With the horrible winter weather in Delaware, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has been forced to close its office on several occasions. For individuals pursuing Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims, this has made it difficult to conduct business in person. Even when the local SSA office has been open, it has been dangerous for individuals with disabilities to travel.
Luckily, SSA has many services available online. The services are mostly easy to use, but caution is still necessary. Although many activities can be completed online, it is often still necessary to submit paper documents to complete the process.
The following are the most relevant online services for individuals that are pursuing disability benefits from SSA:
- Research Disability Requirements
- Request SSA Benefit Statement
- Check Status of Social Security Disability Claims
- File an Appeal of your Social Security Disability/Supplemental Security Income Denial
- File an Application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits
Although SSA has done an excellent job of providing online resources for individuals pursuing disability benefits, it is always recommended to consult an experienced legal respresentative before relying on the information found. SSA does not tailor information on its website to you specifically, and it is possible that information you find may not be accurate based on your unique circumstances.
Researching Requirements of Disability Programs
The SSA Website provides a wealth of details about SSA disability programs. One of the most useful tools is the Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool (BEST). BEST uses details that you provide to help determine which SSA programs, if any, you qualify for. Although this tool normally correctly identifies the programs that individuals may be eligible for, do not assume that the answers are always accurate. If BEST indicates that you do not qualify for benefits, I would still be available to help determine if the information that was provided is accurate.
My favorite part of SSA’s online services, is information that it provides to help you understand SSDI and SSI. An overview of the disability program requirements, application process, and the determination process are provided. There is also a section for Frequently Asked Questions about SSDI and SSI. Most information is general, but it still is a great educational resource. I provide much of the same details found on SSA’s website during an initial consultation appointment, but potential clients often find it helpful to have knowledge of the disability programs before we meet.
Request Social Security Benefit Statement
SSA normally sends a benefit statement to all adults with reported income several months prior to their birthday each year. The Social Security Benefit Statement provides information that is useful in determining eligibility for SSA disability programs. The benefit statement provides estimates of your eligibility amount for various Social Security Programs including disability, and helps an advocate determine whether you have sufficient work credits to qualify for SSDI.
If you have not received a Social Security Benefit Statement recently, SSA allows you to request a benefit statement from its website. It typically takes between 2 to 4 weeks to receive a statement after it is requested. I recommend that all potential clients request a Social Security Benefit Statement prior to applying for benefits. The statement provides the single best way of answering the question, “how much will I receive if I am approved for disability benefits?” If you do not have earnings information available when you meet with me, I am normally unable to answer that question. The Social Security Benefit Statement solves that problem.
There is no hazard of requesting your benefit statement without assistance from a legal representative, and I highly recommend that anyone considering applying for disability benefits request one.
Checking the Status of Your Disability Application
When you apply for SSDI or SSI you are provided with an application confirmation number. This number is provided whether you apply for benefits online or in person at your local SSA office. If you apply in-person, your application number is on your application receipt. When you apply online, the confirmation number is provided when submitting your application.
With an application confirmation number, you are able to check the status of your application through SSA’s website. Typically, the only information provided is that your application is pending. You are not provided with specifics of the process or alerted to problems with the processing of your application.
Although the information provided is not currently very useful, I expect that this will improve in the future. Currently, I warn my clients not to rely on any of the information that is found on the online status page. I have found that several times after an appeal is submitted, SSA’s website has not yet updated the status of the claim. If you are concerned about the information provided when you check on your status, I can work with SSA to obtain accurate information.
File an Appeal Online
SSA allows you to file an appeal of an initial denial or reconsideration denial of SSDI or SSI online. However, there are multiple steps that are necessary to actually complete the appeal. Although an experienced attorney is able process an appeal online without difficulty, an inexperienced individual can easily miss a required step when attempting to file an online appeal. If you fail to accurately complete your appeal, it is possible that you could lose substantial benefits or even eligibility.
I personally use the online appeal process for all my clients. It saves time for SSA because a claims representative does not need to enter all of the information by hand. It saves time for my office because we receive receipts confirming the submission of the appeal and I know the information was entered accurately.
The process is simple if you know what you are doing, but small mistakes can lead to the loss of substantial benefits. Before using the online appeal process, I would highly recommend obtaining the help of a legal representative. If you are unable to obtain help from an attorney, it is in your best interest to appeal in-person at your local SSA office.
Filing an Application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (SSDI)
SSA encourages all individuals applying for SSDI to apply online. By applying online, you save valuable time for claims representatives. Instead of a claims representative having to take 30 to 60 minutes to meet with you to complete application, they simply review the information transmitted from the Internet and make sure that you have completed all steps necessary to apply for benefits. Since SSA resources are limited, online filings assist representatives with handling more claims.
SSA indicates that it takes an average of 30 minutes to complete an online application for SSDI. Although it is not very time consuming to complete, the answers that you provide will have a long-lasting impact on your eligibility for benefits. For individuals that are not well versed in the disability process, several mistakes can be made. Entering the wrong date can cost you several months or years of disability eligibility. Incorrectly providing information can also be considered fraud with criminal implications.
I agree that the online application is great productivity tool for SSA, but I am concerned that individuals can potentially harm themselves by completing an application without the help of an experienced legal representative.
The value of applying in person is that an SSA claims representative is also required to screen your claim for eligibility for other programs. When you apply online, you can currently only file an application for SSDI. Additional steps are necessary in order to complete an SSI application. Failure to apply for SSI can result in loss of potential financial and medical benefits.
I normally use the online application process to complete applications in my office. This allows my staff to review the information being submitted and confirm its accuracy. It is important to note that after you complete an online application on SSA’s website, several additional documents still need to be submitted before your application is actually complete. If you fail to submit all documents, your application may never be processed and you could lose potential benefits and even eligibility. If you need help filing an application for disability benefits, contact my office so I can determine if I can assist you.
Be Careful Using Social Security Online Resources without Help
Although I applaud SSA for embracing technology and using it to be more productive, many risk are involved with the online tools that have been made available. I recommend that individuals strongly consider scheduling a consultation with my office before pursuing Social Security disability benefits or appealing disability denials using the online tools.
The value of the free initial consultation is that there is no obligation when consulting my office for help. SSA Online services are helpful for individuals to educate themselves and obtain general information, but the services introduce inherent risks that were not present when you were required to interact with an SSA claims representative.
This article was written by Steven Butler. Steven is a partner at Linarducci & Butler, PA and his practice is limited to Social Security Disability/SSI claims. Steven offers free initial consultations for Social Security Disability/SSI claims to residents of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. To schedule a consultation with Steven, please use the Linarducci & Butler Contact Form or call 302-613-0707 to schedule an appointment.