Disability Benefits- 6 Things You Should Know Before You Apply

Applying for social security disability benefits (SSDI) can be frustrating.  Most applications are initially denied.  Commencement of benefits often begins months and sometimes years after an applicant has become disabled.  The result is that the applicant and his or her family sink into severe financial distress.  To help you better understand what to expect when applying for SSDI, here are answers to 6 common questions.

1. How does Social Security determine if I am disabled?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) makes a determination as to whether or not you are  “disabled” based your medical condition.  Not only must you be unable to perform the work you previously performed, but you also must be unable to perform other work. Your disability must last for a year or result in death within a year. In addition, your condition must be listed in the SSA “List of Impairments.” Even if your medical condition is listed approval is not automatic or guaranteed.  If it is not listed then you may still be determined to be eligible for social security disability payments.  However, approval may take longer.  You must prove your medical condition and its severity through medical records and a medical evaluation.

2. When Will I get My First Disability Check?

Disability benefits commence after you have been continuously disabled for five consecutive months.  This is to ensure that your disability is long-term.  So, the earliest you will receive disability benefits is the sixth month after your disability began.   Because it typically takes the SSA over 5 months to approve an application, commencement of benefits often begins well after the applicant has been disabled for five months.  Any retroactive benefit payment will not include benefits for the period that includes the 5-month waiting period.

3. I have a Private Disability Insurance Plan.  Will that Effect My Eligibility for Social Security Disability?

Private disability insurance will not affect your eligibility for SSDI.  However, worker’s compensation benefits and disability payments from certain public funds will affect your eligibility for SSDI.  Examples of public benefits that will impact your eligibility for SSDI include civil service disability benefits, state temporary disability benefits and state or local government retirement benefits that are based on disability.

4. Can I Work and Get Approved for SSDI?

Under certain circumstances an applicant for SSDI can be approved for social security benefits even if he or she is still working.  The SSA will consider several factors including the type of work, the amount of work, and the amount of earnings.  However, if you are performing what the SSA refers to as “substantial gainful activity” (SGA), the SSA will not consider you disabled and your application will not be approved. “Substantial” work activity involves doing significant physical or mental activities. “Gainful” work activity “is the kind of work usually done for pay or profit, whether or not a profit is realized.”

5. Can I get both disability and SSI benefits?

If your income and resources are low enough, and your SSDI benefit is low you may qualify for both.  This is referred to by the SSA as “concurrent benefits.”

6. Can I Receive SSDI if My Disability is Severe, but Short-term?

No.  The SSA does not provide benefits for short-term disability regardless of the severity.  Among other things, in order to be eligible for SSDI, your medical condition must be expected to last at least one year or result in death.

The Social Security Administration is accused both of making it too difficult for deserving people to receive benefits and of making it too easy for fraudulent claims to be approved.  What do you think is the biggest problem with the SSA’s process for making decisions on SSDI applications?

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