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The Law Firm of Chitwood and Fairbairn, P.A.
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While we are based in Asheville, we cover all of Western North Carolina for in-person hearings, including the areas around Charlotte, Shelby, Rutherfordton, Hendersonville, Brevard, Waynesville, Sylva, Franklin, Burnsville, Spruce Pine, Marshall, Mars Hill, Bakersville, Weaverville, Asheville, Black Mountain, Candler, Old Fort, Marion, and Fairview. The counties we cover include: Clay, Cherokee, Graham, Macon, Swain, Jackson, Haywood, Henderson, Transylvania, Polk, Buncombe, Madison, Yancey, Mitchell, Rutherford, Cleveland, and McDowell.
We also handle appellate brief-writing in certain other regions of the country by arrangement with local counsel. Attorney Holly J. Fairbairn is licensed to practice law in North Carolina.
1. Who decides if I am disabled? A Disability Determination Services employee, working with a doctor, will make the initial decision on the claim. If the claim is denied and the individual requests reconsideration, the case is then sent to another disability examiner, where it goes through much the same process. If a claim is denied at reconsideration, the claimant may then request a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge who makes an independent decision upon the claim. This is the only time that the claimant and the decision maker get to meet.
2. What can I do to improve my chances of winning? Be honest and complete in giving information to Social Security about what is disabling you. Many claimants, for instance, fail to mention their emotional problems to Social Security because they are embarrassed about them. Beyond being honest and complete with Social Security, the most important thing that you can do is just keep appealing. Also important is hiring an attorney to represent you before the Social Security Administration. Statistically, claimants who employ an attorney to represent them are much more likely to win than those who do not employ an attorney to represent them.
3. If I am approved, how much will I get? For disability insurance benefits, it all depends upon how much you have worked and earned in the past. For disabled widow's or widower's benefits, it depends upon how much the late husband or wife worked and earned. For disabled adult child benefits, it all depends upon how much the parent worked and earned. For SSI benefits, there is a base amount that an individual with no other income receives.
4. How far back will they pay benefits if I am found disabled? Disability Insurance Benefits cannot begin until five months have passed after the person becomes disabled. In addition, benefits cannot be paid more than one year prior to the date of the claim. SSI benefits cannot be paid prior to the date of the claim (application).
5. What do I do if Social Security denies my claim? First, do not be surprised. If you are denied at the initial level, you should appeal, that is, file a request for reconsideration. You should also consider employing an attorney.
6. Why does Social Security turn down so many claims for disability benefits? One reason is that there is no simple way to determine whether an individual is disabled. Most people who are disabled suffer from pain. There is no way of determining whether or not another individual is in pain, much less how much pain they are in. A second reason is that Social Security has been more concerned with making sure that everyone who is receiving Social Security disability benefits is "truly" disabled than with making sure that everyone who is disabled receives the Social Security disability benefits they deserve. Congress seems to believe that, given a chance, many people will "fake" disability in order to get benefits.
7. I only want to get back the money I put in Social Security. Why do they make it so hard for me to get my own money back? Actually, when you file a Social Security disability claim, you are not trying to just get "your own money" back. The money that an individual may have paid into Social Security over the years would not last very long if that was all that an individual could draw from Social Security. (Keep in mind that an average claim results in over $370,000 of benefits over a lifetime, before the value of Medicare is included.)
8. Must I be permanently disabled to get Social Security disability? No. You have to have been disabled for at least a year or be expected to be disabled for at least a year or have a condition that can be expected to result in death within a year.
9. I have several health problems, but no one of them disables me. It is the combination that disables me. Can I get Social Security disability? Social Security is supposed to consider the combination of impairments that an individual suffers in determining disability. Many, perhaps most claimants for Social Security disability benefits have more than one health problem and the combined effects of all of the health problems must be considered.
If after reading these FAQs, you have more questions, we can help. Call us!
Thanks to Attorney Charles T. Hall of Raleigh for originally drafting these answers. (We’ve changed them a bit and updated them for you.)