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If you cannot work because of your health, you may qualify for Social Security Disability.

Social Security Disability is a federal program that provides benefits for individuals who are unable to work. Not everyone who applies for benefits is approved, and the process can be intimidating and frustrating. Having an attorney represent you greatly increases the chances that your claim will be approved.

To obtain Social Security benefits, you must first file an application with the Social Security Administration (SSA). You can do this online at www.ssa.gov, by telephone at 800-772-1213, or in person at your local SSA office. You can find your local office here.

When you file your application, be prepared to provide information about your medical condition(s), your health-care providers, your education, your work history, and a description of how your health condition(s) affect your ability to work.

Once you file your application, a state agency will make the initial medical decision. It will request medical records from the health care providers you named in your application. SSA may request information from friends or family members you named in your application that have information about you, your health conditions, and your ability to work. SSA may also send you to an examination with a doctor.

Once a decision is made on your claim, you will receive a written notice telling you whether your claim has been approved or denied. If it has been denied (and SSA denies most applications at this stage), you have 60 days to request reconsideration. If you do not request reconsideration within 60 days, and you decide later that you still want to try to get Social Security Disability, you will have to start over with a new application.

When you request reconsideration, you have the opportunity to tell SSA about any changes in your condition(s) since the first application. You also can provide additional information that SSA did not consider in the first decision. Once you have filed your Request for Reconsideration, SSA will issue another decision, usually within several months. If Social Security turns you down again, you have 60 days to request a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge.

Once you request a hearing with a judge, it can take several months, or even over a year, to get a hearing date. At the hearing the judge will consider the medical and other records in your claim file, your testimony, and possibly the testimony of a medical or vocational expert. He or she will issue a written decision approving or denying your claim, and explaining the basis for the decision.

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