Have Questions About the Disability Claims Process for Social Security or Veterans Benefits? Check Out Our FAQs
Dealing with the disability application or appeals process always comes with plenty of questions. Whether your questions are about Social Security or VA Disability, here are some of the questions we hear the most at our Omaha law firm.
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As an Air Force Reservist, can I obtain VA disability if I was exposed to Agent Orange?
Possibly. At the request of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine studied U.S. Air Force (AF) Reservists and their likely exposure to Agent Orange while working on C-123 aircraft used in the Vietnam War.
The 2015 report, "Post-Vietnam Dioxin Exposure in Agent Orange-Contaminated C-123 Aircraft," was released with findings about the negative health impact Agent Orange had on Reservists who came in contact with this aircraft.
The report found that “approximately 1,500-to- 2,100 AF Reserve personnel trained and worked on C-123 aircraft that had previously been used to spray herbicides, including Agent Orange, in Vietnam.”
Additionally, the report determined that Reservists who had “regular contact with the aircraft could have been exposed to chemicals from herbicide residue, including TCDD—the toxic chemical in Agent Orange—and that exposure could result in adverse health effects.”
Disability for AF Reservists
After the published report, the VA recognized that AF Reservists who operated or maintained C-123s were exposed to Agent Orange. These planes were used to spray tactical defoliants to destroy trees, plants, crops, and vegetation used by the Viet Cong and Vietnamese as cover. After the U.S. stopped spraying Agent Orange in 1971, the C-123 planes were reassigned to reserve units to carry cargo and for medical evacuation missions that continued for 10 years.
If you were a Reservist, you may qualify for disability benefits due to Agent Orange exposure if you came in contact with a C-123. If you’ve developed a disease you believe is due to that exposure, you need to prove you worked on or with this type of plane.
Some diseases associated with Agent Orange include:
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Peripheral neuropathy and early-onset peripheral neuropathy
- Chronic B-cell leukemia
- Multiple myeloma, Hodgkin’s disease, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Lung, trachea, and prostate cancer
Call Cuddigan Law
If you maintained or came in contact with a C-123 plane as a U.S. Air Force Reservist and believe your medical condition is linked to Agent Orange exposure, contact Cuddigan Law. You may be eligible for VA benefits, and we can help determine if the work you did on this plane qualifies for these benefits.
Call Cuddigan Law to get help with your VA disability appeal today. Let our experienced lawyers go to work for you. Contact us to speak with an intake specialist for free.
Which Blue Water Navy ships were exposed to Agent Orange?
During the Vietnam War, sailors in the Blue Water Navy were service members who never stepped foot on Vietnamese soil. However, these sailors were on ships that sailed in the country's 12-mile territorial waters, and also docked in Vietnam.
Through these actions, they were exposed to the deadly toxin, Agent Orange. This tactical defoliant was used by the U.S. military to destroy dense vegetation, plants, and tree leaves that the Viet Cong and Vietnamese troops used for cover. Because the Blue Water Navy sailors never had “boots on the ground,” the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) later denied them disability benefits for Agent Orange-associated diseases.
In early 2019, a federal court ruling in the case Procopio v. Wilkie gave over 90,000 Blue Water Navy vets “presumption of service-connection” for medical conditions linked to Agent Orange. If you're a Blue Water Navy vet and have a disease on the list linked to Agent Orange exposure, you may be eligible for VA benefits if you served on a ship or boat included in the Inshore Fire Support Division 93 or the Mobile Riverine Force.
If you didn’t serve on these ships, you must have worked on a vessel with a specific designation. Here's a short list of those designations:
- AGP (Assault Group Patrol/Patrol Craft Tender)
- LCM (Landing Craft, Mechanized)
- LCU (Landing Craft, Utility)
- LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel)
- LST (Landing Ship, Tank)
- PBR (Patrol Boat, River)
- PCF (Patrol Craft, Fast or Swift Boat)
- PG (Patrol Gunboat)
- STABS (Strike Assault Boats)
- WAK (Cargo Vessel)
- WHEC (High Endurance Cutter)
- WLB (Buoy Tender)
- WPB (Patrol Boat)
- YFU (Harbor Utility Craft)
Be sure to check the list of the boats and ships exposed to Agent Orange to see if you might be eligible for VA benefits. It’s possible that even if your ship isn’t listed, you may still qualify for disability.
Ships Not Eligible for VA Benefits
Military personnel who served on ships that sailed in deep-water harbors and bays— including those at Ganh Rai Bay, Ranh Bay Harbor, Qui Nhon Bay Harbor, and Da Nang Harbor—aren't included in the list of vessels eligible for VA benefits.
Because of their open access to the South China Sea and capability for deep-water anchoring, these bays and harbors are considered “offshore waters” of Vietnam.
Call Cuddigan Law
If you served in the Blue Water Navy and believe your disease is linked to Agent Orange exposure, contact Cuddigan Law. You may be eligible for VA benefits, and we can help determine if your service vessel meets the requirements for disability.
Call Cuddigan Law to get help with your VA disability application today. Let our experienced lawyers go to work for you. Contact us to speak with an intake specialist for free.
Are Blue Water Navy vets eligible for VA benefits?
Yes. For many years after the Vietnam War, sailors who served in the Blue Water Navy and were exposed to Agent Orange but didn’t have “boots on the ground” were denied benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Thousands of service members were exposed to this deadly toxin—a chemical used as a tactical defoliant to remove dense vegetation, tree leaves, plants, and crops that helped conceal the Viet Cong and Vietnamese troops. Exposure to Agent Orange was later linked to serious diseases, but only those who had actually stepped foot on Vietnam soil were eligible for Agent Orange-associated benefits.
Federal Court Ruling: Blue Water Vets Eligible for Benefits
In early 2019, over 90,000 Blue Water Navy vets became eligible for VA benefits after a federal court ruling gave them presumptive disability status. This means Blue Water Navy vets whose ships sailed in inland waters or docked in Vietnam qualify for “presumption of service-connection” for Agent Orange-linked medical conditions.
The ruling was made in the case Procopio v. Wilkie. Alfred Procopio Jr., who suffered from diabetes mellitus and prostate cancer, was denied service-connection benefits because his ship hadn’t sailed in Vietnam’s inland waterways, and he’d never had boots on the ground in the country.
However, both of Procopio’s medical conditions are cited on the VA’s list of presumptive diseases linked with Agent Orange exposure, and the USS Intrepid—the aircraft carrier on which Procopio served—was stationed inside Vietnam’s 12-mile territorial waters.
Procopio sued the VA and won in a 9–to–2 decision, with the court ruling that the Agent Orange Act of 1991 never intended to exclude military personnel who served on the seas. This ruling required the VA to recognize Agent Orange-linked diseases in Blue Water Navy vets. These vets worked aboard ships that pumped in potentially contaminated water used to shower and do laundry, and may have been distilled for drinking.
Call Cuddigan Law
If you're a Blue Water Navy vet and believe your medical condition is linked to Agent Orange exposure, contact Cuddigan Law. You’re now eligible for VA benefits, and we can help prove your disease qualifies for compensation. Call Cuddigan Law to get help with your VA disability application today. Let our experienced lawyers go to work for you—contact us to speak with an intake specialist for free.
Why does the SSA care about work history for my disability claim?
Your past employment is a significant part of your Social Security (SS) disability claim. A claims agent scrutinizes your job history before deciding whether you qualify for benefits.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses this information because it compares the types of work you were able to do previously against your medical condition, injury, or illness and how it affected your ability to do those jobs now.
Understanding How Past Work Is Relevant
To determine if you’re disabled, the SSA typically looks at paid work you did in the last 15 years that involved productive mental and physical activities. If the SSA determines this job history is relevant, it compares your ability to work with:
- The tasks, activities, and duties you performed in any of those past, relevant jobs.
- How the work you performed in those jobs is typically done in the “national economy.”
You must provide the SSA with a complete and detailed account of your job history so the agency can make these comparisons. Once the SSA evaluates your past work duties and your disabling medical condition, it decides eligibility in three ways:
- You’ll be denied benefits if the SSA determines you don't have a disability because you can still do your past work tasks as you did in the past.
- You'll be denied benefits if the SSA determines you can do past work in the way the national economy performs it.
- You may be considered for benefits if the SSA decides you’re not mentally or physically capable of doing any of your past relevant work tasks or how it's done in the national economy. However, to make this determination, the SSA moves on to the final step in the disability process: determining if you can adjust to work you haven’t done before, considering your age, education, and job experience.
Call Cuddigan Law
Filling out the work history portion of your Social Security Disability claim can be tedious and challenging. You may feel uncertain about what to include on your application and which details are the most important.
Contact a skilled SS disability benefits attorney who can help. Call Cuddigan Law for a free, over-the-phone evaluation.
How does the SSA evaluate my job history for a disability claim?
When filing for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) benefits because your medical condition makes it impossible for you to work, you’ll need to provide a work history with your application.
In general, the Social Security Administration (SSA) wants to know about all of your past employment and the tasks you had so it can determine if you're still able to do any of that work.
To make a determination, the agency needs to know the details of your duties and the skills you used to do them.
How the SSA Uses Your Work History
It’s important to remember the SSA won’t rate you as having a disability unless your medical condition or injury prevents you from doing your past job or your ability to adjust to other work. So, the SSA looks at the demands and requirements of your recent employment and compares them with its assessment of your current ability to do work tasks now.
When considering this past work, the SSA examines:
- Employment in the past 15 years
- Jobs that involved “significant and productive physical or mental activities” that you performed for pay or profit
- Work you performed long enough to learn how to do it
Because there are types of employment with similar names but with different responsibilities and requirements, the SSA needs your job history to be thorough and complete. You must provide details such as:
- The titles of all your jobs within 15 years
- A description of your work
- The amount of pay you received
- The number of hours you worked each week
- The types of machinery, equipment, and tools you used
- The knowledge and skill your work required
- The extent of your supervisory or managerial experience
- The amount of time you had to sit, stand, kneel, crouch, carry, crawl, balance, walk, or climb
The SSA will also want you to explain how you changed your job duties or presence due to your medical condition, injury, or illness. For example, if you worked fewer hours, took more sick leave, rested during the day, or took frequent breaks, the SSA needs to know all these details.
Additionally, if the SSA determines you can’t do past work, the agency considers at your education, age, training, and work experience to see if there are other jobs you may be able to do.
Call Cuddigan Law
It’s important to fill out your work history report accurately when applying for disability benefits from the SSA. Because this can be a tedious and challenging process, you may feel uncertain about what to include and which details are necessary. Contact a skilled SSDI benefits attorney who can help. Call Cuddigan Law for a free, over-the-phone evaluation.
Can I receive Social Security Disability benefits for a pre-existing condition?
Most likely, as long as you meet certain Social Security (SS) requirements. For example, if you have a pre-existing condition such as cancer or diabetes, or you were able to work for a while with a condition but then suffered a setback that made employment impossible, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will use certain factors to determine eligibility.
Meeting the Blue Book Requirements
Generally, you'll qualify for SS benefits if you have a pre-existing condition, but you must meet the standard requirements for that condition listed in the SS Blue Book, officially known as the Listing of Impairments. It details the disabling conditions that qualify for benefits, along with information and evidence you need to include with your application to prove that you’re disabled. It also outlines the process the SSA uses to make decisions about approval.
Typically, for most conditions and illnesses, the SSA requires a disability that prevents you from working for at least 12 months.
The Blue Book provides specific criteria about disabling conditions, and it’s written in language meant for medical professionals and SS workers rather than in layman’s terms. Consequently, it can be challenging to understand the Blue Book requirements and to submit a credible and persuasive application that convinces the SSA that you qualify. Because of this, it’s important to hire a skilled and experienced SS disability attorney to help when you have a pre-existing condition and want to file a claim.
Call Cuddigan Law
If you need disability benefits for a pre-existing condition, hiring legal representation can be advantageous in getting your claim approved. The attorneys at Cardigan Law assisted thousands of clients over the years—filling out paperwork, collecting their medical records, calling doctors, and managing them through the application process.
Contact us for a free claim evaluation. We'll review it with you and determine how we can increase your chances of receiving an approval.
Do I need an attorney to file a Social Security disability claim?
It’s possible for people to handle Social Security (SS) disability claims themselves. They can submit their applications and manage the appeals process at all four levels. The Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn’t require that you have legal representation to engage in the disability process.
However, it’s often the case that the claim will be denied. In fact, only 30 percent of initial SS disability applications are approved. So, while it’s not required that you hire an attorney to help you file your disability claim, it certainly improves your chances of having your claim approved.
Benefits of Hiring a Social Security Disability Attorney
While it’s true that you can manage your own SS disability claim, there are solid benefits to hiring skilled Social Security disability lawyers. At the minimum, you should contact an attorney for a free evaluation.
At that meeting, the attorney will go over your specific situation, discuss your medical condition, and tell you his opinion about your case and whether or not you’re likely to get an approved claim.
There are other advantages to hiring a disability attorney including:
- While you can probably handle the application process on your own, a denied claim and the need to appeal makes the process much more challenging. An SS disability attorney can help you navigate the appeals process as successfully as possible.
- An attorney will explain the medical evidence, reports, and information needed with your application to increase your chance of winning an approved claim.
- Because 70 percent of applications are denied initially, you may simply want to give up if you don’t receive an approval. However, an attorney can explain and guide you through the next steps, providing important information about why you should continue fighting for your claim.
- An attorney will ensure that you meet important deadlines in the appeals process.
Call the Social Security Attorneys of Cuddigan Law to See If You Qualify for Benefits
It’s not mandatory that you hire an attorney to file an SS disability claim. But when you do, you significantly increase the chances of getting an approved claim. The attorneys at Cuddigan Law have assisted thousands of clients through the application process, and they have the experience and skill to handle your claim. Contact us for a free evaluation.
How much does it cost to hire an SS disability attorney?
There are a number of variables, including whether or not you'll receive past-due benefits. But it might surprise you to know that legal representation isn't as expensive as you might think.
Statistics show that hiring a Social Security (SS) disability attorney increases a claimant’s chances of receiving an approved claim. However, many people wonder if they can afford an attorney, how much they'll be required to pay, and when that payment will be due.
If you need disability benefits but are worried about the financial obligation of hiring an attorney, here’s some information to help you understand that having legal representation is a cost-effective solution to help you receive the benefits you deserve.
Costs Involved in Hiring a Disability Lawyer
When you’re considering legal representation for your disability claim, it’s important to understand that there’s usually no cost to hire an SS disability lawyer—no initial fees and no upfront payments.
Most often, the attorney is paid out of any disability benefit you’re awarded.
The general cost breakdown is as follows:
- The attorney’s fee is limited to 25 percent of any past-due benefits the Social Security Administration (SSA) awards you.
- The fee is capped at $6,000.
- The attorney is paid out of your past-due benefits—also known as back pay.
- The attorney receives no fee if you receive no back pay benefits.
Paying Your Attorney Fees
After you’ve received back pay benefits from SS, you may wonder when you're required to pay your attorney fees. Most often, you don’t pay those fees directly. Instead, the SSA deducts all lawyer fees from your first back pay award check before you receive the check. This fee can be up to $6,000.
Call Cuddigan Law
If you need help with your SS disability claim, hiring legal representation can be beneficial for getting your claim approved. The attorneys at Cuddigan Law assist thousands of clients— filling out their paperwork, collecting their medical records, calling doctors, and managing the application process and more. Contact us fand we’ll evaluate your case and let you know how we can increase your chances of receiving an approval on your claim.
What are the deadlines if I am filing an appeal for a denied social security claim?
If you applied for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA), and you’ve received a notice of denial, you have 60 days to appeal the denial. This means you must get your appeal on record with the SSA within 60 days from the date stamped on the envelope of the denial letter.
There are multiple levels of appeal, and because the process can be complex and time-consuming, it’s important to hire an experienced SS disability attorney who can assist you with a denied claim, regardless of what level you are in the process.
Understanding the Appeals Deadlines
In the appeals process, there are various levels of appeal: reconsideration, hearing by an administrative law judge, review by the Appeals Council, and filing a lawsuit with the Federal District Court.
However, no matter what level your appeal is in right now, you always have 60 days to file your next appeal.
But there are some important things to note about this 60-day window:
- Usually, individuals filing claims get an extra five days to ensure their appeal gets through the mail process and reaches the SSA by the deadline. However, the SSA doesn’t go out of its way to communicate this additional time.
- To meet the deadline, the SSA must receive your appeal paperwork by the deadline date. This does not mean your paperwork must be postmarked by the deadline date; rather, it must reach the SSA by the date. Because neither you nor the SSA has any control over the speed of the mail or if your appeal might get hung up in transit, you need to get your disability appeal paperwork mailed to the SSA as soon as you get your denial letter.
- Don’t assume because you’ve hired a lawyer, you can forget about these deadlines or that your lawyer will also receive a denial letter from the SSA. While the SSA sends a copy of the denial letter to both you and your lawyer, it’s possible the agency might fail to send a copy to you both. When you receive a denial letter, you should immediately contact your attorney to ensure that the appeals deadline doesn't get overlooked.
Call Cuddigan Law
If you need help with the appeals process after your claim is denied, call Cuddigan Law. We’ve assisted thousands of clients with this process by filling out their paperwork, collecting their medical records, calling doctors, and managing the appeals process through each of the four levels. Having an attorney on your side can ensure you don’t miss any deadline in this process.
Contact us for a free evaluation. We’ll review your case and let you know how we can increase your chances of receiving an approval on your appeal.
How do I protect my claim during a Social Security Closed Period?
When you have an ongoing medical condition that makes it impossible for you to work, you may apply to the Social Security Administration (SSA) for disability benefits. However, given the significant backlog of applications, the SSA may not get to your claim for years.
If your disabling condition made it impossible to work for at least 12 months, but your disability ends because you have medical improvement, it’s still possible to collect benefits for the amount of time you were out of work. This type of claim is for a “closed period of benefits. An example of this situation, is an individual that has surgery, recovers after the surgery and is able to return to work.
To be approved for disability benefits during a closed period, it’s helpful to hire an experienced SS disability attorney who can assist you with this type of claim.
Protecting Your Claim
Some attorneys believe it’s easier to win a closed period claim than to be approved for ongoing benefits. This is because:
- When you limit your claim to show that you were disabled for a specific period of time, the SSA sees this as honest and credible. Many judges respect your intention to return to work and not continue to state that you have a disabling condition.
- It is difficult to justify ongoing disability if your condition has substantially improved.
A Partially Favorable Decision
An SSA judge can award you a closed period benefit even if you haven’t asked for one. If your medical evidence shows your condition improved, the judge has the right to limit the number of months for which you’ll receive benefits. Typically, the judge will present this during your hearing, and you'll receive the option to change your benefits request. You and your attorney should discuss whether this is the right choice. Keep in mind: you don’t have to accept the judge’s offer of a closed period benefit.
Work Attempts and a Closed Period Benefit
If you’re attempting to return to work when you appear for your claim hearing, the judge may suggest that you alter your claim to a closed period benefit request. This, of course, may not be a good idea, as you may not yet know if you can handle going back to work or meet your job requirements. Your lawyer may feel it will be too difficult to get an approved, on-going disability award if you’re back at work when you get to your hearing, so it’s important to discuss and evaluate this option before taking this direction.
Call Cuddigan Law
Your best chance of getting a closed period claim approved lies with a Social Security Disability lawyer who is familiar with closed period disability cases. If you need help with your disability claim, or you want to apply for closed period benefits, the attorneys at Cuddigan Law can help. We’ve assisted thousands of clients with their disability claims, getting them through this complicated and frustrating process.
Contact us for a free evaluation and we wll let you know how we can increase your chances of receiving an approval on your appeal.