Myths About Social Security

“There’s no point in trying because I’ve already been denied”

“Social Security is well known for initially denying meritorious claims that later are approved by an Administrative Law Judge. Don’t let a bureaucrat determine your future. Keep appealing until you get a judge.

“I’ve appealed once and lost, so there’s no point in appealing again”

“Social Security disability claims have to be appealed twice in order to get to an Administrative Law Judge. Up until the hearing, Social Security seems to love to deny persons benefits. They subcontract out the job of determining disability to a Maryland government agency – Disability Determination Services – which in turn hires doctors who never see you or meet you to review your medical records and pass judgment on whether you can work. It is not until you have been denied twice that you get to go to a hearing and have your case decided by someone from Social Security itself – namely, a Social Security Administrative Law Judge. ALJs are appointed for life and are independent. With very rare exception, they are medically sophisticated and fair minded. Most importantly, you and your attorney get to address the judge directly so that he or she can see who you are as a person. For most persons, the first real chance they get to have their case approved is at the hearing phase.

“Social Security disability is only for people who won’t be able to work for the rest of their lives”

“Not true. Social Security disability is for persons who have been or are expected to be disabled for a year or more. Benefits can be awarded for a closed period if you successfully return to work.

“I can’t afford to pay a lawyer to help me”

“Wrong. Lawyers are not allowed to charge up front for Social Security disability claims. Under federal regulations, a lawyer is not owed any fee unless you win. If you do win, then the government pays your lawyer 25% of the money that it owes you for past due benefits, up to a maximum of $5,300.

“I don’t need a lawyer because the government is helping me with my claim”

“Don’t be fooled. The government will not act to protect your rights as a lawyer will. Social Security regulations are hundreds of pages long and there are hundreds of agency and court decisions interpreting them. Often, you must attend a hearing before a judge where evidence is presented. You need someone looking out for you.

“The government will get all of the medical records needed for my claim”

“Don’t count on it. Doctors prepare records for the purposes of diagnosis and treatment and certainly are not thinking of Social Security regulations. Often, claims can’t be won without getting supplemental reports from doctors addressing the specific issues raised under the regulations.

“It’s o.k. to wait and see how my condition does before deciding to apply”

“Bad idea. You only are entitled to SSDI benefits for the one year period preceding your filing date. SSI benefits are only owed from the date of application. Waiting could mean lost benefits.

“To apply, I’ll have to go to a local Social Security office and wait for hours”

“You don’t have to. Claims usually can be made by telephone or applying online.

“I’ll win because my doctor says I’m disabled”

“Bad bet. While this makes sense, Social Security does not accept a doctor’s opinion as to whether someone can work. Instead, Social Security only accepts a doctor’s opinion as to a patient’s restrictions – for example, how much they can lift. Employability is determined by vocational expert testimony. At your hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, a vocational expert likely will be present to give testimony. Cross-examination of this expert can be critical, and this is another good reason for having an attorney.

“As long as I’m earning any money, I don’t qualify”

“Not necessarily. You can earn up to $900 per month and still be regarded as disabled. Periods when you earned more than that can, under certain circumstances, be regarded as trial work periods or unsuccessful work attempts for which you are entitled to benefits.

“If I draw benefits now, then I’ll get less at retirement age”


“Social Security disability doesn’t cover psychological problems”

“Not true. The law wisely has recognized that these types of problems can be just as devastating as physical problems, if not more so.

“Social Security will do nothing to help me with my health insurance problem”

“Not necessarily. A person approved for SSDI benefits is eligible for Medicare coverage once they have been eligible for disability benefits for 2 years. This is the same coverage that persons age 65 and older get. Persons approved for SSI get Medical Assistance immediately.

“I’ll apply on my own and see if I get denied before getting an attorney”

“Bad idea. What you say on your application as to your disabling conditions and how they prevent you from working is extremely important. Very soon after you apply, you are asked to fill out a detailed Daily Activities Form, which disability examiners will leap to use as proving that you are active enough to do some kind of work. Once those things are written down, they are hard to counter. An ounce of prevention is worth many pounds of cure.