Social Security Disability

What is Social Security’s Definition of Disability?

Are you disabled to the point that you can no longer work? Sometimes disability is obvious, but often people suffer from hard-to-see disabilities such as a mental disability, emotional condition or a physical illness such as fibromyalgia that are difficult to understand and diagnose.

Whether your disability is easy to see or not, you may have a hard time obtaining Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. If you applied on your own and were denied or if you want legal advice before you apply, contact John M. Angerer.

A denial of your claim from the Social Security Administration does not mean you should give up. If you have a legitimate disability claim, the Law Offices of John M. Angerer will help you fight for your rights. Your first consultation with our firm is free, and there is no fee unless you win your case.

The standard fee charged by an attorney in a Social Security case is 25 percent of the claimant’s back (past due) benefits, not to exceed $6,000. Attorneys are also reimbursed for any out of pocket expenses they may have incurred for copying medical records or obtaining other evidence. An attorney is not allowed to charge you a fee unless it has been approved by Social Security.

Social Security Disability Insurance benefits are only paid to individuals who are totally disabled, as that term is defined by Social Security. The definition is complicated, so this brief summary will provide a broad overview of the way Social Security evaluates a disability claim.

How an experienced California Social Security disability attorney can help you win your claim

Many Sacramento area Social Security disability claims that are denied at the application level or after a Request for Reconsideration are ultimately won at hearings. Nationally, about 60% of claimants are found disabled by administrative law judges at hearings.

Proof requirements will vary judge-by-judge, and an experienced Social Security disability attorney like John M. Angerer will know to present the right evidence to a hard-to-convince judge.

Here is a short outline of how we work to win the Social Security claims of our Sacramento County, Placer County, El Dorado County, Sutter County, Yolo County and Butte County clients:

  1. Formulate a theory for your Social Security disability case

We begin with a thorough interview in which we obtain a detailed description of your impairments and symptoms. A clear understanding of your symptoms is the most important information we will obtain from you, for it is symptoms that prevent people from working. We will look for a link between your impairments and your symptoms, for one is necessary to support a finding of disability. And we look for specific work functions your impairments preclude.

If you have received a denial, we will scrutinize the denial letter to determine the exact reason for the denial. The reason is not always clearly set forth. Sometimes a denial letter says a claimant can still do a former job without identifying which job. Sometimes a letter says an impairment is not severe enough or a claimant can do lighter work, which are clues but are not as complete and specific as they should be. An experienced Social Security disability lawyer will be able to help you interpret the denial letter.

We will then analyze the medical and legal issues, and work to formulate a winning theory for your case. Of course, not every case can be won and if that is your situation we will tell you.

  1. Assemble medical proof for your Sacramento area Social Security disability case

The Social Security Administration requires a lot of medical documentation. It wants to see medical test results and clinical findings, not merely conclusions by your treating doctor. It is your Social Security disability lawyer’s job to make sure that your test results are consistent with the Social Security Administration’s specific requirements for particular types of medical evidence.

We will gather the full range of medical evidence, from any emergency room records and admission histories through radiology and surgical reports to physical therapy evaluations.

Our final medical document package will depend upon our theory of your case. If negative records exist, we will also submit those but will refine our presentation of your case to account for their existence.

  1. Present a persuasive case to the administrative law judge

We have handled hearings for thousands of Social Security disability claimants in Sacramento and the surrounding counties. At your hearing we will guide your testimony through:

  • The requirements of the jobs you held in the last 15 years – exertional, skill, and stress levels
  • Your current medical treatment: length, frequency, medication, etc.
  • Your physical symptoms, including your pain, its severity, and the resulting restrictions
  • Your functional capacity: ability to sit, stand, walk, lift, carry, manipulate, and travel
  • Your current daily activities

We will also get testimony from a few lay witnesses (usually friends and family), asking them about their observations of your limitations. Before and after testimony from corroborative witnesses can be very helpful.

In my over 30 years as Sacramento area Social Security disability lawyer, I have developed and polished many effective techniques for winning benefits. We can explain in more detail how we work on your behalf during your interview.

Answers to your questions about Social Security disability

We are happy to personally answer any questions that remain after reviewing our website, or to assess your claim without cost or obligation.

Common Disability Questions 

  1. How can I tell if I am disabled enough to apply for Social Security disability benefits?
  2. How do I apply for Social Security disability or SSI benefits?
  3. Do you have any advice about applying for disability benefits?
  4. What happens if I am denied benefits and I do not appeal within 60 days?
  5. How do I appeal?
  6. What are the two biggest mistakes people make when trying to get disability benefits?
  7. Should I have my doctor write a letter to the Social Security Administration and should I gather medical records and send them to SSA?
  8. How much do lawyers usually charge?
  1. How can I tell if I am disabled enough to apply for Social Security disability benefits?

Social Security regulations make it easier to be found disabled as you get older. It becomes easier for a few people at age 45 (those unable to read
English), for more people at age 50, for most people at age 55, and even more people at age 60. If you’re over age 55 and you cannot do any job you have done in the past 15 years, you should definitely apply. If you’re over age 50 and have a severe impairment that keeps you from doing all but the easiest jobs, you ought to apply.

But even if you’re a younger person, you don’t have to be bedridden in order to be found disabled. If you’re under age 45 or 50 and you cannot do your past jobs and you cannot work full time at any regular job, that ought to be enough.

Nevertheless, being unable to work and being found “disabled” by the Social Security Administration (SSA) are two different things. It is often difficult to convince SSA that someone is “disabled” even when he or she genuinely cannot work. But it is not impossible.

If you really cannot work, apply for disability benefits from SSA. And keep appealing denials at least through the hearing before an administrative law judge. If you lose at a hearing, sometimes a lawyer with experience handling disability cases can figure out a way to win your case by pursuing the next appeal – to the Appeals Council.

  1. How do I apply for Social Security disability or SSI benefits?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers three ways for you to apply for Social Security disability benefits:

  • By telephone.
  • In person at a local Social Security office.
  • By the Internet.

If you want to complete an application for SSI or Social Security disability by telephone or in person, you must first telephone SSA at 1-800-772-1213. If you choose to go a Social Security office to complete the application, the person at the 800 number will schedule an appointment for you, give you directions to the Social Security office, and tell you what papers you need to bring along. If you want to apply by phone, you will be given a date and an approximate time to expect a phone call from someone at the Social Security office who will take your application over the phone. The application will then be mailed to you for your signature.

If you want to use the Internet to apply, go to If you want to apply for SSA’s other disability program — Supplemental Security Income (SSI) –you cannot complete an SSI application online but you can complete one of the necessary supporting documents, the Adult Disability and Work History Report, on the Internet.

  1. Do you have any advice about applying for disability benefits?

Yes. Give SSA all the information it asks for in a straightforward way. Be truthful. Do not exaggerate or minimize your disability.

When you complete the Disability Report, a form that SSA requests completed at the time the application is submitted, explain how your medical impairment keeps you from working. If you’re under age 50, your explanation must show why you cannot do any job you have done in the past 15 years and why you cannot do an easy full time job.

  1. What happens if I am denied benefits and I do not appeal within 60 days?

You’ll have to start over with a new application — and it may mean that you’ll lose some back benefits. So it’s important to appeal all denials within 60 days. It’s better if you appeal right away so that you get through the bureaucratic denial system faster. The quicker you can get to the hearing stage the better.

  1. How do I appeal?

Your denial letter will tell you about appealing. The first appeal is called a “reconsideration.” You must request reconsideration and then, after the reconsideration is denied, you must request a hearing within the 60-day time limit.

You can appeal in one of three ways:

(1) Telephone the Social Security Administration and make arrangements for your appeal to be handled by phone and mail.

(2) Go to the Social Security office to submit your appeal. If you go to the Social Security office, be sure to take along a copy of your denial letter. And be sure that the Social Security representative gives you a signed copy of your appeal paper showing that you appealed on time.

(3) Appeal online at Be sure to print and retain the receipt for your appeal so that you can prove you appealed on time.

  1. What are the two biggest mistakes people make when trying to get disability benefits?

Failing to appeal. More than half of the people whose applications are denied fail to appeal. Many people who are denied on reconsideration fail to request a hearing.

Another mistake, although much less common, is made by people who fail to obtain appropriate medical care. Some people with long-term chronic medical problems feel that they have not been helped much by doctors. Thus, for the most part, they stop going for treatment. This is a mistake for both medical and legal reasons. First, no one needs good medical care more than those with chronic medical problems. Second, medical treatment records provide the most important evidence of disability in a Social Security case.

  1. Should I have my doctor write a letter to the Social Security Administration and should I gather medical records and send them to SSA?

SSA will gather the medical records, so you don’t have to do that. Whether you should ask your doctor to write a letter is a hard question. A few people win their cases by having their doctors write letters. You can try this if you want to. The problem is that the medical-legal issues are so complicated in most disability cases that a doctor may inadvertently give the wrong impression. Thus, obtaining medical reports may be something best left for a lawyer to do.

  1. How much do lawyers usually charge?

Most clients prefer … and most lawyers offer … a “contingent fee,” a fee paid only if they win. The usual fee is 25% (one-quarter) of back benefits up to a maximum amount set by SSA, which is currently $6,000. The fee comes from those benefits that build up by the time you are found disabled and benefits are paid. No fee comes out of current monthly benefits.

In addition to the fee, many attorneys expect you to pay the expense of gathering medical records, obtaining medical opinion letters, etc.

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