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Clearwater Florida Disability Attorneys Provide Assistance to Those Seeking SSI and Social Security Disability Benefits
As experienced Florida disability attorneys, we know that obtaining Social Security disability benefits or SSI benefits can be a complicated process. The Social Security Administration is a huge government bureaucracy with many complex rules and regulations. A disability case can potentially progress through five levels of evaluation: (1) initial application, (2) reconsideration, (3) a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, (4) Appeals Council review, and (5) appeal to federal court.
Most Social Security and SSI claims are denied at the first two levels. However, the majority of claimants who continue through the third level to a hearing are successful. Applicants for disability benefits must be patient and persistent. Do not abandon your disability claim if it is denied at the first two levels. Many people who are truly disabled make this fatal mistake. Expect that you will probably need to appeal to the hearing level to obtain benefits.
Applying for Florida disability benefits
You can apply for Social Security disability benefits or SSI benefits by filing a disability claim in person at your local Social Security office or by having a Social Security representative take your claim over the telephone. To schedule an appointment, call 1-800-772-1213.
If you are an adult applying for Social Security disability benefits, you also have the option to fill out your application online at http://socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability/. The online option is not available for SSI applicants.
How your Florida disability claim is processed
After reviewing your application to make sure you can qualify for disability benefits based on your work record or, in the case of SSI, your financial need, the Social Security Administration sends your case to the Florida Division of Disability Determinations (DDD). DDD is a state agency that contracts with the Social Security Administration to handle the medical aspects of disability evaluation. At the state agency, your case is assigned to a disability examiner and medical consultant who will determine if you are disabled. They will request your medical records and information from your doctors about your condition. They may also contact you to request that you provide further information and complete additional paperwork. If the state agency needs more medical information, the disability examiner may arrange for you to undergo further medical examinations and tests at its expense.
How the Social Security Administration decides if you are disabled
The Social Security Administration uses a five-step process to decide if you are disabled:
- You must not be engaging in “substantial gainful activity”; and
- You must have a “severe” medically determinable impairment; and
- Your impairment must meet or “equal” one of the impairments described in the Social Security regulations known as the “Listing of Impairments;” or
- You must be unable to do your “past relevant work”; and
- You must not be able to adjust to other work that exists in significant numbers, considering your “residual functional capacity,” age, education, and work experience.
For details on the process and explanations of the terms in quotes, see The sequential evaluation process.
Appealing the denial of your initial Florida Social Security disability application
If your initial application is denied, do not be surprised or discouraged. Across the country and in Florida about two-thirds of all applications for Social Security disability benefits are denied. Go forward with the next step: a request for reconsideration. A reconsideration is a review of your claim by a disability examiner and medical consultant who were not involved with the original decision. Requests for reconsideration are denied at an even higher rate than initial applications. But your claim has to go through reconsideration to get to the step at which you have the best chance of success, the hearing.
If your claim is denied at reconsideration, the next step, and most likely the last, is to request a hearing before an administrative law judge. The chances of success improve significantly for those who appeal to the hearing level. Over half of Florida Social Security disability claimants who appeal to this level are ultimately awarded disability benefits.
For information and tips about requesting reconsideration or an administrative hearing, see Advice for appealing and download our e-booklet, Helpful suggestions for appealing a denial of benefits.
A Social Security disability hearing is an informal proceeding in which you have the opportunity to tell the judge about your disability. At the hearing, the judge will question you and any witnesses you bring. The judge may also have medical and vocation experts present at the hearing. Your disability attorney may question these witnesses. The judge will listen to your testimony, and to the testimony of any other witnesses, and make an independent decision about whether to award you Social Security disability benefits. To learn more about disability hearings, review the articles in Your Disability Hearing, in our Library and watch our videos, “How a judge determines disability” and “What not to do at your hearing.”
How our Florida disability attorneys can help
When you are sick or injured and worried about your financial future, it can be extremely stressful to pursue a disability claim on your own. An experienced Florida disability attorney can help you to navigate the system and improve your chances of success. We can help you at all phases of the process. We can guide you in filling out the paperwork Social Security requires; we can work to obtain reports from your doctors that support your claim; we can prepare you to testify at your hearing; and we can appear with you at the hearing to present your case. If necessary, we can even take your case to federal court.
Our expertise with Florida Social Security and SSI cases
Our Florida disability law firm has over 35 years experience with disability claims. We have represented over 3,000 claimants for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability and Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. Every type of illness or physical injury may be the basis for the award of Social Security and SSI disability benefits, including emotional and psychological impairments if they are well documented.
Members of our firm are often called upon to present courses to attorneys, judges, psychiatrists, social workers, and medical doctors on presenting and winning disability benefit claims as well as Medicaid and Medicare health insurance. In addition to securing disability benefits for our clients, our firm also assists claimants in getting much needed medical attention through the Florida Medicaid health insurance programs for disabled persons. Often this involves using Special Needs Trusts or other financial planning methods to retain benefits. See our companion website, www.FloridaSpecialNeedsLaw.com for more information.
We believe that every client is unique. We try to understand your situation, and apply the law that will best meet your needs.
You may read more about our qualifications here.
Our contact information
Please contact us if you live in the Clearwater or St. Petersburg areas and want assistance with your Social Security disability or SSI case.
If you provide a brief description of your claim using the form to the right, we will respond promptly. Or you may reach us at:
Lillesand & Associates, P.A.
Clearwater Florida disability attorneys
901 Chestnut Street, Suite C
Clearwater, Florida 33756
Phone: (727) 330-7895
St. Petersburg Office
146 2nd Street North, Suite 310
St. Petersburg FL 33701-3361
Phone: (727) 330-7895