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Fayetteville, Arkansas Social Security Disability Attorney

Due to no fault of your own, you have been seriously injured or developed a debilitating illness.  As a result, you can no longer work.  You’ve lost your source of income, but you still have all of your financial obligations: your house, your car, and other possessions.  You also wonder who’s going to care for your family and children.  With all of these stressful questions filling your mind, you don’t know where to turn or what to do.  You may be entitled to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), but how do you know if you qualify, and where do you start the process?

Working with an experienced Social Security attorney in Arkansas, such as Ken Kieklak, Attorney at Law can help you avoid common missteps in the SSDI or SSI application process while reducing your worry and anxiety.  Depending on the unique needs arising in your case, our law firm’s legal services include:

  • Helping you gather the appropriate medical documentation.
  • Making sure you have completed the necessary paperwork properly and thoroughly.
  • Counseling you on the Arkansas Social Security benefits application process.
  • Assisting you with the appeals process if your claim is denied, such as helping you file for Reconsideration, or representing you before an Administrative Law Judge.

If you were seriously injured or diagnosed with a long-term or terminal medical condition, you deserve to receive monthly benefits.  To talk about your Arkansas SSDI claim or SSI claim in a free and confidential legal consultation, contact the law offices of Ken Kieklak, Attorney at Law right away at (479) 439-1843.

What Are Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

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The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides two types of financial assistance, in the form of monthly benefits, for Arkansas residents who are unable to work due to a disabling injury or illness: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  Though the acronyms are similar, each program serves a different purpose and requires that beneficiaries meet different criteria.  Core differences between SSI and SSDI are described below.

  1. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) – The SSDI program is designed to provide income to individuals who have become unable to work due to long-term injury or illness.  In order to qualify for SSDI, an applicant must have earned sufficient “work credits” through prior employment.  Work credit requirements are based on the applicant’s age and date of disability.  Generally speaking, older claimants are required to have more work credits than younger applicants.
  2. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) – The SSI program provides monthly benefits to low-income individuals who cannot work due to disability, advanced age, or blindness.  Unlike the SSDI program, the SSI program does not require beneficiaries to have a history of employment or the associated work credits.

Additionally, various state or local disability benefits may also be available to you.  An experienced SSDI attorney or SSI lawyer can guide you through the disability application process in your Arkansas community, so that you are not unknowingly deprived of any benefits you qualify for.

How Do You Qualify for SSI or SSDI in Arkansas?

The SSA follows very strict and rigorous criteria for determining disability.  An SSDI applicant meets the SSA’s definition of “disabled” only if all three of the following facts are true:

  1. The SSA determines that the applicant is unable to perform his or her previous work.
  2. The SSA also determines that the claimant’s impairment makes him or her unable to adjust to other types of work.
  3. The SSA also determines that the impairment:
    • Has lasted for at least one year.
    • Is expected to last for at least one year.
    • Is expected to result in death.

The disability criteria for SSI is the same: the disability must be long-term and create severe impairment of function.  However, instead of assessing an applicant’s work history for work credits, which are not a requirement for SSI, the SSA looks at the SSI applicant’s income and “resources,” both of which must be limited.  Examples of “resources” include life insurance, personal property, and vehicles.

Even if you are not disabled, you may be eligible for SSI if, in addition to having limited income and resources, you are either (1) blind, or (2) age 65 or older.

Additionally, if an applicant is working, he or she must not earn income that exceeds the earning amounts defined by the Social Security Administration as “Substantial Gainful Activity” (SGA).  The following is a direct quote from the SSA website: “To be eligible for disability benefits, a person must be unable to engage in… (SGA).  A person who is earning more than a certain monthly amount… is ordinarily considered to be engaging in SGA.”

How Does the Social Security Administration (SSA) Determine if a Person is Disabled?

The Social Security Administration uses a step-by-step process to determine whether a person is severely disabled under SSA criteria, which are provided for numerous conditions in the SSA’s “Blue Book” or Listing of Impairments.  However, even conditions which are not included in the Blue Book may qualify.

For adults, the process is a five-step sequential analysis.  For children and individuals who have not yet reached 18 years of age, the process is three sequential steps.

The first step of the process asks whether the disability claimant is currently working.  If the person is earning above a certain threshold each month, he or she is not typically eligible for benefits.  However, since payments for certain disability-related expenses can reduce the amount you earn, you should always consult with a Fayetteville disability lawyer for confirmation before you assume that you cannot meet this requirement.  This step applies to both adults and children.  Children’s eligibility is based on the family or household income.

The second step of the process determines whether the condition is considered “severe” by SSA standards.  Severe conditions have substantial and far-reaching impacts on your daily life, including your ability to carry out basic work-related activities.

Which Conditions Qualify for Disability Benefits?

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If your impairment is considered severe, you move on to the third step of the program.  At this step, the examiner determines if your impairment meets or is functionally equal to a condition in the Listing of Impairments.  Listed conditions are conditions that are so severe that the individual can qualify for the third step of the analysis with no need to move through the fourth or fifth steps.

The Listing of Impairments is available online at the SSA website.  It includes the following conditions, to supply just a few examples:

  • Amputations
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Burn Injuries
  • Cancer / Tumors
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Certain Bone Fractures
  • Chronic Heart Failure
  • Chronic Kidney Disease
  • Chronic Liver Disease
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Dermatitis
  • Diabetes
  • Down Syndrome
  • Epilepsy
  • Hearing Loss
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
  • Lupus
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Organ Transplants
  • Sickle Cell Disease
  • Spinal Disorders
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Vision Loss

Can You Qualify for SSI or SSDI with a Mental Disorder?

SSA disability programs cover both physical and mental impairments.  However, in some cases, it can be more difficult to prove mental disabilities or mental disorders.

While physical injuries and impairments are often tangible and directly observable through an X-ray, CT scan, or other diagnostic test, mental injuries are not.  Often, mental conditions and impairments are only observable through the effects and impacts they cause.  Expert medical testimony regarding the presence of the condition – supported by accounts of the condition’s effects on your daily activities provided by relatives, teachers, clergy, former co-workers or employers, and others – is typically necessary.

Mental conditions that may qualify for disability benefits include, but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Autism
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Eating Disorders (Anorexia, Bulimia)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Psychotic Disorders

Can You Work While Receiving Monthly Social Security Disability Benefits?

The short answer to this question is yes: depending on the situation, it is possible to work and still receive Social Security Disability benefits.  For example, you may be able to take advantage of the SSA Trial Work Period.  The Trial Work Period allows Social Security claimants to test their work ability for nine months (about 274 days) while still receiving full benefits.  As a Social Security claimant partaking in the Trial Work Period, you should notify the SSA immediately when you start working, stop working, or have any changes to your duties, hours, or pay.

However, before you start working, you should consult with a Fayetteville SSDI benefits attorney.  Unfortunately, people who work too much, and therefore earn an excessive amount of income (SGA), may be unable to qualify.  Your attorney can evaluate your work activity and medical history to determine the most appropriate course of action.

Can I Appeal if My SSI or SSDI Claim is Denied?

If your initial claim for disability benefits is denied, do not panic: you are entitled to multiple levels of appeal, which is the process of challenging or disputing the initial denial.  However, as a practical matter, it is unlikely for your claim’s denial to be overturned at the second stage, which is called the “Reconsideration” level, unless substantial new evidence is presented or other unique circumstances develop.

Statistically speaking, a favorable result is more likely at the next level of appeal following Reconsideration, when you request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).  This hearing, which is called the ALJ Hearing, must be requested within 60 days of your receipt of a denial letter.  The ALJ Hearing is the level of appeal where you are most likely to obtain a reversal of a benefits denial.

If the benefits denial still stands after the ALJ Hearing, you may then request Reconsideration at the Appeals Council level.  While at this stage the chances of a benefits award are fairly low, filing with the Appeals Council will exhaust the program’s administrative remedies and create a right to appeal in federal court.

Should You Hire a Social Security Disability Lawyer?

Individuals can file for Social Security disability benefits on their own directly through the SSA.  However, this process is complicated and involves getting specific medical statements from your treating physicians, as well as filling out extensive paperwork and dealing with the often-intimidating federal government.  In many cases, an in-person hearing before an Administrative Law Judge is required.  Often, the SSA representative will hire vocational experts to explain why your “Residual Functional Capacity” (RFC), or ability to engage in activities, still permits you to perform certain work – even if you don’t have prior experience.

Social Security disability attorneys understand the daunting, elaborate process of applying for disability benefits in Arkansas.  Therefore, they can complete this process more efficiently than a lone, unguided applicant, thereby increasing the applicant’s chances of obtaining benefits under the SSI program or SSDI program.  Social Security disability lawyers in Arkansas understand the pertinent regulations, and can work to show why your impairment or impairments should make you eligible for disability benefits.

How Much Does a Social Security Disability Attorney Cost in Arkansas?

People who are unable to work are frequently concerned with how much money any product or service will cost.  The good news is that all people can receive legal representation for a Social Security Disability Insurance claim or Supplemental Security Income claim, because most Social Security attorneys do not charge an hourly rate or require a large retainer to get the case started, rather working on the basis of a contingency fee.

In this type of arrangement, whether the attorney receives payment for the work performed is contingent on whether your case is successful, hence the term.  Exceptions to this rule include the costs incurred in obtaining medical records and other documentation, and in certain cases when no back benefits are awarded.

When your case is successful, your lawyer’s payment is set by Social Security regulations.  In most cases, the fee is limited to only the unpaid back benefits that have not yet been paid.  Furthermore, the rules limit the amount the SSDI lawyer can receive to 25% of the back benefits or $6,000.  Since the SSDI attorney’s compensation is based on your amount of back benefits, the lawyer is typically motivated to argue for an earlier onset date with the SSA, meaning that you may be entitled to greater unpaid benefits.

Arkansas Disability Benefits Lawyer Handling SSI and SSDI Claims in Fayetteville

For nearly 20 years, Ken Kieklak, Attorney at Law has fought for people who are unable to work due to a disability, impairment, or serious long-term injury or illness.  Ken Kieklak understands that you never asked for this condition, and fights aggressively and strategically against claims examiners and Administrative Law Judges who may mischaracterize your condition or minimize the serious impacts it has on your daily life and your ability to work.  If you cannot earn income due to a serious disability or impairment, monthly benefits may be available.  Don’t assume that you cannot qualify, because you may in fact be eligible for SSI or SSDI.

Ken Kieklak, Attorney at Law proudly serves Fayetteville and many of the surrounding communities, including but not limited to Bella Vista, Bentonville, Fort Smith, Rogers, and Springdale.  Call the law offices of Ken Kieklak today at (479) 439-1843 for a free and confidential consultation regarding your SSDI claim or SSI claim.

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Fayetteville, AR 72703

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Ken Kieklak, Attorney at Law