Social Security Disability FAQs

Get answers and advice to common questions about your Social Security Disability Claim
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Eric and Gary Penar

Am I eligible for Social Security disability benefits?

While you may be unable to work, that fact alone won’t guarantee you Social Security disability benefits. The Social Security Administration is a large and complex government agency. They use a complex legal system to decide who deserves benefits, and you can only win benefits if you meet their strict definition of “disabled.”

We’ll help you determine whether you do. Contact us for a FREE evaluation of your disability claim and find out if you qualify for benefits.

How do I apply for Social Security disability?

The first step is to file your initial claim with the Social Security Administration. You can take this first step yourself, but we’d be happy to help you with it if you’d like.

There are many ways to apply: On the web at, through the mail, over the phone, or in person. You can call the national Social Security office at 1-800-772-1213 and set up the option that works best for you. While the staff at the national office is great at setting up appointments and doing basic tasks, they sometimes get the tough questions wrong. Call our office or go into your local Social Security office to get answers for the more complex questions.

Do I need a Social Security lawyer to win disability benefits?

Strictly Strictly speaking, you don’t need a Social Security lawyer to win disability benefits. However, we can help you build the strongest possible case.

Social Security has complex rules to determine disability, and these rules change depending on your age, education, training, and work experience. Our office will evaluate all aspects of your case to determine the best course of action.

If your initial claim is denied (and most are), legal representation is advisable. Social Security’s own statistics show that people win benefits more often when they have legal representation. We’ll help you set up your appeal, gather evidence, and prepare for your hearing. Some cases go all the way to federal court. If our firm represents claimants at the administrative law judge (ALJ) hearing, we may be willing to represent them at the federal court level as well.

Our attorneys have extensive experience in federal court, and we’re well qualified to handle your case.

I already applied for Social Security disability. What do I do now?

The most important thing you can do is to visit your doctor regularly and maintain a record of the hospital visits and day-to-day problems you encounter. These records will serve as evidence in the event your claim is denied.

My initial application was denied. Should I appeal my Social Security disability denial?

Probably. You’ll have a better idea after you contact our office for a free consultation. We’ll review the reasons for denial and help you determine whether an appeal is likely to succeed. You only have sixty days to file an appeal, so don’t wait to contact us.

When should I contact a Social Security lawyer about representation?

As a general rule, the sooner the better. If you are filing an initial application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you’ll want to do that directly with Social Security or possibly through your local DSHS office if you qualify for Aged, Blind, and Disabled (ABD) benefits. You’ll want to contact an attorney as soon as you get an SSI denial.

If you are filing an initial application for Retirement, Survivor’s, and Disability Insurance (SSDI), our office can hep you from the very start.

If you’ve been denied for either SSI or SSDI, contact us immediately.

How does the Social Security Administration define disability?

To qualify as disabled under Social Security rules, you’ll need to be able to prove:

  • You can’t do work you did before;
  • You can’t adjust to other work because of your medical or psychological condition; and
  • Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year, or will result in death.

How does Social Security decide if I can work?

By reviewing your documentation. That’s what the administrative law judge (ALJ) hearing is for. The Social Security Administration will examine your medical records, your employer records, and any personal or expert testimony in deciding whether you’re unable to work for at least one year.

How long does it take Social Security to make a decision once I file my initial disability claim?

The Social Security Administration is a vast government agency, and they can take as long as a year or more to make their decision. We can help you avoid errors that can slow your appeal. We’ll be on the lookout for ways to shorten your wait. And of course, we’ll be with you throughout the process to make sure the Social Security Administration is doing everything it can. But in the end, we can’t make them move any faster. No legal firm can.

How long do I have to wait after becoming disabled before I can file for Social Security disability benefits?

You don’t have to wait at all. In fact, it’s best to file your claim immediately, while evidence is still relatively easy to obtain. You might decide not to file a claim if your health issues are minor, but if you expect to be unable to work for a year or more, you should file your claim immediately. Keep in mind that the Social Security Administration does have an income threshold that you cannot exceed, if you are still managing to work.

My doctor says I’m disabled. So why is Social Security denying my disability claim?

It could be any number of reasons. Doctors don’t always know what constitutes a disability under Social Security rules, so we make sure they describe and present your information in a way that makes sense to the Social Security Administration. We’ll help you collect, evaluate, and present your evidence for the maximum chance of success.

What information will my attorney need?

When you first contact our office, all you’ll need is your most recent denial letter from Social Security. After that, we typically help clients obtain two types of information…

Medical Records

Physical documentation of your condition is important to proving a disability as defined by Social Security’s rules and regulations. We’ll help obtain the medical records Social Security missed and see to it that they’re thorough and complete.

Medical Testimony

The Social Security Administration often hires expert witnesses to testify that claimants are not disabled. To counter that testimony, we’ll review your doctor’s records and often request their medical opinions regarding your functional limitations, asking the specific questions that the Social Security Administration needs answered.

How can I improve my chances of winning my Social Security disability claim?

First, be honest and thorough when reporting your condition to Social Security. People are sometimes embarrassed to report psychological difficulties or learning disabilities, even though both can be important factors in receiving benefits. As you fill out forms regarding your limitations, think in terms of what you can’t do, not what you can do. Hiring a lawyer will also improve your chances; Social Security’s own statistics show that people with legal counsel are much more likely to win benefits. Contact our office. We’d be happy to talk.

What are the biggest mistakes people make when trying to win disability benefits?

Failing to Hire a Representative

The Social Security Administration has complex rules and regulations. A skilled representative can help by looking into all the facts and setting up the strongest case based on your medical condition(s), age, education, and work experience. Our attorneys have successfully represented thousands of claimants and have the skills it takes to win your case.

Waiting Too Long to File

You should file immediately after an injury, as delays tend to lessen your chances of winning benefits.
Insufficient Proof -Be sure to visit your doctor and specialists regularly and maintain a record of the hospital visits and day-to-day problems you encounter. These records will serve as proof to substantiate your claim.

Starting Over

If your initial claim is rejected, you should appeal the decision. Many people make the mistake of filing a fresh application, which causes serious delays.

How much does a disability lawyer cost?

The Social Security Disability system is set up with the understanding that you don’t have a lot of money for a lawyer.

You don’t pay an attorney fee up-front for your Social Security disability claim. You only pay a fee when you win benefits, and that fee comes out of back benefits that build up while you’re waiting for a decision from Social Security. The attorney fee is generally paid directly by Social Security to the attorney.

For this reason, working with a lawyer is low-risk for you. You get the extensive training and experience of a disability lawyer and only pay when you win.

Do I have a severe impairment?

The Social Security Administration considers your impairment severe (and therefore eligible for benefits) if it interferes with such basic work functions as:

  • Physical abilities like walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying, or handling
  • Seeing, hearing or speaking
  • Understanding, carrying out, and remembering simple instructions
  • Using good judgment
  • Responding appropriately to supervisors, co-workers, and typical work situations
  • Dealing with changes in a routine work setting
You Only Have 60 Days!
Once you’re denied benefits, the clock starts ticking. You only have 60 days to appeal. Don’t wait too long to contact a lawyer. You can miss the deadline to appeal.
Local vs. National

Get help locally.  We’re local Social Security lawyers, and only serve Eastern Washington and North Idaho. Learn why that makes a difference.

Read What Our Clients Say About Us


I highly recommend Them if you're in need of a disability lawyer.Eric Penar did a amazing job helping me win my disability case.i cant thank him enough for winning my difficult case.a real professional and great guy.

Loren Clark February 15, 2022

Thumbs up

justin tyme January 31, 2022

I was so glad to have this team in my corner! They treated me with such kindness and made a stressful process manageable. I was well prepared for my hearing and I know I can call with questions in the future as well. I highly recommend this team! Thank you Eric, Nick and Precious especially, for all your expertise, work, and kind professionalism!!! So grateful for the win! A great weight is lifted!

Journey With Jen January 28, 2022

Eric Penar and his staff are amazing! Eric, Nick, Amy, and Precious all worked with me in a very timely and professional manner to get a great outcome for disability benefits. Can't recommend Penar Law enough for their great work!

Dan Steele January 26, 2022

Very good and helpful

Allen Troup October 11, 2021

Amy and Precious go above and beyond the call of duty! They are the most caring ladies! Professional and kind! Went way out of their way to help me with a personal matter even years after my case was won! Yes Gary Penar won my case and then came back and saved my tail again! Nick was my contact person and he was incredibly kind! My story is a dark one and I have SSDI because of PTSD. The staff was very patient with me and worked hard to win my case! Thank You Amy! your Kindness will never be forgotten!!!

Christine Douglas June 24, 2021

The legal team here at Gary Penar law office provided exceptional help getting my husband's Social Security claim complete. From beginning to end they are an amazing office. I will recommend them to friends and family.

Beki H June 21, 2021

Gary Penar Law Offices, especially Nick, were very helpful, knowledgeable, and responsive to my case. I highly recommend them!

Rebecca Hartman June 20, 2021

They were kind and understanding. Made me feel at ease with the whole process.

Deborah Marlow June 17, 2021

Gary and Eric are top-notch attorneys for Social Security Disability and all their assistants are well trained and knowledgeable. This is undeniably one of the best firm's in Spokane. Highly recommend!

Efrem Ocubamichael June 15, 2021