Social Security Disability

In the 1930s, large percentages of the aged and disabled populations were living in abject poverty because there was no insurance program in place to provide for their care.  The Social Security Act of 1935 was enacted to address this problem and provide a safety net for people who become too aged or disabled to continue working.  

Disability is not something that many people worry about until it happens.  However, the chances of becoming disabled at some point in your working life are greater than you may think.  Studies show that a 20 year old worker has a 3 in 10 chance of becoming disabled at some point before reaching  retirement age.

Social Security Administration provides workers a safety net through two different programs, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Social Security Income (SSI).  Each of these programs have different requirements for eligibility and provide different benefits for those eligible.

How Disability is Determined

The Social Security disability process is one that can be daunting for most applicants.  Usually the most important factor in winning your disability case is hiring a knowledgeable attorney and accumulating good medical records which document your disability.  Many people mistakenly believe that disability is a medical decision that their doctor can make.  It is not.  It is a legal decision based on the claimant's medical history, and determined according to the Social Security Administration's regulations.  Social Security determines if you are disabled by asking five questions in a sequential step-by-step basis:

  1. Are you currently engaged in substantial gainful activity? This determination is made by looking at your gross monthly earnings. If it is above a certain amount, you are not eligible for disability benefits. This amount changes yearly.
  2. Is your condition 'severe'? This is a relatively easy test to pass, and means essentially that your disability must interfere with basic work-related activities.  Your disability must have lasted or will likely last 12 months or more.
  3. Is your condition found in the Listing of Impairments? There are certain conditions which automatically are awarded benefits based on their presence within the so-called List of Impairments, which is generated and updated yearly by the Social Security Administration.  Even if your condition is not among those listed, you may still be considered disabled if SSA decides that your disablity is equivalent in severity to one of the impairments listed.  If it is, you will be awarded benefits.  If it is not equivalent in severity, then you must go on to Step four in the process.
  4. Can you do any of your 'past relevant work'? This step looks at whether you are capable of performing any of the jobs that you have done over the past 15 years, even if it is not a job you would like to do again.  If you can, your claim will be denied.  If you cannot, SSA will go on to Step Five.
  5. Can you do any other work in the national economy? This is the most difficult step for most claimants to get past.  For this step, SSA looks to see if you can do any other work available in the 'national economy', based on your age, education, past work experience and transferable skills.  This job does not necessarily have to be available, in the sense that SSA does not check to make sure employers are actually 'hiring' for this position.  It is only necessary that the job exist in your area.  If there is a job which you can do, your claim will be denied.  If there is no other jobs that you can do, your claim will be approved.

The Disability Determination Process

There are several stages to the SSA's disability determination.  The three main stages are the Initial Application, the Request for Reconsideration, and the Request for a Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).

The Initial Application can be filed by the claimant either by mail, over the phone, on the internet or in person at the local Social Security office.  You should make sure to file this application before seeking an attorney, since you may be awarded benefits immediately and not need an attorney. However, most claimaints will be denied at this step.  After you receive your first notice of denial, consider contacting an attorney.

The Request for Reconsideration is the next step, and must be filed to appeal the initial denial. You have 60 days to file this appeal.  If you do not file within this timeframe, you must wait a certain amount of time and re-file your initial application again.  Thus you should make sure that you file this paperwork within the 60 day timeframe.  If you contact an attorney in this time, make sure to tell him or her when you call when you received your denial letter, and if you have filed the appeal.  Most claimants are denied at this level again, and must then request a hearing in front of an ALJ.

The Request for a Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is the last major stage of review, and it is at this point that the decision leaves the local agency level and is transferred to the local federal Social Security Administration office to be reviewed and heard in front of an Administrative Law Judge.  The time between requesting and receiving a hearing can be quite long, sometimes more than two years. 

The Difference between SSI and SSDI

You may have heard that you can receive two different kinds of benefits.  One kind, known as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is determined based on how many years you worked and how much you earned and thus paid into the Social Security system by paying your taxes. If you have never worked or paid taxes, you will probably not receive any SSDI benefits.  SSDI triggers Medicare benefits.

SSI, or Supplemental Security Income, benefits trigger Medicaid benefits. SSI is a welfare program which was established to help aged, blind and disabled persons who are not eligible for SSDI pay for food and shelter.  The maximum amount that a person can receive in SSI benefits is capped.  Currently, the 2012 cap is set at $698.00 per month. To be eligible for SSI, you must meet certain income and asset requirements. 


Contact a Social Security disability benefits attorney by clicking here or by calling (407) 909 - 1900.



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