Filing for Social Security Disability Insurance can be a long and strenuous process. It is especially challenging if you’ve already been denied once before. Washington Law Center is here to help by offering you a free consultation.
Our social security attorneys can help you through every phase of your claim: initial application, reconsideration, the hearing, appeals counsel, and federal court.
The number of social security disability claims in Seattle and claims for social security disability in Tacoma that get denied every year is increasing. Don’t let yours be one of them. The experienced social security attorneys at Washington Law Center will make sure that you’re awarded the benefits you deserve. We will also make sure that you receive the back-due benefits that you are owed as well. Our attorneys will represent your best interests. We don’t charge you a fee unless we win your case.
Only about a third of social security disability filings are approved at the Initial Application phase, and many of these were diligently prepared by experienced social security attorneys or involved claimants in higher age categories with undeniably-severe disabilities (like terminal cancer or dementia). Claimants who attempted the application process on their own failed to get approved in overwhelming numbers according to the Social Security Administration’s own statistics.
Claimants who are denied at the Initial Application phase and do not consult a Washington social security disability attorney before entering the Reconsideration phase also fail in the Reconsideration phase in overwhelming numbers. Approximately nine out of ten claims will be denied at Reconsideration, just as they were at Initial Application. The claims which buck this trend tend to be those which were rescued by experienced counsel.
Claimants who are denied at the Initial Application and Reconsideration phases must then request a Fair Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. A failure to win at Initial Application or Reconsideration means a substantial additional delay, often far more than a year as compared with claims which were successful at earlier stages of the process. Some claimants have impairments which will almost certainly be forced to a full hearing, but others should avoid the extended wait by hiring an experienced counsel as early as possible. Indeed, the longer one waits to hire a Washington state attorney, the higher the attorney fees tend to be because those attorney fees are calculated based upon a percentage of back-due benefits paid as of the date a disability is finally determined by the Social Security Administration. An early victory therefore means a small, often negligible, or even zero attorney fee.
Hiring a Social Security Disability Attorney is a simple matter, which can be done in person at our Seattle office or at your home, by electronic communication (email), or by traditional mail. There is no up-front cost. No Attorney Fee will be charged UNLESS and UNTIL your claim is decided in your favor. Our charge is 25% of back-due benefits, and NO FEE will be taken from prospective benefits (those that you will likely receive for many years into the future if we are successful in your claim).
Our Seattle attorneys can travel to any state of the union to represent your claim. If you move during the pendency of your case, we’ll insure that no disruption occurs in the processing of your case. We reserve the right to withdraw from any and all claims should there arise a conflict of interest, should you return to work before a disability period can be lawfully established, should you go to prison or otherwise become ineligible for benefits. Should you decline to follow our advice or stay in contact with our office, or if your case proves to have insufficient merit after we conduct a reasonable investigation we also reserve the right to withdraw from your claim.
Once we have agreed to represent you and your claim, we will assist you to obtain the medical evidence you need, in a format that will help you meet your burdens of proof and persuasion; we will assist you in processing all necessary filings and in coordinating efforts such as Consultant Exams; we will prepare your case, including your own testimony, for presentation before an Administrative Law Judge; and we will artfully and effectively cross-examine the government’s expert witnesses which may be called to testify against your interests in your case.
Give yourself the highest chance of winning your Social Security Disability and/or SSDI claim(s). Consult with Washington Law Center today.
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution contains the Equal Protection Clause. This clause binds the government to treat all individuals equally. At retirement, this means that everyone who earned the same number of taxable wages in covered employment during their relevant work lifetime MUST receive the exact same retirement annuity. With the Early Retirement option, retirees withdraw their Social Security Retirement (“SSR”) benefits over a longer period of time, thus receiving lower monthly benefits, than if they wait until Full Retirement Age or even age 70.
For example, one retiree elects a $1,100 monthly benefit starting at age 62 (Early Retirement). This early retiree is scheduled to receive 204 monthly installments until reaching an actuarial life expectancy of 79 years old. Therefore, this early retiree has a retirement annuity under the Social Security Act worth $224,400.00 (204 x $1,100).
Another retiree with the exact same lifetime earnings waits until Full Retirement Age of 67 to retire and start drawing Social Security Retirement benefits. This retiree has only 144 months of benefit payments before reaching actuarial life expectancy of 79 so will receive a monthly retirement benefit of $1,558.33, an increase of nearly 30%. Both receive the same retirement annuity.
Now consider the case of an individual who can credibly allege “disability” under the Social Security Act starting at or before age 62. If this person has a Primary Insurance Amount of $980 per month under Title II, Social Security Disability, and elects to give up the difference between this and the Early Retirement benefit of $1,100 (a difference of $120 per month) starting at age 62, and remains on SSD until full retirement age of 67, this person will achieve a net gain in total Social Security benefits of $58,800 (the SSD amount which will be paid over the 5 years lasting from age 62 to 67). This person will receive $58,800 in SSD benefits while “saving” his/her full retirement annuity until age 67, at which time the Full Retirement Benefit is still enjoyed at the rate of $1,558.33 per month.
Thus, if at all possible, SAVE your Full Retirement Benefit by filing instead for Social Security Disability benefits. Too many people with pension or early retirement options outside of Social Security believe that their receipt of those benefits will preclude a Social Security Disability application. This is simply not true.
Thus, these people should contact Washington Law Center immediately to learn how to legally obtain Social Security benefits in Seattle or Social Security benefits in Tacoma far greater than they previously thought available.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are disability benefits provided under the Social Security Act to those who cannot work or should not be expected, by reason of any medically determined impairment or combination of impairments, to make excessive adjustments in order to return to working at a level known as “substantial gainful activity.” Claimants to such benefits have burdens of both proof and persuasion. A failure in either burden will result in a claim denial, which unfortunately happens quite frequently even for people with significant disabilities.
The burden of proof to establish disability rests upon the claimant. See, Mayes v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 963, 968 (9th Cir. 2001); Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992). The claimant carries the initial burden of proving disability in steps one through four of the sequential evaluation process. See, Swenson v. Sullivan 876 F.2d 683, 687 (9th Cir. 1989). A claimant must present “complete and detailed objective medical reports of his condition from licensed medical professionals (only a Medical Doctor or Doctor of Osteopathy is recognized to establish a diagnosis, and thereafter, other medical professionals can comment on the severity of the given condition).” Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d 1111, 1113 (9th Cir. 1999); Johnson v. Shalala, 60 F.3d 1428, 1432 (9thCir. 1995)(citing 20 C.F.R. 404.1512(a)-(b), 404.1513(d)); and cannot posit disability on impairments for which he has presented no medical evidence. Osenbrock v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1157, 1164 (9th Cir. 2001). It is the claimant’s burden, and not the Social Security Commissioner’s burden, to prove the claimant’s residual functional capacity. Pearsall v. Massanari, 272 F.3d 1211, 1217-18 (8th Cir. 2001); Anderson v. Shalala, 51 F.3d 777, 779 (8th Cir. 1995).
Note that a person can meet their burden of proof, as described above, but still lose their disability case. This happens when the person loses on the burden of persuasion, which involves considerations of the claimant’s credibility, the qualifications of the claimant’s physicians and other care providers, the frequency and nature of treatment rendered, the sufficiency of diagnostic techniques employed, the reasonableness of limitations contended to result from particular impairments, as well as deeper public policy rationales which are not clearly defined in law but are understood by experienced attorneys and the adjudicators who decide claims.
The Social Security Administration itself has published findings that the single greatest indicator of whether a person will be found disabled is how quickly (how early in the claim process) the person appointed a representative to help prepare and present their case.
At Washington Law Center, we assist claimants to Social Security Disability Insurance benefits at all phases in the process, including pre-application planning, initial application filing, reconsideration, appeals, formal and informal remands, and in the federal courts. Our attorney fees are purely contingent, which means we only get paid when our clients win. Even then, our attorney fee applies only to back-due benefits. Once we’ve assisted you to prove your claim, no additional attorney fee will be charged (you receive all future benefits without paying for an attorney fee).
In general, our office prefers that you call 1-800-772-1213 and ask for a telephone appliation, in which the government will make an appointment in the future and then complete your application by phone. You should not make an in-person application if you can avoid it, because government workers will then make observations of you and include their observations in your disability claim file (this is required by law). We do not want lay individuals to have an influential say in whether or not you get awarded benefits. We would prefer to have that analysis reserved chiefly for your doctors. We also prefer telephone applications, because the first day you call is the day you will have been considered to have “applied,” which means your application can be done immediately, versus spending the time it may take on the Internet or through exchange of applications with our office. Keep in mind that there is no SSI application yet available on the Internet, and once you have applied by telephone, you will be sent a copy of your application to sign. Therefore, we can review this copy for you (and suggest any necessary changes if there have been misstatements) before you submit your finalized application, which means you should feel at ease engaging in the telephone application process. If instead you would prefer to complete paper applications, these are also available upon request through our office. In any circumstance, we cannot represent you in your claim until you have a claim, so we need you to apply as soon as possible.
Answer truthfully. We would not have accepted your case for representation if we felt like truthful answers would be insufficient to prove your case. Do not exaggerate. However, do not minimize or trivialize your difficulties in any way. Remember that if you complete a telephone application, we will have the opportunity to review your application and assist you to make amendments before it is finalized. If you complete a paper application, we will review this also before we submit it on your behalf.
As your social security disability attorneys, we have a fiduciary duty to protect you from excess costs. A majority of doctors will complete our questionnaires for free if requested directly by their patients. Look your doctor in the eye and shake his/her hand and say “please.” It’s a remarkably-effective tactic between human beings. A minority of doctors will simply decline and refuse to fill out any disability paperwork at all. At the same time, most medical office Practice Managers will demand to be paid for medical opinions, sometimes hundreds of dollars or more, before they will even submit our questionnaires to the attending doctor. The cost of completing these questionnaires is a cost which must be paid to the doctor, which means that it is not part of our attorney fee under our contract and must be paid by you. Thus, if you take our questionnaires personally to your doctor, you will hopefully be able to bypass the Practice Manager and you will likely avoid all costs for obtaining crucial expert opinions, especially if you have a strong or personal relationship with your physician. Doctors do not generally like to discuss money with their patients, so if they are at all amenable to completing our questionnaires, they will generally do so for free, so long as the Practice Manager doesn’t see the forms first. By contrast, when we send the doctor our questionnaires in a law firm envelope, with a request on law firm letterhead (which we are certainly willing to do if you insist), we are invariably asked for money, because the doctor is virtually never the person who opens the mail. Bottom line: we’re trying to save you money, based on our experience. We are acting in your best interests, as we must.
No. The government commonly loses paperwork that’s not submitted through approved (receipt-confirmed) processes. In addition, we often find discrepancies, inconsistencies or vague statements in doctors’ reports which can and should be clarified before these are submitted. For these reasons, please submit all paperwork directly through our office. Do not submit paperwork directly to the government on your own.
Please call your assigned paralegal case manager. We will arrange for you to be seen by a doctor who will assist with the forms, although there will be a charge for examination and completion of our paperwork. A typical charge for this service is around $250, depending on where you live and the specific type of specialization of the doctor who will provide the service, as well as the amount of time that will be spent. The cost must typically be paid by you directly to the doctor’s office. This cost is not part of our fee.
Yes and no. If the government is not satisfied with your own doctor’s medical reporting for some reason (for example, if your family medicine physician is treating you for depression and the government wants a psychiatrist to examine you more fully), or if you have a case which is in significant part based on pain, fatigue, malaise or other constitutional signs and symptoms or mental health allegations or cognitive deficits, the government will likely send you to its own doctor, or even a series of doctors, and the government will pay for any appointments it arranges. Transportation can also be provided at government expense if you cannot afford to attend. If you do not attend the appointments arranged by the government, your case will almost certainly be denied, and you will also be asked tough questions by a Judge about why you “refused” to comply with the government’s reasonable request for examination. The Judge may then require you to attend a Consultant Exam before (s)he decides your case, necessitating additional delay. Thus, although you need not technically attend a medical evaluation requested by the Social Security Administration in order to maintain your claims and eventually appear before a judge, your case may be delayed and your credibility challenged if you do not. Please plan to attend any such appointments arranged by the government unless our office contacts you and instructs otherwise (this would be a VERY RARE circumstance).
The Social Security Administration assigns different adjudicators at each level of the Initial Application, Reconsideration and Appeal phases. Each successive adjudicator has an expanding discretion over the level of discretion held by the adjudicator at the previous level. Very often, an excellent and well-developed case is not approved at the Initial Application level and must be sent to the next-level adjudicator, so a denial results. The same happens at Reconsideration in many of these same cases, thereby requiring a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (who exercises the full discretion of the government in deciding your case). A denial doesn’t mean that our office has failed to present a strong case; it more likely means that the government workers who are charged with deciding your case believe it has enough complexity or nuance that it must be heard by the next-level adjudicator, or even an Administrative Law Judge. For instance, a “Disability Analyst I” has less discretion to approve your case than a “Disability Analyst II,” who in turn has less discretion to approve your case than an Administrative Law Judge. Almost half of all cases with representation still need to be decided by a Judge simply because of the nature of that case (such as if allegations of pain, fatigue or malaise are a very significant component of your disability allegations and a credibility determination is therefore reserved for a Judge who will first listen to your testimony before deciding your case).
No. You should allow ten days before you call our office. This will allow us time to receive our own copy of the denial (which may be delivered on a different day than that on which you receive your copy), scan the decision into our electronic trial management software, prepare your appeal paperwork and send you any additional questionnaires, forms or releases which the government will require you to complete in order to move to the next level of adjudication. You have 60 days to appeal any denials, so please let our office process your denial and get copies to your attention as soon as possible. Generally, we file the jurisdictional appeal paperwork on your behalf within three days of receiving your denial. We send you a copy of this legally-required portion of your appeal together with any additional forms which are necessary before the government will consider that appeal. Please complete this paperwork and send it back to our office. Do not send it to the government directly, as we need to review your submissions before these go to the Administration. If you have not received correspondence from us documenting the fact that we have appealed on your behalf, and ten days has passed since you obtained your copy of the denial, please email or call our Seattle office or Tacoma office at that time.
No. We will appeal on your behalf, and we will likely complete the appeal within a few short days from the date of your denial. If you have not heard from us before ten days after your denial, please email or call our Seattle or Tacomaoffice at that time. You have 60 days to appeal, so please be in touch if you do not hear from us within 10 days, because there are rare occasions where the government fails to copy our office on jurisdictional paperwork like a notice of denial.
In all likelihood, you will have to re-apply in order to fully protect your rights. This situation should hopefully never arise while you are represented. Rarely when people hire us, they tell us they were denied on one date but have misplaced their paperwork, and then it turns out they were denied on an earlier date, often a much earlier date. This may make it too late to file an appeal, or at least result in a late filing. In these situations, we will direct that you make a new application. We will then file a motion to reopen your prior application for consideration together with your new application. In all likelihood, the government will grant our motion so long as it has not been more than a year since your denial. Under special circumstances, our motion will be granted for periods of up to four years prior, but we would then have to show good cause to have such a motion considered.
The single biggest mistake is failure to timely file an appeal. Many people hear from others that an application has to be turned down and rejected by the government at least “three times” before it will be approved. This is a myth, and an incorrect one at that. Denial means either that a claimant has failed in their burdens of proof and persuasion; there is a technical rule prohibiting approval; or the initial-level adjudicator is not vested with enough discretion to approve the particular type of case. Under any of these circumstances, merely applying again will not be the right answer. The second biggest mistake is failing to obtain counsel as soon as possible. A social security disability lawyer can assist to ensure that burdens of proof and persuasion are met; can work to identify and eliminate technical reasons for denial; and can help strengthen a case which requires higher-level discretion in order for a favorable decision to issue.
We are aware that you completed an Adult Disability Report (or if yours is a Child’s case, a Child’s Disability Report) at the time of your initial application. However, the government requires an update at each higher level of Reconsideration and Appeal. This is why the government is requiring what appears to be a duplicate form. Please complete the form and send it back to our office. Never send paperwork directly to the Social Security Administration, as we need to review it first to make sure there are no errors or statements which will unnecessarily slow the processing of your claim. We will then contact you for any necessary changes or submit the reviewed form on your behalf.
No. Many people think if they just write a letter, explaining how they think and feel about their situation, this might be effective or make them feel better. Virtually always, these letters are counter-productive to a claim. For instance, if you send a well-drafted, eloquent letter laying out your position with clarity, the Administration or judge may impute that you have the skills to be an Administrative Assistant or other type of office worker! The judge may not agree that you have problems concentrating on work-like tasks due to pain if (s)he sees a finely-crafted example of your advocacy. Leave the pleadings and arguments to your social security attorney. Also, never send anything directly to the Administration or judge without letting us review it first. It may have legal implications well beyond what appears to be indicated, so let us help you properly manage your claim. That’s what we’re here for.
You have to have a condition which is expected to keep you from performing Substantial Gainful Activity for at least one year. Benefits can be awarded prior to that time if you can prove, as we will earnestly attempt to do on your behalf, it is no longer “speculative” that your disability period will persist for at least one year.
No. You should notify us immediately if this is the case. We can motion to “close” the period of your disability around the time period you were actually out of work. However, we would not traditionally do so until after you have successfully returned to work for a period sufficient to prove that you will be able to sustain that work at a substantially-gainful level. Returning to work can boost your credibility in some cases, although it will certainly detract from it in others. Before any return to work, or to any greater amount of work, please call our office and we will discuss with you the particular facts of your case.
You should never attempt to return to work without first discussing your situation with our office. If you are working at the time of your application and you have not disclosed this to us yet, please do so immediately. There may be extreme consequences, including loss of all chance at benefits, if your return to work (which we will generally support if you believe you are able) is not managed properly. Certain burdens of proof may become elevated, and you will likely increase your risk of an unfavorable claim decision should you return to work without consulting our office first. Please do not attempt to return to work without getting our advice about the potential ramifications in advance. If you have already returned to work, please contact us immediately for an urgent discussion.
You should visit your doctor as often as it is recommended for medical purposes, but also, you should keep in mind that the law may assign more credibility to a case in which the claimant is treating more often (or seeking pain management more often, for example). As a rule of thumb, it is usually much harder to prove a disability case where the claimant is not treating with a physician at least every two to three months during the pendency of the claim. Many of the more serious disability situations require treatment even as much as weekly, or more, and judges know this. When evaluating your claim, you do not want the judge to be dismissive about your situation because you’ve not treated while claiming to be disabled.
No, you do not have to be an invalid. Many people have a severely-reduced work capacity that qualifies for disability benefits even though they are not completely unable to work. The basis for a disability finding is that a person is unable to SUSTAIN work at a level of earnings known as “Substantial Gainful Activity.” Thus, if you are unable to earn approximately $1,000 per month (more if you are blind), which is the level at which the government recognizes substantial gainful activity, you may still qualify for some types of benefits so long as your disability lasts for at least one year.
In a November 15, 2006 memorandum to Regional Chief Judges, Frank A. Cristaudo, Chief Judge addressed the issue of a claimant receiving Unemployment benefits while claiming disability benefits under the Social Security Act, ultimately instructing that such receipt is not to be considered an automatic bar. Chief Judge Cristaudo points out that receipt of such benefits is only one factor to be considered pursuant to 20 C.F.R. 404.1512(b) and 416.912(b). He noted that SSR 00-1c incorporated the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Cleveland v. Policy Management Systems Corp., 526 U.S. 795 (1999). In that decision, the Supreme Court observed that “an individual might qualify for SSDI under the SSA’s administrative rules and yet, due to special individual circumstances, remain capable of ‘performing the essential functions’ of her job.” Id. at 802-804. The Supreme Court explained that: “[A]n SSA representation of total disability differs from a purely factual statement in that it often implies a context-related legal conclusion, namely, ‘I am disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act.’” Id. at 802. The Supreme Court noted that “the SSA sometimes grants SSDI benefits to individuals who not only can work, but are working.” Id. at 805. The Supreme Court then explained that “any inconsistency in the theory of the claims [as between being able to work under one body of law, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, and simultaneously being unable to work under the Social Security Act] is of the sort normally tolerated by our legal system….We do not see why the law in respect to the assertion of SSDI and [other facially inconsistent] claims should differ.” Id. Chief Judge Cristaudo summarized this precedent in his November 15, 2006 memorandum by saying, “Therefore, it is SSA’s position that individuals need not choose between applying for unemployment benefits and Social Security disability benefits.” In practice, however, some judges appear to automatically disqualify those who are using unemployment benefits to survive while disabled, which is perhaps the reason Chief Judge Cristaudo issued his original memorandum. Memoranda such as these are not binding on other judges, and we continue to see judges disregard the proper analysis set forth in Judge Cristaudo’s memo, because such memos are merely “advisory.”
Maybe: In order to receive an expedited hearing, a person must allege one of the following five allegations: 1) the claimant suffers from a terminal illness (TERI Designation); 2) the claimant’s case involves disability sustained while on Active Duty subsequent to October 1, 2001 (MSCC Designation); 3) the claimant suffers from a particularly-severe condition which is most-commonly approved and therefore is now included on the SSA’s list of Compassionate Allowance conditions (CAL Designation); 4) the claimant is under “immediate threat to health or safety, such as being without, and also being unable to obtain food, medicine or shelter (DIRE NEED Designation); or 5) the claimant has become suicidal or homicidal (SUICIDAL/HOMICIDAL Designation). Note: The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution commands that all people be treated equally by the federal government. Therefore, the Social Security Administration won’t allow a person’s claim to advance in line unless their personal circumstances are particularly terrible….meaning, more terrible than those suffered by other people who cannot work or earn income. If you believe your case qualifies, please notify your Paralegal Case Manager or social security disability lawyer immediately.
You may be able to receive both Title II (“SSDI” or “SSD”) and Title XVI (“SSI”) disability benefits if your Title II benefit is low enough, and you have no income or other assets which would disqualify you from receipt of Title XVI benefits. Meanwhile, the amount of your SSI benefit depends on where you live. The basic SSI check is the same nationwide. Effective January 2009, the SSI payment for an eligible individual is $674 per month and $1,011 per month for an eligible couple. However, many states add money to the basic check. Generally, the more income you have, the less your SSI benefit will be. If your countable income is over the allowable limit, you cannot receive SSI benefits. Some of your income may not count as income for the SSI program, however. For example, the first $20 per month of your Title II, Social Security Disability Insurance benefits may be excluded in determining your eligibility for SSI. In order to determine if you should apply for both SSDI and SSI benefits, you should simply call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 and ask what your “Date Last Insured” is for Title II benefits, and what your “Primary Insurance Amount” is should you be found disabled prior to that date. If your Primary Insurance Amount is at least $720.00 per month, and your Date Last Insured is at least one year in the future, then you do NOT need to apply for Title XVI, “SSI” benefits. You simply need to convey the information about your Date Last Insured and your Primary Insurance Amount to your social security insurance attorney.
Attorney fees in Social Security matters are regulated by federal statute, and any attorney fee must be approved by a judge before it can be paid to the attorney. The standard contract form considered by judges usually calls for a contingent agreement in which the claimant will pay the attorney 25% of back-due benefits. The Attorney does not get paid unless the client wins some money. Costs of representation are different, as these are the clients’ to bear (cost of filing in federal court, for instance). The social security disability attorney may petition for a higher fee, or for a fee where no back-due benefits are available, where warranted. Note that our contract is exactly consistent with this standard form authorized in statute. The nature of a contingent fee is that we agree to do what may be a lot of work, yet not get paid if your claim does not win. You agree that even if we do less work than average, we still get paid. The contingent fee contract thereby distributes the risks in a way that social security attorneys may make more or less in a particular claim, but over the course of all dealings, can maintain a business that serves disabled, usually-impoverished clients who could not otherwise pay an attorney’s retainer.