Albuquerque disability attorney Michelle Baca offers guidance on seeking SSI and Social Security disability benefits
“Am I eligible for disability benefits?” is a question I frequently hear at my Albuquerque disability law firm. According to the Social Security Administration, an individual is disabled if he or she cannot “engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”
Although Social Security’s definition is strict, the key questions for potential disability applicants are:
- Are you unable to work?
- Do you have a physical or mental illness that has lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months?
If the answer to both these questions is yes, you should explore the possibility of filing for Social Security disability benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). For more information see my video, Are you likely to qualify, above.
Seeking disability benefits can be a long and complicated process. The Social Security Administration is a giant bureaucracy with many complicated rules. Before you proceed, consider obtaining help from an experienced Albuquerque disability lawyer who can guide you through the system.
Completing your New Mexico Social Security disability application
The first step in obtaining New Mexico Social Security disability benefits is completing the application. You can do this in one of three ways:
- Complete your application on line at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability/.
- Apply in person at your local Social Security office.
- Apply by telephone.
To make an appointment to apply in person or to have a Social Security representative take your application over the phone, call 1-800-772-1213.
Once you have completed your application, the Social Security Administration sends it to the New Mexico Disability Determination Services (DDS). DDS’s job is to evaluate whether you are disabled. The DDS disability examiner and medical consultant assigned to your case will contact your doctors to obtain your medical records and information about your condition. They may send you questionnaires asking you how your condition limits your activities. They may talk to your friends and family members about your physical and mental limitations. They may even send you to other doctors for additional medical examinations and tests.
After gathering and examining all this material, the medical consultant and disability examiner will make a decision on your initial application and notify you in writing. If your claim is approved, you will begin receiving disability benefits. If it is denied, you will be notified that you must appeal to pursue your claim.
For further advice for pursuing benefits, see Tips for applying and sign up for the e-mailed “Lessons on winning benefits” available in the right upper corner of this page.
Requesting reconsideration of your initial application for New Mexico disability benefits
Do not be discouraged if your initial application for disability benefits is denied. About two-thirds of all applications for Social Security disability benefits in New Mexico and other states are denied. But the odds improve substantially if you press forward with appeals.
Your first appeal is called a request for reconsideration. For information and tips about requesting reconsideration, see Advice for appealing.
Reconsideration is just what it sounds like. The DDS takes a second look at your file applying the same standards as the first time. The only difference is that the review is by a different team of decision makers than the ones who denied your initial application.
Not surprisingly, about 90 percent of requests for reconsideration are denied. Regardless, you must follow through with this step to get to the next level.
Requesting a hearing on your Albuquerque Social Security disability benefits claim
If your claim, like most, is denied at reconsideration, the next step is to request a hearing before an administrative law judge. This is the level of appeal at which you have the greatest chance of success. Over half of Social Security disability claimants in New Mexico and nationwide who appeal to this level are ultimately awarded disability benefits.
For information and tips about requesting an administrative hearing, see Advice for appealing and download our e-booklet, Helpful suggestions for appealing a denial of benefits available in the right upper corner of this page.
At your Social Security disability hearing you will have the opportunity to tell the judge in person about your disability. The judge will also listen to the testimony of any witnesses you bring. The judge may ask a medical expert to testify about your limitations and a vocation expert to testify about jobs you can do. Your disability attorney will have the opportunity to cross-examine these experts. The judge will review all the evidence in your file, consider all the testimony presented at the hearing, and make an independent decision about whether to award you Social Security or SSI disability benefits.
As an Albuquerque disability attorney, here’s how I can help
Many people who may be entitled to disability benefits in Albuquerque and throughout New Mexico do not obtain help from a lawyer. Disabled people fail to seek legal assistance because they don’t know any attorneys, or don’t believe that having an attorney will make any difference. But statistics show that claimants who are represented by New Mexico disability attorneys are more likely to be successful.
If I become your disability attorney, here are a few of the things I can do for you:
- Meet with you free of charge to make a preliminary assessment of whether you meet Social Security’s criteria for disability benefits.
- Help you to complete all the paperwork Social Security requires.
- Work with your doctors to obtain reports from them that support your claim.
- Make sure Social Security has all your medical records and other documentation necessary to support your claim.
- Make sure your appeals are filed on time so that you don’t have to start over with a new claim.
- Apply the complicated Social Security regulations and rulings to the facts of your case to determine the best arguments to support your claim.
- Prepare you to tell your story to the judge at your hearing.
- Prepare other witnesses, such as family members and co-workers, to testify at your hearing.
- Present written and oral arguments to the judge.
- Investigate the possibility of reopening previous claims that you did not appeal, which could result in your receiving more back benefits.
If you live in New Mexico and want my assistance with your Social Security disability case, please provide a brief description of your claim using the form to the right, and I will respond promptly. Or you may contact me at:
New Mexico Disability Attorney
6301 Indian School Road NE
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87110