The Purpose of Social Security Disability Benefits
Disability is something most people don’t like to think about. The chances of your becoming disabled are probably greater than you realize. In fact, studies show that one out of four young workers will become disabled some time during his or her lifetime. While most people spend time working to succeed in their jobs and careers, few think about ensuring that they have a safety net to fall back on should the unthinkable happen. This is where Social Security comes in. The Social Security Administration pays cash benefits to people who are unable to perform gainful employment for a year or more because of a disability. Benefits continue until a person is able to work again on a regular basis, and a number of work incentives are available to ease the transition back to work.
The Social Security Disability Process
The Social Security disability process is one that is highly technical and unlike other courtroom proceedings in that it is an administrative procedure that is open to the interpretation of many Social Security Administration employees and Administrative Law Judges. Perhaps the single most important factor relevant to being approved for disability benefits is the accumulation of medical records that support a claim. Seeking and following medical treatment for the conditions that prevent the claimant from working is at the heart of the process of proving eligibility for benefits. Unfortunately even the most thoroughly documented medical record may not result in a claimant receiving benefits.
Medical Decision or Legal Decision?
Many people think that the disability process is a medical decision, but in reality it is a legal decision arising from medical information in a claimant’s medical history. The interpretation of that medical history and how it is applied to the Social Security regulations is how a person is determined to be disabled. An Attorney can help interpret the Medical Evidence and help your Doctor provide opinions to SSA.
How Disability Is Determined
You should be familiar with the process used to determine if you are disabled. It’s a step-by-step process involving five questions. They are:
- Are you working? If you are and your earnings average more than the current SGA allowance, you generally cannot be considered disabled. Is your condition severe? Your impairments must interfere with basic work-related activities for your claim to be considered.
- Is your condition found in the list of disabling impairments? The Social Security Administration maintains a list of impairments for each of the major body systems that are so severe they automatically mean you are disabled. If your condition is not on the list, SSA has to decide if it is of equal severity to impairments on the list. If it is, your claim is approved. If it is not, you must go to the next step.
- Can you do the work you used to perform? If your condition is severe, but not at the same or equal severity as impairments on the list, then SSA must determine if it interferes with your ability to do the work you did over the past 15 years. If it does not, your claim will be denied. If it does, your claim will be considered further.
- Can you do any other type of work? If you cannot do the work you did over the past 15 years, SSA looks to see if you can do any other type of work. SSA considers your age, education, past work experience, and transferable skills and reviews the job demands of occupations as determined by the Department of Labor. If you cannot do any other kind of work, your claim will be approved. If you can perform other work in the national economy, your claim will be denied.
SSD vs. SSI
The Social Security Administration is responsible for two major programs that provide benefits based on disability. For most people, the medical requirements for disability payments are the same under both programs and a person’s disability is determined by the same process. While eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits is based on prior work under Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability payments are made on the basis of financial need.
The Social Security Disability Insurance program pays benefits to you if you are a disabled or blind worker insured under the Act, the child of an insured worker, or the widow, widower, or surviving divorced spouse of an insured worker. To be insured as a worker, you must have earned a minimum number of credits from work covered under Social Security. (The required number of credits varies depending on your age at the time you became disabled. Generally you need 20 credits earned in the last 10 years ending with the year you became disabled. However, younger workers may qualify with fewer credits.) Family members who qualify for benefits on your work record do not need work credits.
The Supplemental Security Income program provides monthly payments to you based on disability or blindness if you have limited income and resources. Under this program SSA also pays children under age 18 who are disabled or blind and have limited income and resources. SSI payments are funded through general tax revenues. You can be eligible for SSI even if you have never worked or paid taxes under FICA. How much you get depends on where you live. Generally, to be eligible for SSI payments you must be a U.S. citizen or meet certain requirements for non-citizens.
The Basic SSI Amount
The basic SSI amount is the same nationwide. This amount changes periodically and the current SSI monthly payment is available here for an individual eligible for the maximum amount. People who get SSI usually get food stamps and Medicaid free of cost. Medicaid helps pay doctor and hospital bills.
Statute of Limitations
You need to know that the law allows only a limited period of time for Social Security claims to be brought and a Social Security Disability lawyer can help you determine how much time you have left. If you do not have your claim filed within the time provided by law, you may be denied your benefits.
When to Apply for Benefits
You should apply at any Social Security office as soon as you become disabled. You may file by phone, mail, or by visiting the nearest office. A disability attorney may help you properly file your claim. However, Social Security Disability benefits will not begin until the sixth full month of disability. This “waiting period” begins with the first full month after the date the Social Security Administration decides your disability began. Contact the Law Offices of Tracy Tyson Miller for more information on applying for Social Security Disability Benefits.