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Frequently Asked Questions

As we discuss in making an initial application for social security disability benefits, or in whether you should draw unemployment, age makes a difference. If you are under 50 years old, your burden of proof is that you cannot perform any work that is available in the national economy. So if, for example, you have been working in construction for the past 15 years, or have been a nurse’s aid, and you have injured your back, even though you can no longer lift over 10 pounds, it is not enough to prove you can no longer perform your past relevant work. You have to prove you cannot be a greeter at Walmart (or some other sedentary job) where you do no lifting, and can alternate standing and sitting at will. It doesn’t matter that these less demanding jobs pay less, nor does it matter that such a job does not exist in your home town.

The burden of proof changes when you are over 50. The burden gets even less strict when you are over 55. Under the same facts as outlined above, if you can no longer do your past relevant job, and you have no transferable skills, then it is possible to get benefits. This is why we need to know your past work history. The type of jobs you performed in the previous 15 years makes a big difference, especially when you are over 50. Your level of education is also important. SSA will take into consideration if you dropped out of school and never got a diploma or GED.

The attorneys at Dempsey and Dempsey will meet with you in person and review the facts of your case. Selecting the onset date of disability for your initial application is a complicated one, and we can help you that make that determination. Call us today for your free consultation at 1-800-492-9825.


The best advice is simple: DON’T

Social Security Disability and SSI are for people who cannot work. We know it is confusing because the Social Security Administration says you can work part-time and still get benefits as long as your income is under a certain amount ($1000 per month in 2010). However, few if any judges will award people benefits if they are working part time. Think about it. You have to prove you are unable to work. If you are working, that is almost impossible. If you are working 15 or 20 hours a week, how can you prove you couldn’t work another hour a day and earn more than the magic amount?

The only exception to this rule is if you are working at a sheltered workshop or are involved in a special program with a job coach doing work that would not be considered competitive employment. In any other case, if you are working part-time, you are almost certainly not going to get Social Security benefits.


Again, the best advice is: DON’T

School is a work-like activity. If you can go to school and make passing grades, you are probably capable of doing sedentary work. If you are going to school, but are receiving special help, it is very important to document the help you are receiving (for example, a note-taker, reader, someone to carry your books or wheel you to class, extra time for tests, etc.) It is also important to document excessive absences. Very few judges will award benefits to someone who is taking classes.
The attorneys at Dempsey and Dempsey will meet with you in person and review the facts of your case. Selecting the onset date of disability for your initial application is a complicated one, and we can help you that make that determination. Call us today for your free consultation at 1-800-492-9825.

Social Security has identified 200 diseases that are so serious that the condition obviously meets disability standards. Many of them are forms of cancer. The list was expanded as recently as December, 2012 when 30 more diseases were added as a result of public outreach hearings, and discussions with the National Institute of Health. To see the entire list, you can go to the SSA website at

A person with one of the listed conditions still must apply the same as any other Claimant. There still must be medical records to document the diagnosis. There is a way to flag the application as one that should be considered more quickly than other cases.

The attorneys at Dempsey and Dempsey will meet with you in person and review the facts of your case. Selecting the onset date of disability for your initial application is a complicated one, and we can help you that make that determination. Call us today for your free consultation at 1-800-492-9825.

Most people applying for disability are also facing a financial crisis. Loss of income impacts the ability to pay bills. The SSA has established a guideline under HALLEX I-2-1-95 to expedite certain cases. One basis is if the claimant’s illness is terminal. In most situations where that has happened, the diagnosis falls under a compassionate allowance listing.

Another basis is when the Claimant is without, and unable to obtain, food, medicine or shelter. A Claimant must take advantage of any state or local program available. A Claimant must also have already their initial application denied, as well as their request for reconsideration. If a Claimant is in line waiting for an ALJ Hearing, it is possible to request an expedited hearing and perhaps shave a few months off the waiting period. However, there needs to evidence of a compelling situation, such as a letter or lawsuit of eviction or foreclosure of your residence.

The attorneys at Dempsey and Dempsey will meet with you in person and review the facts of your case. Knowing when to write a “dire need” letter is important, and we can help you that make that determination. Our office also handles bankruptcies and can give you advice about dealing with your creditors. Call us today for your free consultation at 1-800-492-9825.

The law office of Dempsey and Dempsey would like to do your application for Social Security disability benefits for you electronically. It is possible for you to do this yourself or to go to your local Social Security office where they can do it for you, but this is not a good idea. Here’s why: selecting the correct date for onset of your disability is complicated. It is a combination of when you last worked; what work was substantial, gainful employment; when you began treating with a doctor on a regular basis for the disabling condition; and whether you qualify for SSD or SSI.

It may come as a surprise, but local SSA offices frequently give bad advice as to whether someone qualifies for benefits. The regulations say someone can be earning up to $1000 per month and still qualify for benefits. But you should read our segment about “Can I work?” What happens in reality before an Administrative Law Judge is something we can explain that the clerks at SSA cannot.

Furthermore, the burden of proof is on you, the Claimant, to prove you are disabled. This requires medical evidence. If you have not been treating regularly with a doctor or other professional, you are likely to be turned down for benefits. The local SSA office would file your application regardless of treatment. You could be wasting months or years to get your case to a hearing only to have no evidence to present. While the SSA may send you for a “consulting exam,” with a physician of their choice, this doctor has no obligation to actually treat you for your illness, and typically conducts a very short examination that results in a report that you can perform some form of work.

If you have not been to a doctor for months because you feel you cannot afford treatment, while it is totally understandable, it will hurt your case. If you have insurance, it is money well spent to pay for deductibles. If you have no insurance, apply for a state medical card. In the mean time, seek out treatment at free clinics, or federally funded facilities that will see you on a sliding scale. If you come to see us to do your application, we will need you to fill out paperwork listing all treatment you’ve had in the last year.

A final word of warning: if you attempt to do your own application online, be sure you are on an official government site. If the website address does not end in .gov then you are not dealing with the SSA. Some attorneys have websites that are misleading and you could wind up hiring someone you have never met. This is why we want you to come to either our Quincy or Hannibal office for your free consultation where you will meet with an attorney in person. Avoid making costly mistakes. Before you hire an attorney, ask if they will be with you in person at a hearing. Also ask if they are licensed to take your case on appeal to the Federal District in which you reside. An attorney you might hire in Utah or Georgia will not be familiar with the doctors, judges or courts in Missouri or Illinois.

If a person is 18 years of age or older, then they are considered an adult. If you are under 18, then you are considered a child case. The SSA has a list of 14 different diseases, or “listings” that can qualify an adult for disability. They are:

1) Musculoskeletal

2) Special senses and Speech

3) Respiratory

4) Cardiovascular

5) Digestive

6) Genitourinary Impairments

7) Hematological Disorders

8) Skin Disorders

9) Endocrine Disorders

10) Impairments that affect multiple body systems

11) Neurological

12) Mental Disorders

13) Malignant Neoplastic Diseases

14) Immune System Disorders

To see the specific requirements for each of these catagories go to

Even if your health problems do not meet the requirements of one of these listings, a combinations of problems, can still prevent you from working.

The attorneys at Dempsey and Dempsey will meet with you in person and review the facts of your case. Describing the nature of your disability for your initial application is a complicated one, and we can help you that make that determination. Call us today for your free consultation at 1-800-492-9825.

Once you have completed your initial application the Social Security Administration (SSA) will ask your medical providers to send the records to review. It takes the SSA typically three to four months to make an initial determination which they will send to you in writing. Do not be discouraged if you receive a denial. These are form letters that they send to most people.

One typical reason to be denied is that you do not meet a listing. Many people do not have one specific illness that makes them disabled. It is often a combination of problems like chronic pain and depression. Many denial letters will say the SSA thinks that even though you cannot perform your past relevant work, that you could perform less demanding jobs. Age can make a difference.

Another typical reason for denial is that you have not been off work long enough. Your disability has to prevent you from working for more than 12 consecutive months. If someone is injured or is sick and they can recover and return to work in less than a year, then SSA does not have to pay you anything. The federal program is not designed for short term disability. There are private insurance policies that people can buy to provide income for short term disabilities, and if you have such a policy, apply for those benefits while you determine how long your disability will last.

Claimants have 60 days to appeal a denial. The law office of Dempsey and Dempsey is happy to meet with you in person for a free consultation. If we determine after discussing the details of your claim that an appeal is appropriate, we can do the paperwork. If you live in Illinois, you must go through a step called Request for Reconsideration.” It is another 3-4 month review process. If something major has happened, such as a new, more serious diagnosis, or a long hospital stay, it is possible to get benefits at this stage. But most often Claimants get another denial.

If you live in Missouri, you can automatically go to the 3rd step of the process, called “Request for Hearing.” Everyone who appeals in a timely fashion is entitled to an in-person hearing. The waiting period for a hearing typically can run anywhere from 12 to 24 months. This is the frustrating part of applying for disability benefits. It is very slow! Clients often ask: “how am I supposed to survive financially for two years without income?” There is no easy answer. The law office of Dempsey and Dempsey also gives free consultations concerning bankruptcy, if that becomes an issue.

Being laid off from a job and drawing unemployment benefits frequently becomes an issue for applying for disability. In order to draw unemployment, you are telling the state of Missouri or Illinois that you are ready, willing and able to work. This contradicts telling the Federal government that you cannot work and are therefore disabled.

Even though the Social Security Administration (SSA) issued a Memorandum to its ALJ’s on November 15, 2006 reminding them that “receipt of unemployment benefits does not preclude the receipt of Social Security Disability benefit,” it can be one factor that is considered in determining whether a claimant is disabled. Age makes a difference. Also the type of work you have performed for the previous 15 years is a factor. We have seen more and more judges turn people down after a hearing because they drew unemployment benefits during the period they are claiming they are disabled. Our advice is that it is better not to draw unemployment if you are applying for Social Security Disability.

The attorneys at Dempsey and Dempsey will meet with you in person and review the facts of your case. Selecting the onset date of disability for your initial application is a complicated one, and we can help you that make that determination. Call us today for your free consultation at 1-800-492-9825.

The Federal Social Security program is set up to help people who have long-term physical or mental health problems. Long term is defined as lasting more than 12 consecutive months. If someone is injured and off work for only 6 months or 8 months, or anything less than 365 days, then Social Security Disability is not going to apply. If you are going to be off work more than a year, you may qualify for SSDI.

SSDI stands for Social Security Disability Insurance. Like any other insurance, a person has to have paid the “premium” in order to draw benefits. In SSDI, the “premium” is the FICA tax that is taken out of your paycheck.* To qualify for SSDI, you must have paid 20 out of 40 quarters prior to the date you became disabled. A quarter is three months of work. To put it another way, you must have worked five out of the previous ten years to be insured for Social Security Disability Insurance.

If your work history is spotty, or you can’t remember how much you have worked in the last ten years, you can ask Social Security for a print-out of your work income. Either call your local Social Security office, or go online to make this request. (Warning: If you do go to a local SSA office in person for the print out, do not tell them it is to take to an attorney! They may well charge you for the print-out. Also note that this print out will NOT list where you worked or what kind of job you had. See our topic “why we need to know information about your work history.” We are going to need to know what you did on each job, how much you stood, how long you sat, how much you lifted, etc.) Even though work you did 15 or 20 years ago can count toward your retirement benefits, it will be too far removed to count towards disability benefits.

If you have not worked enough in the last 10 years to qualify for SSDI, there is another benefit to consider: Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This is a form of welfare, like getting food stamps. It is need based. You have to be very poor to qualify for SSI. For example, a single person can only have assets worth two thousand dollars beyond their house and one car.
Under SSI, you have to prove you have a disability, in addition to financial need. If you are married, then they look at your spouse’s gross income (before taxes), including wages, pensions or unemployment benefits. If you have children under 18 years old, the sliding scale allows for more income. There is a cap on SSI benefits. (Currently in 2013 it is $710 per month) Your household income may reduce this amount, or eliminate it entirely.

The attorneys at Dempsey and Dempsey will meet with you in person and review the facts of your case. Selecting the onset date of disability for your initial application is a complicated one, and we can help you that make that determination. Call us today for your free consultation at 1-800-492-9825.

*There may be circumstances where even though you have worked, you have not paid FICA. For example, public school teachers in Illinois and Missouri pay into a state teacher retirement program. They would have to apply for disability through their state program, rather than SSA. Likewise, some clery do not pay FICA and their religious denomination may have a private retirement program. If you have run a family farm or business, your spouse may have claimed all the income under their social security number, leaving you with no credits. Lastly, if you have worked for cash and never reported that income, the SSA will have no credits for that work. You may still be eligible for SSI if you meet the financial requirements.

Whether you hire the law firm of Dempsey and Dempsey, or any other attorney, the fees are limited to 25% of any past due benefits. Past due benefits are the money you are owed from the time you become disabled until you start receiving benefits. SSA will withhold our fees out of your past due benefits after you are awarded benefits.

If you come see us for a free consultation, you are not going to be charged an office fee. If we go to a hearing and are not successful in getting you benefits, you will not owe us any money. We only get paid if you get benefits. Once you are awarded benefits, and you are receiving monthly amounts, we have no claim on your future, on-going benefits. The only other thing that we expect you to pay if we are successful is whatever your healthcare providers charge us for copies of your records or to fill out reports. If we do not win your case, we do not charge you for these expenses. This sets us apart from many other firms that expect you to pay these costs as you go or seeks reimbursement from you even if they lose.

If you are denied by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at a hearing, your case is not over with Dempsey and Dempsey. If it is in your best interest, we can appeal that decision to the Appeals Council. If the Appeals Council denies your claim, we are licensed in Missouri and Illinois Federal District Courts to pursue a Federal Appeal. If the District Court denies your claim, we can appeal to the 7th or 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. If either federal court remands the case for further action by the ALJ, we can seek separate fees through the Equal Access to Justice Act for our time doing the appeal, and those fees, if approved, are paid by the federal government, not you! This is another big difference between our law firm and others. Some firms that advertise nationally on the internet or television will not represent you after losing at a hearing.

The biggest difference between ourselves and other Social Security practitioners is that the attorneys at Dempsey and Dempsey will meet with you in person and review the facts of your case. Selecting the onset date of disability for your initial application is a complicated one, and we can help you that make that determination. Call us today for your free consultation at 1-800-492-9825.

You have the Burden of Proof in a Social Security Disability case. This is where many very sick and severely injured persons have the most trouble. How do you prove your case? To meet your burden of proof you must have medical records that document your illness. Simply put, if Social Security Disability was a poker game, the cards would be medical records. Though testimony can be important, it isn’t what you, your family, or friends have to say about your condition.

If you hire Dempsey and Dempsey, you will sign medical authorizations so that we can request the complete records from your treating doctors and counselors. Please do not bring us old records. We will order the past relevant records from your providers. That is our job. Of course, we can’t order medical records that we don’t know about. Your job is to keep track of each and every healthcare provider you see and tell us about them. We will give you sheets to record when and where you have been treating. We ask for a short description of what happened at your doctor visit. We will order your records, read them and provide them to the Social Security Administration. We will pay the cost of obtaining these records up front. If we get you benefits, we will ask you to reimburse us that cost when you get your money. If we go to a hearing with you and you do not get benefits, you will not owe us anything for ordering your records.

The most important thing you can do is be sure you are seeing your health providers on a regular basis. You must tell them everything that is going on with you. The SSA is supposed to give greater weight to the opinion of your treating doctors, than the weight they give the opinions of consulting doctors they employ to examine you. Specialists’ opinions are given greater weight than a general practitioner’s. So if you are having back pain, try to see an orthopedic doctor. If you have depression or other mental health issues, see a psychologist or psychiatrist. The important thing to remember is to tell your physicians everything that is going on with you.

There is no guarantee that a doctor will write something you tell her in your record, but we absolutely guarantee you that they will not record something you do not tell the doctor! One of the worst things that can happen in a Social Security Disability hearing is when a client has testified that they have suffered something every day for the past five years. The judge will turn to the attorney and say, “Show me in the medical records where a doctor reports that has happened every day for the past five years.” If there is nothing in the record to support the testimony, the claimant is going to be in very big trouble!

If, during the course of your representation, you are diagnosed with new major medical conditions (like cancer) please let us know right away!

After Your Social Security Hearing

It typically takes between three and four months to get your decision in writing. It may take longer. It may take less time. This is true even if the judge announced what he/she was going to do on your case.

Do not contact the Social Security Administration and inquire about the status of your written decision. It will just slow things up further. It could even result in your file being misplaced or lost. If a judge is undecided on how to rule on your case and is sitting on the fence, you may tip them the wrong way.

Do not contact our office regarding the status of your written decision. We will tell you what to do when we receive your decision. Do not contact us about it before then. It merely ties up our phone lines and keeps us from accomplishing important work.

You will receive your copy of the decision before my office receives it.

Yes! Keep going to your healthcare providers and record them on your sheets exactly as before the hearing. Continue to send us your healthcare provider sheets every month. Even if we get a favorable decision, it is possible, though unlikely that the Appeals Council may review and remand your case.

In some cases, the Judge may wish to send you to a physician for further evaluation. If he/she chooses to do so, you will receive a letter with the appointment place, date and time. You must attend the appointments the Social Security Administration schedules for you.

If it is Favorable, you have won your case. We will send you a letter outlining what happens next.

If you have applied for Medicaid and were turned down previously because you were not disabled, take your Favorable Decision from Social Security and reapply for Medicaid.

If it is Unfavorable, my office will contact you after I have had time to review the entire decision. I will let you know whether or not I recommend appealing the decision. Due to recent changes in the Social Security regulations, it is no longer possible to immediately reapply and appeal at the same time. The decision about whether to appeal has become more complicated. The next step we take will depend on the unique features of your case.

Nation Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys
The Missoui Bar
Illinois State Bar Association