Answering Common Social Security Disability Questions

Submitted by rtg on

Understanding and applying for social security disability benefits can be complex, but knowing the basics and seeking professional assistance when needed can help improve your chances of winning a successful claim. Whether you are applying for SSI or SSDI, it is important you meet the qualifications and provide thorough documentation. It is never easy qualifying for disability benefits, but you will get a better understanding of the process if it is explained to you clearly.

Here are some common Social Security Disability (SSD) questions and answers to help you understand the process and the benefits available.

What Are Disability Benefits?

Disability benefits come in two main forms. These are Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

SSI is a need-based program available to help individuals who have a low income and limited resources. It is funded by general tax revenues and provides financial help to blind, aged, or disabled individuals who are unable to qualify for SSDI because they haven’t accumulated sufficient work credits while working.

SSDI is an insurance program that is funded through payroll taxes and is provided for people who qualify for disability benefits as determined by the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) requirements. It provides benefits to disabled individuals who have paid into the Social Security fund throughout their work history. Unlike SSI, SSDI is not need-based, but instead dependent on an individual’s work credits and earnings record.

Who Gets Disability Benefits?

To qualify for disability benefits, certain criteria must be met. For SSI, you must be aged 65 years or older, be blind, or disabled with a limited income and resources. For SSDI, the requirements are slightly different. You must be disabled and have earned sufficient work credits. Work credits are earned by working and paying Social Security taxes. Typically, you need 40 credits, 20 of which must have been earned in the last 10 years ending with the year you become disabled. The number of work credits needed varies based on your age when you become disabled.

How Do I Get Disability Benefits?

To get disability benefits, you need to apply through the Social Security Administration (SSA). You can do this online, over the phone, or in person at your local SSA office. When applying, you will need to provide detailed information about your medical condition, work history, and financial situation. This includes medical records, doctors' reports, and any other documentation that supports your claim of disability. You will also need to be able to find your medical condition listed in the SSA’s Blue Book.

How Long Does It Take to Get Disability Benefits?

The time it takes to get disability benefits can vary significantly. The initial application process alone can take from 3 to 5 months. If your claim is denied and you choose to appeal, this process can extend to several months or even years, depending on the level of appeal. Factors that influence the timeline include the complexity of your medical condition, the availability of medical evidence, and the workload at the SSA office handling your claim.

How Is SSDI Calculated?

SSDI benefits are calculated based on your average lifetime earnings before your disability began. The SSA uses a complex formula to determine your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), which is the basis for your monthly benefit amount. The formula takes into account your highest-earning years and adjusts for inflation. The exact amount you receive will depend on your earning history and the number of work credits you have accumulated.

Can I Work and Get Disability Benefits?

Yes, you can work while in receipt of disability benefits, but there are strict limits on the amount you are permitted to earn. The SSA sets a threshold called Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). In 2024, the SGA limit is $1,550 per month for non-blind individuals and $2,590 per month for blind individuals. If you earn more than these amounts, you may no longer qualify as being disabled by the SSA. However, there are programs like the ‘Ticket to Work’ that allow you to test your ability to work without losing your benefits straightaway.

What Do I Do If I am Denied Disability Benefits?

If your disability claim is denied, you have the right to appeal the decision. The appeal process involves several steps which are: reconsideration, a hearing before an administrative law judge, a review by the Appeals Council, and finally, a federal court review. It is important to act quickly, as there are strict deadlines when filing appeals. Many applicants are initially denied disability benefits, but a significant number are approved at some point in the appeal process.

Do I Need a Disability Lawyer?

While it is not mandatory to have a lawyer to help you file a claim for disability benefits, it can be highly beneficial. Statistics show that applicants who are represented by a disability benefits lawyer are three times more likely to be approved for benefits. A lawyer can work on your behalf to gather and present evidence, represent you at appeal hearings, and ensure that your application matches the requirements for eligibility for disability benefits.

How Can I Find a Disability Lawyer?

Finding a qualified disability lawyer can make a significant difference in your claim. These lawyers usually work on a contingency basis, which means they get paid only if you win your case. Fill out the Free Case Evaluation to get connected with a participating, independent attorney who subscribes to the website and may be able to help you navigate the disability benefits process.