Anyone can become either temporarily or permanently disabled. Some projections are estimating that Americans in their 20s today have an approximate 30 percent chance of experiencing a disability profound enough to cause them to miss three or more months of work before retiring. Despite the risks, most Americans do not carry short or long-term disability insurance. Close to half of all mortgage foreclosures are due to owners being struck with a disability, and fewer than 15 percent of people who purchase life insurance opt for disability insurance. The Social Security Administration (SSA) was tasked in 1956 to address disability and work income by creating a disability insurance program. Throughout its long history, additional rules have contributed to its complex regulations and eligibility requirements that make applying for disability benefits difficult.
The disability benefits are in the form of monthly payments to provide a safety net for qualified individuals who have become too disabled to work. The benefits are paid through the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Programs. Both of the programs are intended for disabled workers, but they have different benefits and qualifying requirements as well as different funding sources.
To become eligible for the SSDI program, you will have worked a required number of years in a job where you paid into the social security taxes (FICA, Federal Insurance Contributions Act). You have to have accrued a certain number of work credits. You can earn up to 4 work credits per year. Workers that do not have the required number of work years and who also have low income and minimal assets can apply for SSI. In both programs, you are not eligible to be engaged in a substantial gainful activity (SGA), earning a certain amount of income from some other work.
The number of work credits required as a qualification for SSDI benefits depends on the age at which you became disabled. Generally, it is possible to qualify if you have earned at least 20 credits in the ten years before being disabled and if you have earned credits that total 40 or more. If you do not have enough work credits to qualify, there is a chance you can become qualified based on a spouse or parent’s work record. There are many regulations governing eligibility for SSDI, and each individual has a varied work history. To understand how to qualify and how much you should be able to receive, it is best to contact a legal professional for help.
Once you qualify from a work history perspective for SSDI, then you must prove you meet medical eligibility requirements. SSDI benefits are available to those workers who have a severe, long-term, or total disability. A severe disability is a condition that interferes with general work-related actions. Long-term disability means you are unable to perform “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) for a minimum of one year. Total disability is a person’s inability to work in their own or any other occupation for which they are suited by training, experience, or education due to a sickness or injury.
SSI medical qualifications are similar to medical terms used in SSDI qualifications; however, these individuals must also have limited resources and a low income. The benefits from the SSI program are funded through general tax revenue and not dependent on your work history or having paid into the social security taxes known as FICA.
For either program, it can be challenging to qualify for the SSA’s definition of disabled. To be considered disabled by the SSA, your condition has to last a year or be expected to last a year. Or your condition should be expected to result in your death. Your condition must also significantly limit your abilities to do necessary work activities like walking, sitting, standing, or retaining and remembering information. Additionally, your condition must be listed in the SSA’s “Listing of Impairments” (Blue Book) or have medical equivalency to listed conditions. Finally, your condition must prevent you from doing any work for which you qualify before your disability.
Becoming approved for benefits is a lengthy and often frustrating process as many people are denied on their first application. A myriad of forms, doctors’ recommendations, personal medical history, work, and tax documentation all contribute to becoming accepted into either program. You can apply online or at your local social security office. It is best to contact the office to schedule an appointment to submit your application for benefits. Regarding financial qualification, be prepared with your work history and current earnings, household assets and income, your bank, and financial institution information. Also required is your current and past employers and up to five jobs you have held in the past 15 years, any other benefits you may be receiving, your status of citizenship, and, if applicable, any paperwork from a military discharge. Pay stubs, proof of citizenship, W-2s or 1099s, information about your disability, and detailed medical records are all pertinent data to bring.
An initial application that is denied has multiple stages of appeal. You can enter a request for reconsideration or even go up as high as an appeal to a federal court. If your condition has made you very sick and you are experiencing a severe medical condition, there is a streamlined process known as the SSA’s Compassionate Allowance List. This list primarily includes adult brain disorders, certain cancers, and several rare disorders that affect children.
If and when you are approved for disability income through SSDI or SSI, there is a waiting period. Benefits will not be made available to you until you have been disabled for a full five months, and, likely, you will not be approved for six months to a year, including the likelihood for at least one level of appeal. Be prepared from the outset for a lengthy process and improve your chances for approval with a well thought out, legally reviewed application for disability income. If you have questions or would like to discuss your situation with us, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
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Patrick Kelleher is an author and Estate Planning & Elder Law attorney and founder of the elder law care learning center in Hanover, Massachusetts. Patrick has been teaching free educational workshops for over 10 years at his learning center and surrounding communities. Learn more at elderlawcare.com or follow Patrick Kelleher on Facebook because you will learn a lot! Offices in Hanover and Quincy. You can find Patrick’s new book “How to Avoid the Four Headed Monster” of Estate Planning & Elder Law on Amazon.