Your Guide to Social Security Disability Benefits
This helpful guide will answer questions as to what type of benefits you should apply for, what the Social Security Administration looks for when determining whether you are disabled, when you should apply for benefits, and other questions that you may have about filing for disability benefits.
Which Type of Benefits Should I Apply For?When you file an application there are two types of disability benefits that you may apply for — Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). You are eligible for SSDI benefits if you worked and earned enough work credits before becoming disabled. Work credits are earned for each quarter during the taxable year that you received wages for work that you performed. The amount of work credits necessary to be eligible to receive SSDI benefits depends on your age, but on average you will need to have at least earned 20 work credits within the last 10 years before you became unable to work. Or, to put it another way, you will need to have at least worked 5 out of the last 10 years if you wish to be eligible for SSDI benefits. If you are not eligible for SSDI benefits you may still be eligible for SSI benefits as long as your combined assets (excluding one vehicle and one piece of property) are less than $2,000 if you are single and $3,000 if you are married. It is therefore usually best to apply for both benefits just to be safe.
How Does the Social Security Administration Determine Whether I am Disabled?The Social Security Administration goes through a 5-step process to determine whether you are eligible to receive disability benefits. These steps are 1. whether you have worked since you claimed to have been disabled; 2. whether you have a medical condition that is considered severe; 3. whether your medical condition meets or equals one of the SSA's medical listings; 4. whether, despite your physical or mental limitations, you can still perform any of the past work that you performed in the past 15 years; and 5. whether, despite your physical or mental limitations, there are any other jobs available in the national economy that you could still perform. Please note that this final step becomes less restrictive the closer you get to retirement age.
When Should I Apply for Disability Benefits?You should submit an application for disability benefits as soon as you become unable to work due to a physical or mental condition. In order to be eligible to receive SSDI benefits it has to be found that you became disabled within 5 years after you last worked, so do not delay in filing your application. Although SSI benefits do not have this same requirement, any back pay you receive from an SSI claim will not start accruing until the date that you submitted your application, NOT the date that you became unable to work, so you may be missing out on back pay if you wait to file.
How Long Does it Take Before I am Approved for Benefits?It can take anywhere between 3 months to 2 years before you are approved to receive either SSDI or SSI benefits. The reason is because there are generally three stages to a disability claim—the Initial Stage, the Reconsideration Stage, and the Hearing Stage.
When your application is first filed it will be sent to your state's Disability Determination Service (DDS). Once there it will be assigned to a disability examiner who will request your medical records, have you complete forms regarding your work history and daily activities, and possibly order you to attend a consultative examination if more information is needed regarding your physical or mental limitations. This process can take on average between 3 - 6 months before a decision is made on your claim.
If you are denied and timely file an appeal with the Social Security Administration your claim will then be sent back to DDS where a different disability examiner will request your updated medical records and possibly have you complete additional paperwork regarding your daily activities. You may also have to attend another consultative examination before they reach another decision. If you are denied a second time and you timely file an appeal your claim will then be sent to the Social Security Administration Office of Hearing Operations (OHO) where you will have an opportunity to testify at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. Once your claim is at the hearing stage it can take anywhere between 1 year to 18 months before your case will be heard.
Will Receiving Other Benefits Affect My Disability Benefits?Yes and no. You can receive short-term disability benefits or long-term disability benefits through a private insurance company without affecting your SSDI benefits. In fact, many private insurance companies will require you to apply for SSDI benefits as a condition for receiving short-term or long- term disability benefits. You may also receive VA Disability Compensation without it affecting your SSDI benefits.
Unemployment benefits and Worker's Compensation benefits, on the other hand, will affect your benefits. If you receive unemployment benefits after you stopped working you will not be able to claim that you became disabled until after you stopped receiving unemployment. This is because when you file for disability benefits you are telling the Social Security Administration that you are unable to work, while one of the requirements for filing for unemployment is that you are actively seeking work. As you can imagine this will cause the Social Security Administration to question whether you are really disabled and may create unnecessary complications down the road.
As for workers' compensation benefits, the Social Security Administration may deduct a certain amount from your monthly benefits for a period of time depending on the monetary amount you receive from your worker's compensation claim. It is therefore crucial to notify the Social Security Administration if you ever received workers' compensation benefits either before you filed a disability claim, while your disability claim is pending, or even after you are approved for benefits to ensure that you are not overpaid by the Social Security Administration.
What Do I Do If I Am Denied?As previously discussed, if you are denied you should immediately file an appeal with the Social Security Administration if you wish for your claim to proceed to the next stage of the disability claim process. You are only given 60 days to file an appeal, and unless good cause is shown you will have to file a new application if you do not file an appeal within this time period.
Filing a new application may not seem like a big deal on the outset, but every time you are denied and do not file an appeal the earliest date that you can claim to have been disabled on your next application is the day after your last denial. This will cause you to lose any back pay that you may be entitled to receive from your previous claim, and may cause you to only be eligible for SSI benefits if the date that you were last denied does not fall within 5 years after the date that you last worked. Lastly, a vast majority of people get approved at either the Reconsideration or Hearing stage of the disability claim process, so filing an application every time you are denied will dramatically reduce your chances of being successful on your claim.