Vermont Attorney, Mitchell L. Pearl, Answers Your Social Security Disability Questions
In the more than 25 years that I have spent representing Vermont Social Security disability claimants, I have seen first-hand how the process of obtaining benefits can cause great anxiety and frustration. The frustration usually is the result of dealing with a large government bureaucracy that isunable to answer your questions in a way that you can understand. There seems to be a”pat” answer for every question and a refusal to see you as a unique individual. The anxiety often stems from a fear of the unknown: “Am I eligible?” “Will my application for Vermont Social Security disability benefits be granted?””How long will it take?” “What if my application is denied?” “Do I really have to testify?” “Where do I begin?”
This website can be your first step toward relieving some of that frustration and anxiety. I have included materials on this site to provide information about Vermont Social Security disability and SSI and to educate you about the process of obtaining disability benefits. To help you get started, I have answered, below, some of the questions I hear most frequently.
Q Why was my application for Vermont disability benefits denied?
There are many possible reasons your initial application for Vermont Social Security disability benefits may have been denied. One common reason is that your application did not provide enough evidence to demonstrate that you are “disabled,” as that term is defined by the Social Security regulations. The regulations define “disability” as an inability “to engage in any “substantial gainful activity” by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” That sounds complicated, but simply put, if you are not able to do any work because of a severe medical condition that has lasted, or is expected to last, for at least one year, then you meet the basic definition of “disability.”
For examples of how the Social Security Administration applies the legal definition of “disability” to different medical conditionssee Examples of who is and who is not disabled.
Q How does the Social Security Administration decide whether I have a “disability” that entitles me to benefits?
Once it is determined that you have a “disability,” as defined above, there are two paths to an award of Vermont disability benefits. Depending on the facts of your case, you must prove that either:
- Your impairment “meets or medically equals” an impairment described in the Social Security Listing of Impairments. (The “Listings” is found in the Social Security regulations; it is a set of criteria for various physical and mental impairments.) If your condition meets or equals a condition described in the Listings, then your impairment is deemed so severe that you will be awarded Vermont disability benefits based on this medical determination alone. This is called a Listings determination. Or–
- Considering your age, education, work experience and medical condition, you are unable to do the work you did before you became disabled or any other type of work. This is called a medical-vocational determination.
You can learn more about how the Social Security Administration makes a disability determination by reading the articles listed under Social Security Disability.
Q I have not worked in a long time. Am I eligible for disability benefits?
Perhaps. In order to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI), you must have worked long enough and have paid enough taxes into the system to be “insured” for Disability Insurance Benefits. If you have not worked enough, or have not worked in a long time, you may not qualify for SSDI. A rule of thumb is that if you have not worked in the last five years, you may not qualify for Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI).
However, the Social Security Administration is responsible for several disability benefits programs. One program, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability, pays benefits to individuals with little or no income and very few assets. Even if you have never worked, or have not worked in a long time, if you are disabled now and meet a financial means test, you may qualify for SSI. Children may also be eligible for SSI benefits.
Q Is my case worth appealing?
In almost all cases, an appeal is well worth your time and energy. Most initial applications and most requests for reconsideration (your first level of appeal) are denied. Persistence often is rewarded, however, at the second level of appeal – a hearing before an administrative law judge. More than half of all applicants who pursue their claim through to a hearing are awarded Vermont Social Security disability benefits.
The short video, How the Judge Determines Disability, at the top of this page, and the series of articles linked toSocial Security Disability, also provide useful information on this topic.
Q Do I need a Vermont attorney to take an appeal?
If you built your own house, or if you cut your own firewood or fix your own car – or used to – then you know that you can do many things by yourself. No law requires you to have a representative, and many Vermont Social Security claimants handle their own appeals. However, simply because you can handle your own appeal does not mean you should. Social Security law is complicated, and the rules the judge must apply can be confusing. You must rely on medical and vocational evidence, which can be hard to acquire and difficult to understand. A local Vermont attorney, with experience in Vermont disability law, will be able to gather the relevant evidence, tie that evidence to the law, and help you persuasively present your case to the judge.
A Local Vermont Attorney Can Help You Navigate the Social Security System
I work only in Vermont, protecting the rights of disabled Vermonters. I will meet with you in person to discuss your claim and prepare you for your hearing. If you are feeling anxious or frustrated after dealing with the Social Security Administration on your own, please complete the Free Claim Evaluation form to your right, or contact me directly by phone or email. I will be happy to meet with you to discuss your case.
I wish you success.
Mitchell L. Pearl
Vermont Social Security disability attorney