for 20 years, became disabled, but you worked at a low paying job, your monthly benefit amount under SSD may be low enough that you also qualify for some SSI money, dep
ending on the state in which you live.  

The main thing to understand about the programs, is that when you apply for disability benefits with the SSA, you are applying for both types of benefit.  The SSA will determine if you are not eligible financially for SSI.  They will also determine, under their rules, if you are eligible and are disabled for SSD.  Eligibility for benefits begins when you apply for benefits.  If you do not apply, you are not eligible and you cannot go back in time and receive past benefits.  Many people think that if they apply and they haven't worked for the past 5 years due to disability, if their application is approved the SSA will pay them for the entire time they have been off work.  That is simply not true.  SSI begins on the date of application, if one is found disabled. Under the SSD application, the most a person can receive in past due benefits is payments one year prior to their application date, as long as they were not working and they are found disabled for that past period of time.  

The important thing to understand from this information is that no matter what type of benefit you are eligible to receive if you are disabled, you can receive nothing unless you apply.  Therefore, if you become disabled and are no longer working, the sooner you apply, the better off you will be.
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It is paramount that you understand the importance of collecting all of your medical records when you apply for disability benefits and updating all of your records prior to attending a hearing. The SSA has changed the law and states they don't have to rely on the opinion of your treating physician or even the opinion of their own physician.  Rather, all medical opinions are equal and the opinion that a judge can rely on is the one that is best supported by the medical records.  Even if your doctor writes a letter stating you are disabled, the SSA doesn't have to give it much weight, unless the medical records support that opinion. In other words, submit all of your medical records as soon as possible.  This includes records of past surgeries.

The second thing that is very important to winning your disability hearing is that there are firm deadlines in which to submit medical records. The SSA has issued a rule that all medical records must be submitted five days prior to your hearing and in typical lawyerly fashion, this means five "working" days. So, in actuality, everything must be in the record one week prior to the hearing. There are good reasons for this rule when the SSA is dealing with thousands of hearings across the nation. It helps the efficiency of the entire system to have all the evidence into the record so it can be reviewed by the judge and experts. The bottom line is this:  one week prior the hearing is the deadline for submitting your medical records.  If you fail to submit the records at least one week prior to the hearing, the judge doesn't have to admit them into the record at all and that means she doesn't have to consider them. Don't wait until the last minute to submit your records or to give all of your records to your attorney so she can submit them. Be prepared in advance and you will have a better chance of winning your disability benefits.  #SSD #SSI #medicalrecords #windisability #cannondisability
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