An experienced Tucson disability attorney answers the question “Am I eligible for Tucson Social Security disability benefits?”

Tucson disability claimants who call or visit my Tucson Social Security law office often ask me if they are eligible for Social Security benefits. I tell them that to receive Social Security disability benefits, they must be found “disabled.” Social Security law states that you are disabled only if your mental and/or physical impairments are so severe that you are unable to do your previous work and you cannot, considering your age, education, and work experience, do any other substantial gainful work that exists in the local or national economy.

Determining whether you are disabled requires a detailed analysis, but the key factors that affect the Social Security disability determination are: ability to work, age, education, and recent jobs. The Social Security Administration’s disability evaluation process is complicated and its determinations can sometimes defy common sense.

If your answers match the ones below, the Social Security Administration in Tucson (and nationally) is likely to award you Social Security disability benefits:

  • Are you gainfully employed? NO
  • Do you have a severe impairment or impairments? YES
  • Will such impairments last 12 continuous months (or are they expected to last that long) or result in death? YES
  • Do your impairments meet or equal in severity one of Social Security Administration’s listed impairments? If YES, you qualify. If NO …
  • Are you able to perform significant work? NO

In addition to matching these answers, you must have paid Social Security taxes over a long enough period of time and paid such taxes recently enough. After you stop working and paying Social Security taxes, there will come a time when your insured status will lapse and you will be ineligible to receive Social Security disability benefits. However, in this case you may be eligible to receive Supplemental Security Income benefits. Supplemental Security Income is often referred to as SSI. For information about the SSI program, see Social Security benefits programs.

If your answers matched the ones above and you have paid Social Security taxes, it is worth beginning the process of applying for Tucson Social Security disability benefits. For more information, see my video Will you qualify for Social Security disability benefits?

How do I file my initial application for Social Security disability benefits?

The first step to receiving Social Security disability benefits under either the Social Security disability or SSI program is to file an application for benefits. There are several ways to apply:

  • If you are comfortable with a computer, you can complete your initial application at www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability.
  • You can call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213, which is how most claimants initiate their Social Security disability claims. The date of your phone call serves as the date of your initial application. If you phone a Social Security teleservice center, the staff will make an appointment for you with a representative from the Tucson Social Security office. If you prefer, an appointment can be made to go to the Tucson Social Security office to complete an application in person, though most applicants make a telephone appointment for a local Tucson Social Security Administration representative to call the applicant back at an appointed hour.
  • You can also go to the Tucson Social Security office and file your initial application there. You will typically be given a receipt for the application and on that receipt it will tell you how long it will take for Social Security to make a decision.

In Southern Arizona, the time frame for the first decision by the Social Security Administration on your initial application (called the Initial Determination) typically ranges from 90 to 180 days. The predicted time frame you are given is usually quite accurate. Unfortunately, this is the last point in the Social Security disability process at which the timing is predictable. For suggestions about applying, see Tips for applying.

What should I do if my initial application for Tucson Social Security disability benefits is denied?

Tucson disability clients often say to me: “I’ve received a denial on my application. What do I do now?” The first thing I tell them is don’t give up. Many applicants for Tucson disability benefits mistakenly give up at this point. Claimants need to keep in mind that the Social Security disability process favors appellants over initial applicants. Nationally and here in the Tucson, Arizona, two-thirds of initial applications are denied while over half of those who appeal are ultimately awarded disability benefits.

The reason for this is that there are some significant differences between your initial application and your hearing at the appeal level. These differences help Tucson disability appellants win disability benefits. One of the most important differences is that at your appeal hearing you have the opportunity to appear before a judge in person and explain your condition in your own words.

The appeal process

If your Initial Determination is a denial, you have 60 days to file an appeal. It is essential to appeal within the 60-day time frame in order to keep your application alive. If you miss the 60-day deadline, you may have to file a new application and start the process all over again. You can contact the Tucson Social Security Administration by phone to initiate the appeal but you must file a written appeal to complete your appeal. You can access the appeal form (the Request for Reconsideration) online at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/online/ssa-561.html. You can also call the Social Security Administration to have one sent to you or you can visit the Tucson Social Security office. The Social Security Administration doesn’t require that you use this form to appeal the denial, but it does require you appeal in writing.

If you call the Tucson Social Security Administration and the Social Security employee tells you your appeal is entered into the Social Security computer, do not rely on this. You cannot rely on a phone call regardless of what the Social Security employee may tell you. Either contact a Tucson disability attorney or go down to the Tucson Social Security office with your denial letter in hand and ask for the proper appeal form. If you do not have the appeal form and are close to the 60-day deadline and do not have access to a computer and cannot go to your local Social Security office, you can write a letter to effectively appeal your denial.

It is critical to be able to show you sent your appeal and the Social Security Administration received it. Sometimes a Tucson disability client of mine will come to me having used the correct form but having failed to keep a copy of it that shows the Social Security Administration received it, or will send a letter but not use a return receipt or some method to show the appeal was received. If the Social Security Administration loses an appeal and an applicant has no record he or she sent it, the consequences fall on the applicant. Because of this, the best way to file an appeal is either by filing online (and receiving a confirmation number) or by taking the appeal by hand to the Tucson Social Security office and having the form stamped and a copy returned to you.

Once you file your appeal, the Social Security Administration will make another decision on your claim and will issue another letter that will look very similar to the first letter you received. This letter is a Reconsideration Determination. This decision is also frequently a denial. To appeal this decision, you must file a Request for Hearing, which can be accessed at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/online/ha-501.pdf. If you do not have the form and are near the 60-day deadline, you can send a written letter to file the appeal.

After you appeal the Initial Determination and Reconsideration Determination, you may request a hearing before a Social Security administrative law judge. At a hearing is where the odds favor you the most, especially if you have the representation of an experienced Tucson disability lawyer. Nationally, 55% of disability claimants will receive good news at this stage. For more information about appealing, see Appealing a Denial of Benefits, a free downloadable e-booklet about appealing a denial.

How I can help you as an experienced Tucson disability attorney

I have been practicing Social Security disability law since 1988. By focusing on the area of Social Security disability law for over 20 years, I am able to provide you a combination of specialized knowledge and experience, and a successful strategy for Tucson Social Security disability cases. I will explain the Social Security disability process to you, and guide you through the mounds of Social Security forms, questionnaires, and other paperwork involved with the Social Security disability appeal process. I will also help develop the necessary medical data and opinion for your case. For your hearing, I will prepare you to testify and, at your hearing, I will present the best supported and most persuasive arguments.

Tucson disability claimants often ask me at what point they should consider legal representation. It depends. I advise some Tucson disability claimants to file their initial application by themselves with the Social Security Administration. Because some disability claimants are awarded benefits at this step, there may be no need to incur the expense of a lawyer. Other disability claimants may need my help filing their initial application.

However, if your initial application for disability benefits is denied or your subsequent appeals are denied, I advise you to immediately seek the representation of a knowledgeable Tucson disability lawyer as you only have 60 days to appeal. I can handle your appeal for you, and take much of the stress and frustration out of what can be a challenging and time-consuming process.

If you need help with filing your appeal, or if you have any questions, please complete the short claim evaluation form to the right, and I will respond promptly.

Serving the needs of Social Security disability claimants across Southern Arizona