You have probably spent a good deal of your life working. Then, out of the blue, the unthinkable happens - you suffer a devastating injury or illness. Suddenly, you are unable to work. You are not yet 65 and certainly not prepared to retire.
The good news is you have a safety net - Social Security Disability Benefits.
For most American workers, Social Security benefits have been funded by their wages through tax deductions every day they were on the job. Most likely you have paid into a fund that the government has set aside in case you (or a family member) are injured, or become seriously ill before you retire. Social Security will pay monthly cash benefits to people who are unable to work for a year or more because of a disability. Benefits usually continue until you are able to work again on a regular basis, or until you reach age 65.
The bad news is there is a legal maze you need to negotiate to get your disability benefit (SSDI or SSI).
This website can help you understand the qualification requirements and how to apply for disability by initiating a claim. It also presents some user-friendly information about the disability claims process and some information that will help you determine if you might benefit by hiring a lawyer, especially to help you deal with the disability adjudication and review process, including hearings.
There are two primary requirements that must be met to get Social Security disability benefits. To qualify for benefits, you must (1) have worked at jobs covered by Social Security Disability Insurance and built up enough "work credits" and (2) have a medical condition that meets Social Security's definition of disability. Though not a requirement, patience can be very helpful.
Let's look at these requirements more closely:
- How many work credits do you need?
The number of work credits you need to qualify for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled. Generally, if you are 31 or older, you must have worked, and paid Social Security tax, for approximately five out of the last ten years before you become disabled. Younger workers may qualify with fewer credits because they may have not been in the workforce for a full ten years. Your most current Social Security Statement will show whether you meet the work credit requirement.
- How is disability defined by the Social Security Administration?
Disability under Social Security law is based on your inability to work. To qualify as disabled you must not be able to do the work you did before your illness or injury. Also, to qualify, it must be determined that you cannot adjust to other work because of your physical and/or mental limitation(s). Your disability must last, or be expected to last, at least one year, or to result in death. Factors that influence the legal finding of disability include your age, education, work experience, compliance with medical treatment, daily activities and the kind and extent of treatment. A five-step process is used in determining disability.
- Why patience?
Though you won't find this requirement in Title II of the Social Security Act, it may be helpful to recognize that it may take up to one year after filing a disability application to have a hearing on the facts of your Social Security disability claim and get a final decision.
Note: Most people who receive disability benefits are workers who qualify on their own records and meet the work and disability requirements described above. However, there are some special situations (for blind people, widows, and children) outlined on the Social Security Disability website that you may be interested in knowing about.