How Many Times Can You Appeal a Social Security Disability Claim?

How Many Times Can You Appeal a Social Security Disability Claim?

Nothing is more frightening than getting a denial letter from the Social Security Administration when you are disabled and cannot work. Unfortunately, this happens to millions of people each day. If this has happened to you recently, don’t despair. You have the right to appeal this decision several times in front of an Appeals Council and an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).

An appeal should be filed as soon as possible if you receive a denial from the SSA. Also, never just re-apply if you have been denied disability benefits. Re-filing does nothing to ensure you will be approved and it may complicate filing an appeal at a later date.

To avoid further delays with getting the benefits you deserve, call the Law Office of Joel Thrift today to schedule a consultation with an experienced disability attorney. Our legal team has successfully litigated first, second and third disability claims appeals for clients who are unable to work due to a disabling physical or psychological condition.

The First Appeal: Reconsideration

Upon receiving your first denial letter, you can file an appeal called a “reconsideration”. This begins a claim review by individuals not involved in the original review and ultimate denial. Reconsideration appeals must be filed within 60 days or the SSA will close your disability case. In most cases, a reconsideration appeal does not require you to be physically present. New evidence is allowed during the reconsideration process.

The Second Appeal: Administrative Law Judge Hearing

After a reconsideration denial, you can move on to the second appeal phase involving a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). This appeal must also be filed within 60 days of a reconsideration denial. Before rendering a decision, an ALJ judge will evaluate medical evidence already submitted proving your disability and determine if the initial appeal reviewers made process errors regarding their denial determination. Having a disability attorney represent you in front of an ALJ can significantly increase your chance of the judge overturning a reconsideration decision.

The Third Appeal: Appeals Council

You can file an appeal with the SSA Appeals Council if an ALJ denies your claim. The Appeals Council will also evaluate all aspects of the ALJ’s decision for possible technical errors. They can further remand (return) your case to the same ALJ who denied your claim and order another hearing. In other words, an Appeals Council can overturn an ALJ’s decision, uphold an ALJ’s decision or remand your claim.

The Fourth and Final Appeal: Filing a Federal Lawsuit

When a disability claim is denied three times, you can take your claim to the federal level by filing it with a U.S. District Court in your city or state. You will need to be represented by a disability attorney at this point who will submit a written complaint to the appropriate district court. Once the SSA receives your attorney’s complaint, an SSA lawyer will file a response in district court. This response contains the reasons why the SSA has consistently denied to approve your claim.

Why Does the Social Security Administration Deny Disability Claims?

Lack of adequate medical documentation proving a disability, incomplete or wrongly filled out paperwork and inability to show you have followed through with prescribed treatments are leading reasons why disability claims are routinely denied. The disability attorneys at Joel Thrift Law genuinely care about our clients who cannot work through no fault of their own and will work tirelessly to get you approved for monthly benefits.

Call the Law Office of Joel Thrift today for immediate assistance with your disability claim denials.

Keys for Finding Social Security Lawyers in Atlanta, Georgia

Keys for Finding Social Security Lawyers in Atlanta, Georgia

Navigating the waters of the Social Security Administration’s requirements can be a challenge that requires help to accomplish. If you plan to apply for SSDI or SSI, you’ll need professional and experienced legal help, so it’s important to find the right attorney. You need a lawyer you can trust and who specializes in social security law. Learn these important keys to finding the right social security lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia, and where you can go for help with your application or appeal.

Beware of Promises

The best social security lawyers won’t deliver promises or guarantees that you’ll get approved or get a certain amount of dollars for your injuries. A good attorney will discuss the strengths of your case with you and will point out any issues you might have. They will give their opinion on your chances but will never make a promise. What they will do is talk straight to you at all times and always be realistic about where your case is and where they see it going. Beware of those who make promises of specific dollar figures or who guarantee victory. 

Free Consultation

A good attorney will be willing to sit down with you for a free consultation on your case. Even more, while you may speak to a staff member on your initial phone call, your initial face-to-face meeting will be with the actual attorney who will be handling your case. Social Security attorneys are very busy, but it’s important to find one who will take the time to work directly with you. You want an attorney who will make you a priority and who will always be willing to give you the personal time you need. 

Research Online

Do some research on the attorney you’re considering. You want to know what their approval rate is and how often they win full benefits as opposed to partial or refusals. Research their credentials, experience and qualifications. Check into their case history as far as you can. Many attorneys will list such qualifications right on their own website. You can also search them through your local bar association. 

Seek Recommendations

If you have a general attorney, they might be able to recommend a Social Security lawyer to you. If you know people who have gone through the process, they might be able to offer recommendations. Word of mouth can be a great way to find a reliable lawyer. Failing this, simply look up the attorneys you are considering online and see what their ratings and reviews are. You can also check with your local bar association for information.

Ask Questions

While some of your research can be done online, some will need to come from direct questions in your consultation. Find out who will be handling your case, if there’s a central point of contact who will be dedicated to communications with you, and what their communication policies are.

Some firms assign paralegals to represent clients; but if you can find one that offers an actual attorney to represent you, you will likely be better off. An attorney will be more well-versed in the ins and outs of Social Security law and will be better poised to represent you.

Finally, at your initial consultation, ask about your attorney’s case history, their track record of winning and exactly how they will handle your case. A good attorney will be happy to answer any questions you have. 

Educate Yourself

Finally, educate yourself on the basics of Social Security law. Read as much as you can find from the Social Security website and be as familiar as you can. That way, when you speak with your attorney, you’ll be armed with the specific questions you need to have answered. A bit of knowledge can go a very long way in choosing the right attorney.

Social Security Lawyer Atlanta

If you’re in the Atlanta area and you need help with a social security case, Joel Thrift Law LLC can help. For over a decade, Joel Thrift has represented hundreds of clients and recovered millions in settlements. He values communication and always makes an effort to return calls promptly. If you’re looking for a Social Security lawyer in Atlanta that you can trust, call Joel Thrift Law LLC today.

4 Ideas for Building a Healthy Working Relationship With Your Disability Attorney

4 Ideas for Building a Healthy Working Relationship With Your Disability Attorney

Applying for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits can be a long and stressful process. When you’re trying to recover from a major injury and you just want to get your life back, this level of stress is the last thing you need. That’s where your SSDI attorney comes into the picture.

Their job is to take this stress off of you and get you the benefits you deserve so you can focus on healing. When you don’t have a great relationship with your lawyer, however, it can all seem worse. Check out these four ideas for building a healthy working relationship with your disability attorney so you can get the most from your benefits application.

Know What to Expect

The first step in building a great relationship with your disability attorney is to know what to expect from them. They have a number of responsibilities, first and foremost of which is to serve as your point of communication with the Social Security Administration.

The process begins when your attorney completes a review of your case to form a strategy to get you the benefits you need. They will then walk you through the application process to be sure your application has been properly completed and that there are no errors or omitted information. Your attorney will help you keep your records complete and in order, will represent you to the SSA and at any hearings, and will file an appeal if needed.

Have Patience

Social Security cases don’t always proceed quickly. Ideally, a case can be turned around within three or four months from the initial date of application. They can, however, take much longer, with some states seeing a nearly two-year turnaround time. To maintain a positive relationship with your attorney, understand that the delays are not likely their fault and that the process does take time. Having patience when you’re suffering is tough, but remember: Your attorney is on your side.

Stay in Contact

Reaching out to your attorney when you haven’t heard anything in a while isn’t a crime. Good communication is the core of any relationship, and it’s a two-way street. Your attorney should give you regular updates on your case, and you should be comfortable calling them up with any questions or concerns you have.

Just remember to be polite and professional in your dealings with them. They understand how frustrating the process can be, and they aren’t trying to make it worse for you. If anything, your attorney will work to set your mind at ease, but they’ll always be honest and forthright with you.

Use Their Experience

Your Social Security disability attorney has likely been doing this for quite some time. Their experience is what allows them to successfully pursue your case. They know how to speak to the SSA and to medical providers. They know how to navigate the hearing process, and they know the judges in your district. Your attorney knows how to cross-examine those with counter opinions, called “vocational experts,” and they know how to handle issues with your medical records that might present a road bump in your application.

Use their experience, and understand that the advice your attorney gives you is coming from a place of understanding, knowledge and caring. Your attorney is your ally, and they want to see your case succeed. Work with them, and treat them as the partner they are.

Hire an Experienced Disability Attorney

If you’re applying for SSDI and you need help with the process, an experienced disability attorney is the way to go. Joel Thrift has represented hundreds of clients and recovered millions in awards. He is the attorney who will always return calls and be your best ally in getting Social Security disability benefits in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. Give Joel Thrift Law, LLC a call for a consultation on your case today.

Considerations for Social Security Claims Involving PTSD

Considerations for Social Security Claims Involving PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental illness affecting people who have experienced events so traumatic that they have extreme difficulty keeping a job, maintaining relationships and dealing with overwhelming anxiety and depression. According to the Social Security Administration’s Blue Book of Medical Conditions, proving PTSD is preventing someone from earning a livable income involves the following medical documentation:

  • Statements from doctors indicating their patient was exposed to threatened/actual death, suffered violence, serious injury or other traumatic event
  • Treatment reports describing the extent of the patient’s PTSD symptoms: severe mood/behavior disturbances, avoidance behaviors, recurring “flashbacks” of the trauma, suicidal ideation, hypervigilance/anxiety)
  • Proof of functional limitations that prevent the patient from working or living independently (problems remembering and understanding new information, inability to interact appropriately with others and being capable of concentrating on and completing work tasks)

PTSD does not have a specific listing in the SSA’s Blue Book. Instead, PTSD is listed under “Mental Disorders–trauma and stressor-related disorders”. The SSA also says that “trauma and stressor-related disorders” are not evaluated under obsessive-compulsive and anxiety disorders or cognitive impairments resulting from a traumatic brain injury or other neurological disorder.

What is Diminished Functional Capacity?

In many cases, disability applicants with PTSD must show they have diminished functional capacity, or the inability to maintain employment due to severe PTSD symptoms. People with PTSD experience physical and mental issues that often cause them to miss work or make mistakes at work. Panic attacks, depression, hypertension brought on by chronic stress and coping productively with everyday problems are just a few reasons why individuals with PTSD could be approved for SSDI or SSI.

One way you can increase your chance of being approved for PTSD disability benefits is to submit a longitudinal record of treatment describing how long you have been receiving consistent treatment for PTSD from a psychiatrist, psychologist or licensed counselor. Longitudinal records also include the onset date of PTSD, frequency of specific symptom attacks, detailed descriptions of symptoms and the success of treatment plans involving medication and/or counseling.

How Can You Receive a Medical-Vocational Allowance for PTSD Disability Benefits?

If you are initially denied disability benefits for PTSD, you may qualify for another type of benefit the SSA calls the medical-vocational allowance (MVA). To qualify for MVA, a Social Security mental health consultant must decide if your symptoms are detrimental enough to prevent you from working even though your symptoms may meet the criteria listed under trauma and stressor-related disorders.

For example, John is a 45-year-old Afghanistan War veteran diagnosed with PTSD. He has been taking medications and going to counseling for about a year and a half. Although he is physically well, he suffers from severe insomnia, nightmares, memory and concentration problems. He has attempted to work several jobs but had to quit because of extreme daytime fatigue, flashbacks and inability to focus on completing tasks. John may qualify for MVA benefit if he includes the proper documentation needed in his application.

How Can a Disability Lawyer Help You Get Approved for PTSD Benefits?

People with psychological disorders routinely have a harder time getting approved for SSDI or SSI than people with physically incapacitating disorders simply because mental illnesses are more difficult to document and prove. Having a disability lawyer acting on your behalf while dealing with the Social Security Administration means your application will be submitted containing all the documentation and forms essential for swift approval. In fact, the primary reason why nearly 70 percent of all initial disability applications are denied is because of improper or insufficient documentation of mental or physical illness.

If you or someone you know may qualify for PTSD disability benefits, contact Joel Thrift Law today to schedule a consultation appointment.

What is the Definition of “Incapacitated” for Social Security Disability? And Examples

What is the Definition of "Incapacitated" for Social Security Disability? And Examples

“Incapacitated” and “disabled” largely carry the same definition when Social Security is determining whether to approve or deny a disability application. In general, a person is considered incapacitated if they been unable to perform non-substantial work for at least the past 12 months. Alternately, if the Social Security Administration thinks your disability allows you to do “substantial gainful activity” that allows you to earn a living wage, they will claim you are not incapacitated and deny your application for SSDI or SSI.

What are the SSA Criteria for Defining Incapacitated or Disabled?

Disability benefits are typically approved if you:

  • Cannot do the kind of work you did before becoming disabled. For example, if you were a factory machine operator for 20 years and had a heart attack that reduced your ability to operate a machine or perform other similar work, you would probably be approved for SSI or SSDI.
  • Have a medical condition lasting for 12 months continuously
  • Have a medical condition that is expected to eventually result in death

Special guidelines apply regarding criteria for SSA benefits if a claimant is blind, a disabled child, a widow/widower or a wounded veteran. Call Joel Thrift Law today for assistance with applying for disability benefits. We can help significantly increase your chance of being approved for monthly benefits without having to appeal a denial.

What is Substantial Gainful Activity?

If the SSA thinks you can do substantial work (gainful) activity, that means they think you can work part-time or full-time at jobs that pay you an income equal to or less than the pay you received before becoming disabled.

However, even though you may be capable of working part-time due to your medical condition, that does not mean you won’t qualify for disability benefits. As of 2019, if someone earns over $1220 each month but is deemed incapacitated by the SSA, they may still be approved for disability benefits. For people who are blind, the income limit is $2040.

Recipients of SSDI can work for a trial period that allows them to receive the full amount of their benefits while earning income. Currently, the Social Security Administration considers a trial working month as one that provides at least $880 in income. Following this nine-month trial period, you may still continue receiving SSDI for three years (36 months) as long as your income is below the substantial gainful activity level. If you earn over $1220 in any given month, you forfeit disability payments for that month.

What Medical Conditions are Considered to be Automatically Incapacitating?

The SSA has a “Compassionate Allowance” list of medical conditions that requires applicants only provide a doctor’s diagnosis of the condition. No other documentation is necessary to be approved for benefits. Diseases and disorders on the Compassionate Allowance list include:

  • Stage IV breast cancer
  • Acute leukemia
  • Gallbladder cancer
  • ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease)
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Inflammatory breast cancer
  • Pancreatic or liver cancer
  • Lung cancer (small cell)
  • Thyroid cancer

Does the SSA Consider Mental Disorders as Incapacitating Disorders?

Yes. However, proving to the SSA that you have a psychological disorder disabling enough to prevent you from working is more difficult than proving a physical disability. If you are applying for disability because you suffer from severe anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder, you will need to submit numerous, detailed documents composed by licensed healthcare professionals. Treatment summaries must be from psychiatrists, psychologists and licensed therapists who have been seeing the claimant for at least one year. Hospital and emergency room records (if applicable) are also essential for proving an incapacitating mental health issue. More importantly, evidence should also show that the mental illness is preventing the disability applicant from obtaining gainful employment.

If you are preparing to file a disability claim with the SSA but your medical problem is not on the Compassionate Allowance list of conditions, contact Joel Thrift Law today to schedule a consultation appointment. We can help strengthen your claim and reduce the risk of being denied due to errors and insufficient documentation.

How Much Will It Cost to Hire a Disability Attorney?

How Much Will It Cost to Hire a Disability Attorney?

Navigating the Social Security disability claims process can be a difficult task, especially when you are living with a chronic illness or other debilitating condition. It is common for claimants to get through the beginning stages of their claim, only to end up with a rejection letter. The entire process can weigh heavily on your mental health as well, making the need for legal guidance extremely important. However, if you’re already struggling to pay your bills due to the inability to work, how can you afford a lawyer?

How Much Does a Social Security Disability Attorney Cost?

Luckily, Social Security disability attorneys work differently than many other attorneys you may collaborate with during your lifetime. To help a much wider client base, disability lawyers don’t charge their clients any up-front fees or require that you put down a retainer fee. Instead, the majority of disability lawyers work on a contingency basis—where they will only be paid if they can help you win your benefits.

What is a Contingency Fee?

When you initially speak with a disability attorney or advocate, it’s common to sign a contingency fee agreement that gives the Social Security Administration (SSA) permission to allocate a portion of your awarded fees to your attorney to help cover the cost of their services. If your claim is approved, the SSA will go over the details of the agreement to make sure it follows all fee agreement guidelines and ensure that your legal counsel receives the payment they are entitled too. There is no additional work that you need to complete on your end, eliminating the need for bank transfers or writing a check.

For those who are unable to pay up-front fees to a lawyer or advocate, this is a great opportunity to get the help you need to follow the SSA’s strict guidelines. When a fee agreement is made on a contingency basis, you can rest easy knowing that your disability attorney will not be paid unless you win your claim.

How Much is the Social Security Disability Attorney’s Fee?

When you enter into a written agreement with a disability attorney, it states that if you win your claim, the fee amount they are entitled to is capped at 25% of your past-due benefits. While this may seem like a large sum, the maximum fee that your disability lawyer can be awarded is also limited to $6,000. Additionally, if your claim must be appealed at a federal level, your lawyer may be entitled to additional fees. However, most Social Security disability claims end at the Social Security hearing stage.

Another important factor to keep in mind when it comes to contingency fees is the fact that your attorney is only paid if you are awarded past-due benefits. If no past-due or “backpay” benefits are awarded in your claim, your attorney will not be paid a fee for their services. However, if this situation arises, your disability attorney can submit a fee petition to the SSA to request a higher fee.

Additional Costs

Throughout the course of the Social Security disability claims process, you may be required to present the SSA with lots of different paperwork to help support your claim. The SSA may request that you provide them with medical, work and school records and undergo new medical or psychological testing. These costs are typically paid outside of a contingency fee and are the responsibility of the client. As you consider hiring a disability lawyer, you must ask whether you may be charged any other additional fees out-of-pocket before agreeing to work together.

Should I Hire a Disability Attorney?

Because there is little to no risk of paying out-of-pocket for a disability attorney fees, it is often in the best interest of the claimant to hire a Social Security disability attorney. The Social Security disability claims process can be grueling, especially if your claim is denied right away. It can be difficult to pick yourself back up and file an appeal without proper legal guidance and an advocate by your side. However, when you hire a disability attorney who works with clients on a contingency basis, you can enjoy peace of mind in knowing that they will do everything in their power to ensure that you are awarded all of the benefits you’re entitled to.

Once you are awarded your benefits, the SSA will do all of the work necessary to determine your backpay amount and pay your attorney fees before awarding your first disability check. The maximum amount that will be subtracted from your benefits is just 25% of your backpay or a maximum of $6,000. There’s no negotiating over fees and you’ll never have to worry about doing the math either.

Contact Joel Thrift Law Today

There’s no reason that you need to fight for your disability benefits on your own. Are you interested in learning more about the many benefits of working with an attorney on your Social Security disability claim? At Joel Thrift Law, we have the knowledge and experience necessary to guide you through the Social Security disability claims process. Got a question? Give us a call today at (678) 296-7952 or contact us today for more information and be sure to schedule an initial consultation.