Through taxes on wages, Americans pay for Social Security, which they can then get when they retire or become disabled and can’t work. You, your spouse, and your dependent children get monthly disbursements that are based on your previous earnings.
While this money can be a huge relief, not everyone gets it on the first try. And even if they do, the amount can be lower than they expect.
If either happens to you, then don’t be disheartened. Here are six tips on legal ways you can fight for your social benefits.
1. Study Up On The Law
There are two other types of Social Security benefits in addition to retirement and disability; there are also dependents and survivors benefits. As you might imagine, the laws surrounding each type of Social Security benefit will differ, so you need to know the nuances of the one you qualify for.
In addition to the eligibility criteria, you should also read up on the application process, appeal procedures, and any other relevant guidelines surrounding your benefits. The good news is, this information is readily accessible on government websites.
The more well-informed you are, the smoother the procedure will be. You’ll avoid making mistakes on the application and appeals processes, and you’ll also easily know if something’s wrong when you receive word from the government.
2. Consult With A Lawyer
No matter how much you read up on the law, there’s nothing better than having a legal expert on your side. Not only have they gone to law school, but they’ve also handled numerous cases like yours and won their clients’ cases.
Even if you don’t want to hire an attorney for the entire procedure, it can still be worth it to have an initial consultation. If you have any questions, a Social Security disability lawyer can answer them and point you in the right direction. They can also take a look at your application and appeals to ensure all the right information is there; many offer free claim reviews, so you won’t even have to spend any money.
If you feel like they’re the right fit, you can have the lawyer take care of everything so you can save your energy and time. With their eagle eye and expertise, you’ll have a higher chance of success. They’ll also ensure that your rights are protected.
3. Gather Plenty Of Evidence
Without evidence or proof, you won’t have much to support your benefits claim. Ideally, you’d have gathered evidence ever since the beginning. But if you haven’t, then don’t worry.
Take some time to contact the right people, print out records, and organize them in an easily accessible folder. You’ll want to submit proof of income and your Social Security account, as well as medical records and other relevant documents.
If you’re making a disability claim, then having a symptom journal is beneficial. It’ll be a detailed testimony, which makes your claim stronger since you can provide specific examples. Plus, it can also help your doctor with your treatment plans.
Some pieces of evidence you can get include:
- Phone calls
- Patient portal correspondence
- Snail mail
Putting everything in chronological order can show a useful timeline of your Social Security benefits journey. Also, if you find anything wrong while collecting evidence (such as incorrect or missing information on your Social Security account), you can rectify those situations before appealing your claim.
4. File Appeals
The decision you get from the government isn’t always permanent. If you believe you’ve been unfairly denied, or the amount they’ve decided on is too low, you can file an appeal in some cases.
The appeals process allows you to submit new evidence and explain your case further. If you’ve kept careful records, then it shouldn’t be difficult to present the authorities with the necessary information.
However, the guidelines and timelines will differ between types of benefits and even the jurisdiction, which is why it’s worth it to research the law and/or get the help of an attorney.
5. Be Persistent
The application and appeals processes can be challenging and time-consuming, so it’s not surprising that many people find it draining. But you have a right to the money you’ve paid into Social Security, so be persistent.
Keep following up with the relevant authorities and don’t hesitate to fight for your rights. Don’t give up if your claim is initially denied, as there are several avenues you can turn to.
For instance, you can ask for a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) if your first appeal is denied (called a reconsideration). After that, you can request a review by the SSA Appeals Council, then file a lawsuit in federal court if necessary.
If you find yourself faltering, then consider joining a support group. You can connect with other people who have been in your shoes, and not only can they offer advice, but also encouragement. Some may even be going through the exact steps you are, so you can compare notes and strengthen each other.
6. Gather Reliable Lay Witnesses
Hopefully, you won’t have to go to court, but if you do, then you’ll need reliable lay witnesses. These are people who are non-experts; they can be your friends, family members, neighbors, coworkers, supervisors, or employers.
In a disability hearing, these witnesses can provide extra evidence that you’re not in good enough health to work. Make sure to prep them beforehand on how the hearing process will go; speaking with a lawyer is advantageous, as they know exactly what to expect in court.
Get The Money You Deserve And Need
You’ve worked hard for years, paying money into the nation’s Social Security system. When your time of need comes, you want the reassurance of that money coming back to you, and not only when you’re retiring either.
Considering that it’s common for initial claims to be denied, you should be prepared to challenge the decision. And with these legal ways to do so, it’ll be an easier and faster procedure to get the payout you need.