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Quick Tips: Working on Social Security Disability Cases

10 July 2011
Quick Tips: Working on Social Security Disability Cases
by Sami K. Hartsfield, ACP.

Generously reprinted with permission by the Institute for Paralegal Education (IPE). This article came from the IPE monthly newsletter and you can subscribe by contacting them at

Social Security disability cases can be both time-consuming and complex, but are infinitely rewarding when a claimant is approved for the disability benefits she deserves. Here are just a few quick tips to keep in mind as you traverse the SS Administration’s hurdles to win SSDI benefits for the client:

  • The Social Security Administration has a comprehensive, easy-to-use website at
  • The definition for disability under both SSDI and SSI is a stringent one: “An adult is considered disabled if he/she is unable to engage in any substantial gainful work activity because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that is expected to last for 12 continuous months or result in death.”
  • The disability must be permanent, and no benefits are payable for partial disability or for short-term disability.
  • About 1 in 4 of today’s 20 year-olds will become disabled before reaching age 67.
  • Keep in mind the time frame for appeals: 60 days to appeal after the initial rejection, and 60 days to appeal after a rejection at the Recon stage (ie when a hearing is requested before an ALJ).
  • To be allowed to represent a claimant before the Social Security Administration, you must file Form SS 1696 – Appointment of Representative with the SSA.
  • The Office of Hearings and Appeals is called the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, or ODAR for short
  • The wait time for a hearing can seem agonizingly long – the average time is anywhere from 12-18 months and sometimes longer. Prepare both yourself and the client mentally for the long wait.
  • Worker’s Comp or Veteran’s Benefits may reduce the amount of Title II Disability Benefits. Make sure to get this type of information from the client.
  • Two of my favorite private sites for disability resources are and
  • In addition to the “Social Security Statement” every one of us receives each year just before our birthdays which describes our estimated SS benefits, the SSA also provides an online benefits estimator calculator at
 Please see the first article in this series.

Sami K. Hartsfield, ACP, is an insurance defense paralegal and freelance writer in Houston, Texas. She conducts medical, legal and factual research, investigations, and client interviews. Ms. Hartsfield prepares all manner of legal documents, including pleadings, witness lists and exhibits, trial notebooks, demand and settlement documents, and deposition schedules and summaries. She also coordinates and manages document production, locates and interviews witnesses and experts, and organizes pleading and trial exhibits. Ms. Hartsfield assists lawyers at trial, gathers and reviews medical records, and maintains general client contact. She recently worked as a Webmaster for a personal injury law firm in the Houston area, and started their social media marketing efforts. Ms. Hartsfield earned her AAS degree from the Center for Advanced Legal Studies and will graduate with a B.S. degree, summa cum laude, from the University of Houston Downtown later this year. She is a member of the National Association of Legal Assistants, the American Association of Notaries, and the Electric Data Extraction Network.

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One Comment
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