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If you are considering applying for Michigan Social Security Disability benefits, or if you are in the midst of appealing a denial of benefits, it is important to understand the Social Security Administration’s approval process. In addition to meeting the definition of “disabled” and fulfilling the earnings requirements that the Social Security Administration dictates, you must present a convincing and organized claim. Here’s a quick SSD overview:

Overview of Social Security Disability Process


An impairment that qualifies as a disability under Social Security Administration (SSA) guidelines must be quite serious. The impairment must render the applicant unable to perform any substantial gainful activity — that is, the applicant must not be able to earn more than a minimum amount of money, determined each year by the SSA. The impairment must completely disable the applicant from working. It must be expected to last for a year, have already lasted a year or be expected to cause the applicant’s death. But this is not the end of the qualifying tests.

Earnings Tests

The Social Security Administration also requires the applicant to have a sufficient work history to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. Based upon the applicant’s age, he or she must have worked for a specified number of years. The applicant also must have worked at least some of those years recently. This is because Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are “earned” with the contributions applicants have made through their Social Security taxes. Some blind applicants do not need to meet the recent work test. Supplemental Security Income (SSI), on the other hand, is a needs-based program that helps disabled people with low income and few resources.

When to File

To qualify for benefits, a person must be disabled for a minimum of 12 consecutive months. Thus, it may not be a good idea for a person to file an application for benefits as soon as he or she becomes unable to work because it may be difficult to prove that the disability will last for at least one full year. The initial decision can take a number of months. If your claim is denied — which happens in a large majority of cases — the time it takes to appeal can last a year, two years or longer, depending on where you live and the hearing office. It is often wise to start early.

The Decision Process

Following the receipt of the application, a federal Social Security Administration representative will review the information. If the representative is satisfied that the application meets certain basic criteria, the application and evidentiary materials will be forwarded to a state agency that is charged with making a decision regarding the disability benefits application. The state agency may develop the file further by gathering more medical or vocational evidence. Social Security uses a five-step process to determine whether the applicant should receive benefits, asking:

  • Whether the applicant is working
  • Whether the medical condition is severe enough to render the applicant disabled
  • Whether the impairment is on a government list of impairments granting automatic disability status (if the impairment is not on the list, that does not necessarily disqualify the applicant)
  • Whether the applicant can do the work he or she did before
  • What other types of work the applicant can to do

The state agency will return the file to the federal Social Security Administration with its recommendation. The SSA almost always adopts the state agency’s disability determination. After considering all other eligibility questions, the SSA will mail the applicant a notice of its decision.


The applicant has the right to appeal the decision. The first appeal is a reconsideration of the initial denial, typically a review by a new person of the written evidence and any additional evidence. Under a pilot program in some states, including Missouri, the reconsideration step has been eliminated and applicants go right from an initial denial to a hearing with an administrative law judge. After reconsideration, the next appeal goes to an administrative law judge for a hearing. Following this stage, the applicant has a right to appeal to the Social Security Appeals Council. Finally, the applicant may appeal to the federal courts. An attorney can offer valuable assistance in the appeals process.

Social Security Disability Eligibility

The federal Social Security Disability program provides benefits to qualified disabled individuals. The program sets out numerous requirements for recipients, including a strict definition of disability and a minimum work history.

If you have questions about whether you qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance, contact a lawyer from J.B. Bieske and Jennifer Alfonsi, Attorneys at Law, in Michigan to learn more.

Determining SSD Eligibility Under Federal Social Security Law

To qualify for Social Security disability benefits, an individual must be completely disabled. While some other insurance or employee benefits programs may cover people who are partially disabled, the Social Security program says that a qualifying disabled person must be unable to engage in any productive work, whether it is the type of work the person did before or some other gainful employment that the person might perform.

The disability must arise from a serious medical condition. The condition must be expected to last (or have lasted) for at least one continuous year or end in death.

The condition must be medically determinable. According to Social Security Administration guidelines, this means that the condition has been diagnosed using medically acceptable techniques. Whether the condition is mental or physical, the individual’s reporting of symptoms is not enough. Specific medical evidence must back up the claim.

With a mental or psychiatric condition, the impairment can be more difficult to demonstrate. The individual must have significant symptoms. These symptoms may include difficulties with behavior, memory or thought. Again, self-reporting of symptoms is not enough; there must be medical diagnoses or test results to support the claim.

The standards for proving a disability that makes you unable to work can be stringent and complex. An experienced Social Security disability attorney can help you sort out what you need to show and whether you are likely to be regarded as disabled.

Work Requirements

To qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), a person must have a certain work history. The work history must include recent work and sufficient earnings. This is because Social Security Disability is an “insurance” program. It works like the Social Security retirement income program: you satisfy part of the requirement when you contribute money through your taxes. (Supplemental Security Income (SSI), on the other hand, requires not a specific work history but a limited amount of resources, plus disability.)

The tests are based on how many work “credits” you have earned — for each quarter of a year worked at a certain earnings level, you earn one credit. Some spouses, former spouses, widows/widowers and children are eligible based on their spouses’ or parents’ work history.

The Recent Work Test

The recent work test looks at how old the individual was when he or she became disabled and how much the individual worked in the years immediately preceding the disability’s onset. The rule requires different levels of recent work depending on the age of the individual when the disability began. Generally, once a person turns 31, Social Security looks at the past 10 years and whether the person worked during at least half of the quarters during that time.

The Duration of Work Test

The individual also must meet the duration of work test. This test looks at whether a person has worked long enough over time to earn enough work credits to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. This work does not have to be recent. Some blind workers only need to meet this prong of the test.

What Are SSD Benefits?

Social Security is the federal program that provides retirement, disability, survivor, family assistance and Medicare benefits. The program is funded by earmarked taxes withheld from employees’ paychecks, matching funds from employers and taxes from self-employed individuals. Social Security benefits are administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and governed by the Social Security Act. Learn what what SSD benefits are available to you:

The Social Security Act’s Definition of “Disability”

To qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, a person must be “disabled” according to the definition provided by the federal Social Security Act. A person is disabled if he or she:

  • Has a medical condition that is expected to last at least a year, has lasted at least a year or is expected to result in death, and
  • Is unable to work because of the medical condition

The person must not be able to the do work she did previously or any other type of substantial gainful activity that she is qualified to do.

Types of Disability Benefits under the Social Security Act

Five major types of disability benefits are available under the Social Security Act. Each one has its own rules for qualification, which can be complicated. Both Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provide benefits. SSDI is based on the applicant’s work history and disability while SSI is based on the applicant’s income and disability, old age or blindness.

  • SSDI: Disability Insurance benefits are paid to people who have worked long enough to earn sufficient credits under the Social Security system but are now disabled.
  • SSDI: Disabled Widow’s, Widower’s or Surviving Divorced Spouse benefits are paid to people who meet certain age and other requirements. The deceased spouse must have been insured through his or her work record for the living spouse to qualify for coverage.
  • SSDI: Childhood Disability benefits are paid to people who are at least 18 years old and became disabled prior to the age of 22. The payment to the child is based on the earnings record of a qualified parent who is retired, disabled or deceased.
  • SSI: Supplemental Security Income benefits are paid to low-income recipients who are disabled, blind or elderly and have limited resources.
  • SSI: Child’s Disability benefits are paid to children up to age 18 who are disabled or blind and whose families meet certain criteria concerning income and resources.

The Social Security Disability Application Process

If you become disabled and your condition is expected to last for at least one year (or end in death), consider applying for Social Security Disability benefits. The sooner you start the application process, the less time you will have to wait for your benefits. The process can take a long time and require intensive documentation. It may be necessary to appeal a negative decision.

The help of an attorney from J.B. Bieske and Jennifer Alfonsi, Attorneys at Law, in Michigan can guide you through the complex and demanding process to apply for ssd.

When to File

To qualify for benefits, a person must be disabled, or expected to be disabled, for a minimum of 12 consecutive months.

Where to File

To apply for Social Security Disability benefits, you need to complete an application and an Adult Disability Report (or a Child Disability Report, if you are applying on behalf of your child). You may fill out the application and report on the Social Security Administration’s Web site, on the telephone or in person at a Social Security office.

Information You Will Need

The Social Security Disability application and report will ask for your work history and your medical history. Your medical history includes the doctors you have visited for your disability, the medications you have taken and the medical records that are in your possession. You will need to sign a release so that Social Security may speak with your doctors and review your medical history.

If you have an appointment with Social Security but you do not have all the information you think you will need, Social Security advises that you keep the appointment anyway. The employees will assist you in gathering the rest of the information.

You may be required to undergo a medical examination at no cost to you. It is important to attend this appointment in order to keep the process moving along and provide Social Security with the information it needs.

The Decision & Appeal

The Social Security Disability benefits application and appeals process can seem daunting. The more you know, however, the better your chance of presenting your application in the best light possible. If you receive a negative decision, you have several opportunities to appeal it.

Speak with an attorney from J.B. Bieske and Jennifer Alfonsi, Attorneys at Law, in Michigan, to learn your options and plan your strategy.

The Initial Application

The Social Security Administration’s process for the initial determination of disability may take three to five months and occasionally longer. Following the receipt of your application for disability benefits, a Social Security representative will review the information you have provided. If the representative is satisfied that the application meets certain basic criteria (like a long enough work history), the representative will forward the application and evidentiary materials to the state Disability Determination Services, which is charged with deciding whether you have a disability that qualifies under Social Security Administration standards.

The state agency may seek more evidence to further develop your file. State agencies employ doctors and disability specialists to review medical records and collect additional information from treating doctors, clinics and hospitals. The agency may also send you to your doctor or a new doctor for an examination.

The Standards Used to Determine “Disability”

The Social Security Administration uses a five-step evaluation process to determine if you are disabled according to its standards and definitions. According to the Social Security Administration’s Web site, it looks at these factors:

  • If you are working. Generally, if you earn more than a specified amount of money, you will be found not disabled. This amount increases slightly each year. If you are not working or make less that the threshold amount, the state agency will analyze your medical condition at step two.
  • If your medical condition is severe enough to render you disabled. Your ability to perform even basic work tasks must be significantly limited by your medical condition for at least one year. If the condition is not found to be severe, you will not be found to be disabled. If the impairment or combination of impairments is severe enough, the agency will proceed to step three.
  • If your condition on the List of Impairments. Conditions that are on the List of Impairments are considered so severe that a person with one of them is automatically found to be disabled. If your condition is on the list, or if it is not on the list but equals the severity of the listed impairments, you will be found disabled. If not, the agency will continue to step four.
  • If the disability leaves you unable to do the work you did before. If you can still do your previous work, you will be found not to be disabled. If you cannot return to that type of work, the agency will consider step five.
  • If you can do another kind of work. For this analysis, the agency will examine your age, education, past work experience, job-related skills and medical condition to see whether you could adjust to different work. If you can do other work, you will not be considered disabled. If you cannot adjust to new work, you will be considered disabled.

These rules vary for blind applicants.

You will receive a letter that accepts or rejects your application. If you have been found eligible for benefits, the letter will include information on the payments you will receive. If you are found ineligible, you may appeal the adverse decision.


You have the right to appeal the decision on your eligibility for Social Security Disability benefits. If your appeal is denied at one step, you may move on to the next.

  • First, request a hearing before an administrative law judge. A person who has never seen your file will look at all the evidence, including any new information. Under a pilot program in some states, including Missouri, the reconsideration step has been eliminated.
  • Next, request a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). You may be asked to provide more information. The ALJ will question you and your witnesses, if you have any.
  • You may then request a review of the ALJ’s decision by the Appeals Council. The Social Security Appeals Council may grant or deny your request. If it grants your request, it will either review your case or send it to an ALJ for review.
  • Finally, you may petition for review by the federal court. If you receive another adverse decision or the Appeals Council decides not to grant your request, you may file a lawsuit in federal court.

You have a limited time in which to file each appeal. An attorney who knows Social Security Disability law can be of great assistance during the appeals process.

Social Security Disability Resource Links

Social Security Online

The US Social Security Administration (SSA) is dedicated to protecting individuals’ economic security through programs including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Disability Benefits

Look here for useful information from the Social Security Administration (SSA) about Social Security Disability benefits and how to apply for them.

Medline Plus: Disabilities

The US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health provide health information and numerous other resources for people with disabilities.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Disability

The CDC and the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities (OMHD) provide this informative Web page with disability demographics and resources for people with disabilities.

What You Should Know before You Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits

The Social Security Administration answers frequently asked questions about Social Security Disability benefits.

Social Security Library

The Legal Information Institute (LII) offers extensive information on Social Security, including the text of the Social Security Act.


The US government provides a central location for resources for the disabled and their loved ones.

Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD)

The Consortium is a coalition of about 100 US disability organizations striving to protect the rights and empowerment of people with disabilities.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Home Page

The ADA protects most workers from discrimination based on their disabilities.

Your Right to Representation

Social Security Online explains how to work with an attorney or other representative during the Social Security Disability benefits application process.

We Limit Our Practice to Only Social Security Disability Claims

At J.B. Bieske and Jennifer Alfonsi, Attorneys at Law, we accept only SSD cases at our offices in Livonia, Novi, Woodhaven and Detroit, Michigan. Each Michigan disability lawyer at our firm pursues them competently and aggressively. Our entire practice is focused on obtaining benefits you earned, you need, and you deserve.

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Contact Us or Speak to our social security lawyers at: (800) 331-3530

J.B. Bieske and Jennifer Alfonsi, Attorneys at Law, have helped thousands of people obtain Social Security disability benefits. They receive no attorney fee until after your SSD case is won.

Applying for Social Security disability benefits can be a frustrating, time-consuming experience. The vast majority of SSD claims are denied initially. Our message to you: Don’t give up.

Because they focus their entire practice on Social Security disability claims, social security lawyers J.B. Bieske and Jennifer Alfonsi, Attorneys at Law, know the law well and fight to bring their clients the benefits they deserve. You worked hard, and you paid into Social Security. If you can no longer work because of a disability, contact attorneys who have helped thousands of disabled people.

If you have been denied benefits, they are fully prepared to help you.

J.B. Bieske & Jennifer Alfonsi, Attorneys at Law

19991 Hall Road, Suite 202
Macomb, MI 48044
Phone: 586-977-8100
Fax: 586-977-8444

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