We know that navigating the Social Security Administration (SSA) can be difficult. That's why we've compiled some helpful tips to follow when dealing with the SSA.
1. Evaluating Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)
The Social Security Administration (SSA) will determine that an individual is disabled if they have a long-term disability that prevents them from working in any capacity. An individual is disabled if they cannot engage in full-time, competitive work (commonly referred to as substantial gainful activity or SGA) because of their mental or physical medical condition. Please see the Social Security building blocks, below, for further information on how the system works.
2. Volunteer or Unpaid Work
The SSA does not have specific rules regarding volunteer or unpaid work, but it can be used as evidence against a disability claim when the tasks demonstrate an ability to work. Again, the main rule is that an individual cannot receive benefits if they are engaging in SGA. If an individual is completing volunteer work, the SSA could determine those tasks rise to the SGA level and demonstrate an ability to perform other types of work.
If an individual volunteers a few hours per month, there is little chance the SSA could use this work against the disability claim, but even this statement is largely dependent on the type of work completed. For example, if an individual alleges a physical impairment that prevents them from any lifting, but that same individual volunteers to build houses at Habitat for Humanity on the weekend, this work will likely be used against their claim for disability. There would likely be a much different outcome if that individual chose to sit and read to children at a library instead.
If an individual is interested in pursuing volunteer work while receiving disability benefits, they should consider the maximum hours spent per month, the physical and mental requirements of the work, and what effect the work would have on their ability to sustain SGA.
3. Social Security Hearing Timing
The most frequent question I'm asked is "How long will I wait for a Social Security hearing?" Today, I want to give a tool through the Social Security website on how you can answer that question. We'll start out with a Google search and type in "ALJ disposition data." You can see it starts to populate. The very top file should be a public data file and this is Social Security's website.
4. When to Seek Legal Advice
It can be a challenge to navigate the SSA rules and regulations, but you don’t have to go at it alone. When dealing with such circumstances, it is to your advantage to seek legal advice from a skilled social security attorney. With such an advocate in your corner, you will push toward a positive outcome for your legal case.