The Social Security Administration (SSA) will determine that an individual is disabled if they have a long-term disability that prevents them from working in any capacity. An individual is disabled if they cannot engage in any substantial gainful activity (commonly referred to as SGA) because of their mental or physical medical condition.
A technical approach to evaluating SGA looks at income derived from ongoing work activity that involves significant and productive physical or mental activities. A more common approach to evaluating SGA generally assesses whether an individual can perform the work they did prior to long-term disability, and if not, further assesses whether an individual can perform other types of work in the national economy.
Therefore, disability is evaluated in two ways: a source of earned income or an ability to work. If an individual is presently earning income from their work, the SSA will not likely find that individual disabled. Alternatively, if the SSA determines an individual is able to return to their past work, or could perform other types of work, they will not be found disabled.
The SSA does not have specific rules regarding volunteer or unpaid work, but it can be used as evidence against a disability claim when the tasks demonstrate an ability to work. Again, the main rule is that an individual cannot receive benefits if they are engaging in SGA. If an individual is completing volunteer work, the SSA could determine those tasks rise to the SGA level and demonstrate an ability to perform other types of work.
If an individual volunteers a few hours per month, there is little chance the SSA could use this work against the disability claim, but even this statement is largely dependent on the type of work completed. For example, if an individual alleges a physical impairment that prevents them from any lifting, but that same individual volunteers to build houses at Habitat for Humanity on the weekend, this work will likely be used against their claim for disability. There would likely be a much different outcome if that individual chose to sit and read to children at a library instead.
If an individual is interested in pursuing volunteer work while receiving disability benefits, they should consider the maximum hours spent per month, the physical and mental requirements of the work, and what affect the work would have on their ability to sustain SGA.
It can be a challenge to navigate the SSA rules and regulations, but you don’t have to go at it alone. When dealing with such circumstances, it is to your advantage to seek legal advice from a skilled social security attorney. With such an advocate in your corner, you will push toward a positive outcome for your legal case.
The most frequent question I'm asked is "How long will I wait for a Social Security hearing?" Today, I want to give a tool through the Social Security website on how you can answer that question. We'll start out with a Google search and type in "ALJ disposition data." You can see it starts to populate. The very top file should be public data file and this is Social Security's website.
Now, the easiest way to answer the question is to click this button labeled "average wait time until hearing held report." Click that, come down to the bottom, and you'll find an alphabetized list of hearing offices. If you go to the very bottom of this screen you'll see that there are 170 entries, indicating there are 170 hearing offices in the country. Fortunately, we can type in our hearing office here and we learn that in Denver, where Rocky Mountain Disability Law Group is situated, it takes approximately 11 months between the time an applicant requests, submits a request for hearing, the hearing is held, and the decision is issued and the case is closed.
Now, you can type in any city. You can type in Alberquerque and it will populate there. You can type in Atlanta where we have another office under Southern Disability Law Group, and you'll see that it takes approximately 15 months. Now another mechanism is to simply go to the "hearing office work load data," which has slightly more information. Again, if we type in Denver's website we learn that there are...that since September 28, 2013, through the end of November, Denver has received 1,113 applications for hearing or request for hearings; the office has closed 996 cases; not necessarily these 1,113, but just 996 cases; and that there are 6293 cases pending at that office; and that their average wait time or processing time from beginning to end is 359 days.
What should you say at your Social Security hearing? When you go before an administrative law judge (ALJ) for your Social Security hearing, it helps to know how to best communicate with the judge. I always give my clients three rules to follow:
This may seem obvious, but it is extremely important. The ALJ will be focused on whether you are testifying honestly and may even ask a few questions to test you. So it is important that you are focused on it, too. What if you don’t know the answer to the ALJ’s question? Then tell him or her the truth: that you don’t know.
Only answer the question you are asked at your Social Security hearing, either by the ALJ or your representative. For example, if you have an elbow injury and the ALJ asks you, “Which elbow hurts?” all he wants to know is right or left. Nothing more. Don’t tell the ALJ how you hurt it, or where, or when, etc. Tune in to what the ALJ is asking and limit your response accordingly.
If the ALJ asks you at your Social Security hearing how long you have had a certain problem, and you say, “A long time,” the ALJ will not know what that means. But if you say, “I have had that problem for 5 years,” or “since 2009,” then the ALJ will know exactly what you mean and he or she can move on to the next question.
This is not an exhaustive list. The tips I hear from other representatives are endless: say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ not ‘uh-huh’ and ‘uh-uh’; keep your voice up when testifying; don’t interrupt the ALJ; etc. They are generally excellent suggestions. But you will likely have a lot on your mind during that Social Security hearing. You may find it difficult to remember every instruction you have been given. If you just follow the three rules above, you will do fine.
Why choose either the Whitcomb, Selinsky Law PC or its sister firm, the Rocky Mountain Disability Law Group, to represent you in your Social Security Disability Insurance Claim? If you're wondering why our attorneys will win your Social Security disability insurance claim, then watch this video. This 30 second video describes the work at Whitcomb Law, PC and its sister offices at Rocky Mountain Disability Law Group and Southern Disability Law Group are helping people win their Social Security disability insurance claims. With thousands of Social Security disability claims hearings to their credit, our attorneys have the experience you need to win. We will collect and submit the right evidence and ask the right questions at hearing.
If we don't get the right outcome at hearing, we will appeal your claim to the Appeals Council and if need be, the Federal District Court. This video speaks to our passion for winning Social Security disability claims. Attorney Joe Whitcomb started his legal career as an attorney-adviser for the Social Security Administration. In this position, he wrote nearly 700 decisions for 16 different Administrative Law Judges in two separate hearing offices. Joe and the other Social Security attorneys at Whitcomb Law, PC, have represented Social Security disability claimants in thousands of hearings.
If you have questions about Financial Eligibility & Social Security Disability Insurance, it is a wise idea to talk to a knowledgeable disability lawyer at Whitcomb, Selinsky, PC or its disability arm, Rocky Mountain Disability Law Group today. Conveniently located in downtown Denver, our law firm can be reached at (303) 534-1958 or by filling out our online form.