Social Security Disability

Introduction

Social Security Disability, or SSDI, is a program set in place to provide a monthly income to employees who can no longer work any job that provides more than a very, very small income.  There are two broad categories you must fall into in order to receive SSDI: you must have been a “worker” and you must be “disabled.”

Who Is Considered a Worker?

It won’t take you long reading anything on the SSA’s website to realize the term “work credits” will determine whether you are considered a “worker.”  Put simply, a “work credit” is one quarter of a year.  For example, if you worked January – March of one year, then you earned one credit.  If you worked the entire year, you earned four credits.  There is also a requirement that, while working, you had enough money withheld from your paycheck to qualify for a work credit; this requirement is very low and is rarely an issue.  Once you calculate how many work credits you have, whether you qualify for SSDI consideration will depend on your age, your work credits earned, and when you earned them.  Recent work is weighed more heavily.

Generally speaking, if you can add up your time spent working and it is more than one-quarter of your life since entering the workforce, and you worked 5 of the past 10 years, then you should qualify for SSDI.  If you are a younger worker under 31, blind, an alien worker, or only recently received a Social Security Number, then you should contact an attorney to review your options.  Otherwise, if you do meet the requirements above, then you should read on to see whether your medical condition will allow you to be considered disabled under the law.

Who Is Considered Disabled?

“You are considered “disabled” and entitled to disabled worker’s benefits if you meet the following conditions:
You are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity because of a physical or mental impairment. You must not only be unable to do your previous work, but also any other type of work considering your age, education, and work experience;
Your impairment(s) must be established by objective medical evidence;
It is expected that your impairment(s) will either result in death or last for at least 12 months in a row.”  SSA.gov.

Obviously, there are some terms in this definition that you must ensure that you both understand and fall into in order to bring a claim.

Substantial Gainful Activity

Notice that the SSA did not say work that generated an income – there is a reason for this.  If you are performing any activity which normally generates an income for the person doing it, then you do not qualify for SSDI.  For example, working as a volunteer hairdresser in a salon where the other hairdressers are being paid would usually disqualify you from SSDI.  Likewise, opening your own barber shop and being a hairdresser would usually disqualify you even if your business did not turn a profit.

Physical or Mental Impairment

“A “medically determinable” physical or mental impairment (see §507) is an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities, which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. A physical or mental impairment must be established by medical evidence consisting of symptoms, signs, and laboratory findings – not only by the individual’s statement of symptoms.”  SSA.gov.

Slicing through the jargon here, if your doctor diagnoses you with a condition that is the direct cause of you not being able to work for at least 12 months – past, present or future – then you have a qualifying impairment.  Remember that we are talking about working in general, not working in your position.  That means your doctor will need to willingly certify that you cannot perform some of the most basic functions of working for substantial periods of time.  These basic functions include sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, handling, reaching, pushing, pulling, climbing, stooping, crouching, seeing, hearing, speaking; understanding, carrying out, and remembering simple instructions; using judgment; responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and usual work situations; and dealing with changes in a routine work setting.  If your condition substantially limits you in these areas, then you may qualify for SSDI. Remember that it is your doctor’s opinion that the SSA will rely upon, not your own – therefore, you need to have your doctor’s opinion and records available for the SSA to review with your claim.

How Much Will I Receive?

The SSA uses a weighted system to determine your benefits that is based upon your average lifetime earnings before your disability began and whether you are receiving any other disability payments, such as a federal disability retirement payment.  While the formula is very complex, the SSA does provide multiple benefit calculators to give you as exact or general an estimate as you desire.

Should I Apply by Myself?

The SSA makes it very easy to apply for SSDI benefits online or at your local SSA office.  I have seen many applicants with very straight-forward claims utilize the help of their SSA office to get approved without hiring an attorney.  I’ve seen some applicants apply themselves online and get approved.  While everyone’s comfort level with this kind of application process is different, I usually recommend that applicants go to their local SSA office and apply for benefits themselves.  If the application is denied, then I would recommend contacting an attorney before you file your reconsideration.  Sometimes a simple document review of your application and the denial may provide you with enough advice to get approved.

After the initial denial, the process generally becomes more “adversarial” – that is, the SSA becomes less of your assistant and more of your opposition to getting approved.  The SSA will stand by its decision and defend it as you argue otherwise, and they have paid professionals who are trained to do this.  It is in your best interests to have the same help on your side.  If your application for SSDI benefits was denied and you feel that you meet the qualifications outlined above, please contact us today.