Successfully Applying for Disability Benefits in Minnesota

Applying for Disability in Minnesota

How to apply and qualify for SSD, SSI in Minnesota

Note: If you have already filed a claim and been denied for disability, or are wondering what to do in the event of a Social Security denial, proceed to the reconsideration and hearing appeal sections below.

Level I: Disability Application - An individual receiving a Social Security Disability Award, or SSI disability award.

A disability application may be filed online using the SSA website. However, most individuals will benefit from having their claim initiated through a local Social Security office. Also, since the online process does not allow for an SSI claim to be taken, or for a concurrent claim to be taken (a concurrent claim is one that involves both SSD and SSI), filing for disability at a local field office may result in the claim process being more accurate.

For individuals who have difficulty going to a local office (due to distance, transportation, or medical issues), the disability application interview may be done over the phone. This may also be requested for claimants who simply prefer a phone interview.

Providing information to assist the claim

A decision on a disability claim will generally be made within 90-120 days, though, in some cases, disability decisions may take longer. Typically, the longest portion of the processing time for a case has to do with how long it takes to obtain the necessary medical records.

For this reason, claimants may assist their claim by providing a fairly detailed history of their medical treatment, complete with the names of physicians, dates of treatment, a list of all diagnosed conditions, and the names and addresses of hospitals and clinics where treatment was received.

Ideally, the medical history should be compiled before the appointment for the disability interview. This will help to ensure that the information is complete and accurate and that important treatment sources are not omitted.

Additionally, claimants should also write down their work history. The work history should cover the 15 year period prior to the onset of disability. This is what SSA refers to as the relevant work period.

To assist the Social Security Administration in properly identifying the claimant's past jobs, and, just as importantly, the skills required in performing these jobs, the work history should include job titles, date ranges for jobs, and detailed descriptions of the work performed for each job.

Evidence and qualifying for disability

For adult claimants, the qualifications for disability are based on two types of evidence: medical and vocational.

Vocational evidence refers to the claimant's work history, which is why it is extremely important for a claimant to give a detailed listing of their work history on the disability report form when the application for disability is submitted (and, as stated, written in advance to avoid leaving out important details).

The Social Security Administration--via a disability examiner (if the claim is being worked at the initial level or at the reconsideration appeal level) or an administrative law judge (if the claim is being decided at the ALJ hearing level)--will consider the claimant's work history as far back as 15 years.

This time period is considered relevant as job skills obtained prior to 15 years are not considered likely to be transferrable to different types of work.

The purpose of reviewing the claimant's work history is essentially to determine what the claimant did in the course of their former job duties and what physical or mental requirements were involved.

In cases involving adults, the functional capacity of the person (determined by a review of the medical evidence) will be compared to the requirements of their past work to answer two questions:

1) Can the individual go back to one of their former jobs?

2) If not, can they use their education and skills to do something else, i.e. some type of other work?

If the answer to both questions is no, they will likely meet the requirements for disability under either SSD, SSI, or, potentially, both programs.

Qualifying for disability benefits as an adult is largely a determination of what a person is currently capable of doing, physically and/or mentally versus what A) what their prior jobs required of them and B) how transferrable their work skills might be.

Children filing for disability in Minnesota

In cases involving a child filing for disability in Minnesota, the process of evaluation is largely the same. A disability examiner will obtain medical treatment records from sources listed by the claimant at the time of application and will evaluate them to determine how, and in what ways, the claimant is limited functionally.

However, since minor-age children have no work history by which to compare their residual functional capacity, the child will be evaluated in terms of their ability to engage in activities that are deemed age-appropriate. In cases involving children who are of school age, the disability examiner or judge will review school records, including grades, IEPs, and testing results, as well as forms completed by teachers.

  • Disability application denial rate: 65.7 percent.
  • Disability application approval rate: 34.3 percent.

    Level II: Request for Reconsideration - Reconsideration is the first appeal in the SSA disability system and is available to individuals who have been denied on an application for disability.

    To request this appeal, a claimant who has been denied should contact the Social Security office where the claim was initiated. This will prompt the office to send out the necessary paperwork, including an appeal request, a disability report form, and a medical release form. All of the appeal paperwork should be completed, signed, and returned as quickly as possible.

    Once the appeal is received by Social Security, it will be forwarded to the same state disability agency that rendered a determination on the application for disability. In most states, this agency is called DDS, or disability determination services.

    Once again, the case will be assigned to a disability examiner who will determine one of the following outcomes: 1) That the claim should be approved on the basis of a listing in the Social Security Disability list of impairments, 2) That the claim should be approved on the basis of a medical vocational approval, or 3) That the claim should be denied because the case does not satisfy the SSA definition of disability and the qualifications for disability that flow from that definition.

    Decisions at the reconsideration appeal level

    Reconsideration decisions are ordinarily made much faster than disability decisions for initial claims. Getting a decision on a reconsideration appeal within 30-60 days is not unusual.

    Unfortunately, decisions on reconsiderations are generally denials. This first appeal level typically has an average rate of denial of 85 percent.

    Many disability representatives, including disability attorneys and non-attorney disability representatives will even caution their clients that the reconsideration appeal is simply a necessary step to go through before getting to a Social Security hearing where the odds of approval are usually much higher.

    Note: Individuals who submit a reconsideration appeal should conduct a followup status call to their Social Security office within 2 weeks of submitting the appeal to verify that it was received. Also, it will be a good idea to make a copy of the appeal in case it is not received.

    Claimants who have disability representation at the time they are denied will have their appeal completed by their representative; however, it will be wise to contact the representative once the letter of denial is received to ensure that both parties are up to date on the status of the case.

  • Reconsideration appeal denial rate: 89.7 percent.
  • Reconsideration appeal approval rate: 10.3 percent.

    Level III: Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge - The disability hearing is the second Social Security appeal available to claimants and may be requested only after a reconsideration appeal has been denied.

    Like all appeals, the hearing must be requested within 60 days of the date of the prior denial, but, ideally, should be requested immediately after receiving notification of the denial of the reconsideration appeal to avoid unnecessary case processing delays, as well as the possibility of a missed appeal deadline.

    Some basic facts about disability hearings in Minnesota

    1. Where are disability hearings held? - Disability hearings are generally held a the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) hearing office. We say generally because sometimes due to the distance a disability applicant might have to travel, hearings are held at a local Social Security office, or even in bank conference rooms.

    Social Security also makes video hearings available to disability applicants. The data is still out as to whether or not a video hearing is as good an option as an in-person hearing. The ability to be in person before the judge has always been considered an advantage to the disability applicant. While video hearings may be more convenient for judges and Social Security, they may be disadvantageous to the disability applicant.

    You do not have to have a video hearing in place of the more traditional in person disability hearing. The choice is yours alone to make. Minnesota has on ODAR located in Minneapolis.

    2. How long will it take to get a disability hearing scheduled? ' You can request a disability hearing after your reconsideration appeal is denied. Reconsideration denials are the norm rather than the exception. More than 80 percent of all reconsideration appeals are denied nationwide, making it necessary for most disability applicants to request a hearing. Many disability claimants give up at this juncture, however this is exactly the worst time to drop their disability claim.

    Most disability applicants have their best chance of being approved for disability benefits at the administrative law judge disability hearing. So you should not give up your chance to be approved for disability benefits.

    If you have legitimate disabling conditions and you can provide objective medical evidence to document the functional limitations they cause, you have a reasonably good chance of being approved for disability benefits.

    The wait time for a disability hearing varies from office to office, it is dependent upon the backlog of hearings at the ODAR office. The wait time for a disability hearing can be a year or more. In Minnesota, disability claimants are generally going to wait about a year. Of course, wait times are constantly changing, so you may not have to wait that long for a hearing or you may have to wait a little bit longer.

    In reality, there is not much you can do but wait for your hearing if you are still disabled and unable to work. The important thing is not to give up your best chance to be approved for disability.

    3. Is a judge more likely to approve a claim than an examiner? - The answer to this question is simple, yes; a judge is more likely to approve a claim for disability benefits than an examiner. The most likely reason is that administrative law judges are single decision makers; they do not answer to anyone else with regard to their disability determinations.

    Therefore, they have more flexibility in their interpretation of Social Security Disability medical and vocational guidelines. Social Security Disability examiners have very little leeway with regard to interpretation of those guidelines, which seems to translate into more initial disability claim and reconsideration appeal denials. Statistical data supports the fact that administrative law judges have a higher approval rate than disability examiners in every state.

    4. Should I be represented at a disability hearing in Minnesota? - Disability claimants who are scheduled for a hearing should consider this their best shot at being approved for disability. They are going to be in an informal courtroom before a judge who is going to decide their case based upon Social Security law. Most disability applicants know nothing about Social Security Disability law or any of the disability vocational or medical guidelines, consequently it would be difficult to present their disability case in a manner that could be favorable to them.

    Social Security Disability representatives are familiar with all of the disability rules and guidelines. Additionally, they will gather necessary medical evidence, physician's statements, and experts (vocational and/or medical) if they are needed to substantiate the facts of your disability case. Lastly, they will go with you to your disability hearing to present your disability case for you.

    Congressional statistical information suggests that disability cases with representation are more than 25 percent more likely to be approved for disability benefits than cases with no representation.

  • Disability Hearing denial rate: 54.6 percent
  • Disability Hearing approval rate: 45.4 percent

    Note: The Minneapolis MN Social Security hearing office currently has a disability award rate that is lower than that for SSA region 5, as well as being lower than the national average for approvals granted at the hearing level.

    About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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