Coeur D’Alene Social Security Disability FAQs

Get answers and advice to common questions about your Social Security Disability Claim, then contact us for a free evaluation of your case.

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.

The first step is to file your initial claim with the Social Security Administration. You should take this first step yourself because you may be able to win benefits without our help.

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.

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 will represent them at the federal court level as well. Gary and Eric Penar have extensive experience in federal court, and we’re well qualified to handle your case.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

  • 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. Gary and Eric Penar 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.

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.

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

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“A lot of people ask me if they qualify for benefits. The answer to this question comes down to Social Security’s 5-step process. They ask 5 questions to figure out whether or not you’re disabled. The first of these 5 questions is: are you working? By this, Social Security means that you’re doing something for money and that you’re making over a certain amount of money. This is called substantial gainful activity, or SGA earnings. If you’re even $1 over those SGA earnings, you don’t qualify for benefits, no matter how bad you are. Even if you have no arms and no legs, if you are somehow able to do something for money and make over that SGA earnings limit, you don’t qualify for benefits. But, if you stop working you can get through that first step.

The second step is: do you have a severe condition by Social Security’s definition of the word “severe?” That means that you have an either physical or psychological condition that will affect your ability to work in some way and that that condition has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 months. As an example, you’re in a bad car accident & say you’re in the hospital for a month then you go to an inpatient rehabilitation facility for another 3 months, but by month 11, you’re all healed and you don’t have any more limitations; maybe some scars but no limits on your ability to work. Even though that had been a very bad 11 months, that doesn’t qualify for disability benefits. But, taking that same idea of a car accident again you’ve gone through, you’ve had the rehabilitation, but then after that year mark, you still have a lingering hip condition and that limits your ability to stand and walk for only a few hours in an 8-hour workday. Or, if you have mental health limitations that prevent you from being able to do complex or detailed work, those are things that would get through the second step, because they both lasted more than 12 months and limits your ability to work in some way.

The third step is: do you meet a listing of impairments? The listings are things that Social Security created that are so bad that if your condition fits into one of these boxes, you win your case and don’t have to go on to the next steps, you just win right there because your condition is so bad there’s no way you can maintain competitive employment. But, these listings are very tough to fit into. Call us so we can figure out whether or not your case will fit into one of these listings. But let’s just assume that it is doesn’t; even if you don’t meet one of these listings, there are still 2 more steps where we can win your case.

The fourth step is: can you do the work that you’ve done in the past 15 years? By this, Social Security is asking whether or not you can do any of the jobs that you’ve done in the past 15 years as you actually performed them or as they are generally performed by a normal person in the national economy. We have to prove then that you can’t do your past work.

The fifth and final step is a little complex; it asks: can you do any other work that exists in our nation?  So this doesn’t come down to just your past jobs, but whether or not you can do any job at all that exists in our nation. As you get older, it gets a little easier. At age 50 and even at 55, they don’t expect you to retrain as much. Social Security doesn’t expect a person who has been working their whole life in one industry to then suddenly retain at those advanced ages into other industries. As an example, if you are over age 50 and you are a construction laborer for the last 15 years and now you have a condition that limits you to only being able to do a desk job, you would win your case. That is because Social Security doesn’t expect you to retrain for those benefits.

The most important thing to take away from this video is: don’t suffer in silence. You have to prove your case using objective medical evidence. So what you need to do is see doctors, get treatment, and try to get better, so you can either return to work or then we’ll have the evidence we need to prove your case.

If you have any questions about these 5 steps, give our office a call, we can go through a telephone interview process for free, and then we can give you our opinion on whether or not you have a good Social Security claim.”


“People ask me, ‘How do you charge for your services?’  I only charge a fee if I win your case. No matter if it takes 1 month or 2 years, no matter how many appeals we go through and how much paperwork there is. If I do win your case, I’ll charge 25% of the back benefits, up to a maximum of $6,000. The back benefits are the benefits Social Security should have paid you, had they approved your case to begin with. As an example, if you win your case and there is $10,000 of back benefits, I’ll charge $2,500 of those back benefits and you’ll get the remaining $7,500. If the past due benefits total $50,000, I’ll only charge a fee of $6,000, and you’ll receive the remaining $44,000. These fees are paid directly to me by Social Security so you don’t have to worry about that, and Social Security will also pay you your fee directly. If we do go to federal court, we will still limit our fees to 25% of your back benefits. That $6,000 limit will drop off, but it will still only be 25% of your past due benefits. The only other charge is for the collection of medical records. Some doctors will charge a fee to collect medical records; if they do, we’ll pre-pay those fees for you and then have you repay us at the end of your case. We do this because we know it can be hard to afford an unexpected cost when you haven’t been working for multiple years. Now these fees are limited by state and federal law, so the typical bill is for less than $30.

When my father founded Penar Law, he wanted to help people; today, we only focus on Social Security disability, so we are very good at it.

Give us a call if you’d like our help.”


“A commonly asked question is: Is there more than one kind of disability program?  There are 2 different programs administered by Social Security for these disability programs. One is under Title XVI, and it is called Supplemental Security Income, or SSI. These are benefits for people who haven’t paid very much or even anything into the Social Security program. It’s there as a program to help people so that we don’t have disabled people dying in the streets, but for this program there are financial restrictions. If you have a lot of money in the bank or you have multiple assets like 2 cars, more than 1 property, a retirement account, or even if you’re married & your spouse has income from work, you might not qualify for this program. It really is just there to help people that don’t have anything else. It also doesn’t pay as much as the other program can. The other disability program is covered under TII of the Social Security Act. These are called disability insurance benefits, or DIB. Under these programs, it’s about what you paid into the Social Security system when you were working & paying payroll taxes. These are benefits that you paid for and deserve them when you become disabled. Now, with these benefits, it’s important to know that eventually your coverage ends.  At some point, even if you’ve worked your whole life, you are no longer covered for benefits. This is called your date last insured. In order to qualify for these benefits, you have to prove you became disabled prior to that date last insured. If you want to get your date last insured you can do so by calling Social Security directly and asking for it, or by going to their website at and then creating a mySSA acct. However, a lot of this stuff is very complex, and if you want to just talk to me, go ahead and do so – that’s what we are here for, is to help you navigate through these programs, so call us for a free intake.”


“Another question that people ask me is, ‘Will my disability benefits eventually go away?’ The answer to this question is: Yes. You are no longer eligible for your disability insurance benefits after your date last insured. Social Security disability insurance benefits are just like a private insurance policy, like Aflac. When you stop paying money to Aflac in monthly premiums, eventually you are no longer covered for benefits. These disability insurance benefits work the same way. At a certain point once you stop paying in through payroll taxes, you are no longer covered, typically this is going to be about 5 yrs after you’ve stopped working, if you were working your whole life. If you had gaps in employment, that date could come even sooner. Now what’s important about this date is you have to prove you became disabled prior to this date last insured. You don’t have to actually win your case before this date, but you do have to have the medical evidence to prove you were unable to work.

This is the most important part, is to not suffer in silence. If you can’t work, you need to see doctors to try to get better & return to work, or then you’ll have evidence to prove your Social Security disability insurance benefit claim.

This can be some complex information, so if you have any questions, give us a call. We can go through a brief telephone intake to tell you whether or not we think you have a good Social Security claim.”


“People ask me, ‘I have been denied by Social Security, should I keep fighting?’ The answer to this is: Absolutely. Most successful claims will be denied at least once before getting paid, and the process can take a while. At first, you’ll apply, you’ll wait 4-6 months, maybe longer, and you’ll likely be denied. After that, you’re going to appeal this denial to the reconsideration level. At this step, a different person looks at your claim, but they get to look at the first person’s notes, and they’ll also likely deny you at reconsideration. This can take 1-3 months. After that, you’ll appeal for a hearing in front of an administrative law judge. At this step, in front of the judge is really the most important step in your Social Security claim. This is where you can now be in front of an actual person, they’ll listen to your claim and your story, and you can have a representative there to argue the laws and the facts in your case. This is where it’s really important to have someone who really understands the system to be able to represent you and argue for you in your case. Once you file a request for this hearing, the wait times can vary a lot, sometimes it can take 9 months to get a hearing, it could even take years before you have a hearing in front of a judge. If you are denied by an ALJ, there are other appeal steps after that to win your case, but it gets harder because the questions change. It’s no longer about whether or not you’re disabled, but whether the judge made an error of law of fact in your case. You’re also essentially suing the federal government in federal court. For that step, you’re going to need an attorney to represent you. My father and I have been representing people for over 20 years at all levels of the disability process. We will represent people beyond this hearing level if they are denied, but we are only going to do that if we were involved at the hearing to begin with. This is because these appeals after that hearing are all about what happened in the hearing. If you’d like us to help you with your case, give us a call. We can go through a free telephone intake to tell you whether or not we think you have a good Social Security claim.”