Social Security Disability 

Social Security disability benefits are available to an individual who has a mental or physical impairment that prevents him or her from working. If you have a medical condition that has lasted – or expected to last – more than a year which prevents you from doing any work, you may be eligible for Social Security benefits.

There are two main types of benefits:


Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a benefit available for an individual who is disabled and has low income and few resources. Generally, a disabled individual who does not have sufficient work history to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) will qualify for SSI. In 2017, the SSI benefit is $735 per month. This amount is designed to help meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.


Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is similar to Social Security retirement, but is for people who have become disabled prior to retirement age. If a person has sufficient work “credits”, earned by working for a certain period of time during lifetime, the disabled individual can qualify for SSDI. The amount of monthly benefit is calculated based on work history.

It is vital to get experienced assistance with your Social Security claim. A licensed attorney can represent you through all phases of your claim, unlike claimant’s representatives who are not lawyers.

You need someone on your side who understands the process and respects you as an individual. My name is Gail Barnett, and I am here to assist you.

• I accept cases at all levels, including assisting in the application process

• I take an individualized approach to each case; you are not just a number

• I have over 10 years of experience at all levels of appeal, including Federal Court and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals

• I have 15 years background working as a case manager for adults with mental illness

• My legal assistant also has 15 years working as a social worker for both children and adults, including work at the Department of Human Services

What is disability?


Social Security disability is a total disability program. It pays benefits to people who can’t work because they have a medical condition that’s expected to last at least one year or result in death and which precludes a person from doing any work activity. 

It is not a short-term or temporary program. Unlike other programs, such as Veterans benefits that can be awarded on the basis of percentages, the condition must be 100% disabling according to the Social Security definition. Being found disabled by other programs such as long-term or short-term disability or Veterans benefits does not automatically qualify you for Social Security Disability. Likewise, a treating doctor signing off paperwork saying you are disabled is not enough to be awarded Social Security.


Social Security uses a 5-step evaluation to determine if someone is eligible for disability:


  1. Is the individual working?
  2. Does the person have a severe medical impairment?
  3. Does the individual meet or equal a Listed Impairment?
  4. Can that person perform his or her past work?
  5. Can the individual perform any job?


You need an experienced advocate who is familiar with the five-step evaluation to present your case to the Social Security Administration.

Are there different types of disability benefits?

There are a number of different types of disability programs, including Child SSI, Disabled Widow / Widower Benefits, Closed Period of Benefits, and Adult Child Disability. However, when most people apply for disability, they are looking at two programs.



Social Security Disability Insurance (also known as Title II or SSDI).  SSDI benefits are based on an “insured status” which is based on a person’s work history and how much they have paid into the system. 


Supplemental Security Income (also known as Title XVI or SSI).  SSI is for individuals who have not worked long enough to qualify for SSDI and/or who have not worked enough or earned enough in recent years to qualify for disability benefits. 


You might be eligible for both. An individual only eligible for a small amount of SSDI may also be qualified for some SSI.

For the most part, the application and appeal process is the same, with the exception that SSI is also based on an individual’s household income and assets. Because of this, an application for SSI will also require an interview with a Social Security representative. We help individuals determine which benefits they might be eligible for. We represent them through all levels of the application and appeal process.


How long is the process?

Applying for disability can be a lengthy process. After filing an initial application, Social Security will request your medical records. You will be required to fill out some forms and if needed, Social Security will send you out for examinations. It can take anywhere from 3-6 months to get a decision depending on how quickly your medical records are received and reviewed. 

Following an initial denial, it is very important to file an appeal, or Request for Reconsideration.  At this stage, Social Security will update your information, have it reviewed by their doctors, and make a new decision. This can take an additional 3-6 months. If you are denied a second time, you will want to appeal the decision rather than file a new application. Filing a new application starts the whole process over and creates more delays.

Once a case is denied at Reconsideration, the next step is to request a hearing in front of an administrative law judge. Most cases in Iowa are assigned to the hearing office in West Des Moines. The current wait for a hearing in West Des Moines Iowa is currently 20 months from the date the hearing is requested, not the date you first applied.

At the hearing level, a case can be deemed “critical” to speed up the process. Factors that can result in a case to be designated critical includes terminal illness, veterans with a 100% permanent and total disability rating, and those in dire need. Examples of dire need include homelessness, utility disconnect notices with no ability to pay, rental evictions, and home foreclosures.

The hearing level is the first opportunity that you have to personally present your side of the story. The initial application is reviewed only by Social Security and the doctors it chooses. These are doctors who have never examined you or spoken to you or your personal physician. At the hearing, you deserve to be represented by an experienced attorney. You need somebody on your side.

When should I apply for disability?


Because the process for applying for disability benefits can take a long time, it is important that you file an application as soon as you feel you meet the criteria. Once you develop a medical condition, you do not need to wait a full year before applying. A severe medical condition must have lasted or is expected to last a year. If your condition is not expected to improve within 12 months, you should apply. 

If you are currently involved in a worker’s compensation claim or other types of litigation, you do not need to wait until those claims are settled. You can file for both at the same time. Delaying an application can have an effect on what type of benefits you are entitled to receive, as well as how far back Social Security can pay benefits.

If you are currently working and your earnings are at or above what Social Security refers to as substantial gainful activity, you may be eligible for benefits under certain limited circumstances. If you stop working or your earnings drop below the amount, you should consider filing an application.

If your child has a disability, you should apply as soon as possible. When the child turns 18, the case will be reassessed under the adult guidelines. The standards to qualify for disability for children differs from those for adults. Receiving benefits as a child does not automatically qualify someone for adult disability.

If your disabled child is not receiving benefits, you should apply when that child turns 18. These benefits can help provide your child with an income and can assist with eligibility for other programs to enhance the quality of life.

It is essential for you to get advice on when to apply for benefits for you or a loved one.

How long can I remain on disability?

Social Security periodically reviews a case to decide if you are still disabled. This is called a Continuing Disability Review (CDR). As part of the review, Social Security obtains updated medical records. If more information is needed, a consultative examination may be scheduled. If you no longer meet the criteria for disability, your benefits will end. Because Social Security benefits are based on a medical condition, it is important to continue to see your doctors and follow treatment recommendations even after being awarded benefits.

Social Security disability benefits automatically change to retirement benefits when you attain full retirement age. The law does not allow a person to receive both retirement and disability benefits on one earnings record at the same time.

With benefits for children, Social Security will re-evaluate the case when the child turns 18 years of age. The standards to qualify for disability for children differs from those for adults. Receiving benefits as a child does not automatically qualify someone for adult disability.

If your case has been reviewed and the Social Security Administration thinks that you are no longer disabled, it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible. A successful appeal of the decision can help maintain your benefits.

Can I apply for both early retirement and Social Security disability?

Sometimes health problems force people to retire early. If you are close to age 62, it can be worthwhile to apply for both early retirement and disability. If you take early retirement once you reach the age of 62, your retirement benefit amount will be permanently reduced. The amount of reduction depends on the number of months you have until full retirement age.

If you are awarded Social Security disability benefits, and were found disabled prior to age 62, your benefit amount will be equal to what you were entitled to receive once you reached full retirement age. This is due to what is referred to as a “disability freeze.” This means that your lack of income due to disability is not counted when calculating your Social Security retirement payment from your earnings record. Once you reach full retirement age, your benefits simply convert to retirement benefits. If you were already collecting early retirement before Social Security says you were disabled, you would be paid more than the monthly early retirement but less than full retirement rate.

Because applying for disability can be a lengthy process, many individuals file for both early retirement and Social Security Disability at the same time. If you have been getting early retirement and ultimately approved for disability benefits, you will be retroactively paid the difference between the early retirement amount and the full disability amount. This will also allow you to continue to have some source of income while you are waiting for a decision on your disability.

Medical insurance is also a factor to consider. Early retirement does not entitle you to Medicare.  You still need to wait until you are age 65. However, if you are found to be disabled, you will be entitled to Medicare after 24 months of disability payments.


If you have questions about whether to apply for retirement or disability benefits, you owe it to yourself to contact an experienced attorney who can answer all your questions.