If you have been seriously injured, are ill or have developed any kind of disability that keeps you from working, you may be wondering whether Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) can help you. Qualifying for Social Security disability benefits can seem like a complex process. However, it's easier than you may think.
First and foremost, it doesn’t matter how you became disabled. The Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn’t care if you became sick, developed a disease or injured in an accident. As long as you meet the requirements below, you can receive Social Security disability benefits.
Do You Have a Disability?
You may be sick or experiencing pain or suffering. However, to qualify as "disabled" according to the SSA, you must have a condition that:
- Will or is expected to end in death, or
- Has lasted, or can be expected to last, for 12 months.
Additionally, you must have a sufficient work history to be what Social Security terms “insured.” This work history is documented through work credits. You earn these by working and paying Social Security payroll taxes.
A Social Security disability attorney can help you figure out whether you have enough credits to qualify. There are different requirements based on your age, the age you became disabled and the amount of time you've worked. For example, if you're under 24, you can qualify for disability if you have earned six credits within the three-year period right before your disability started. If you're 31 or older, you generally need to have 20 credits earned in the 10 years before your disability began.
Are You Working?
The SSA wants to know if you're working in “substantial gainful activity.” You can't be working in a type of activity that's usually done for profit, or which involves strenuous mental or physical activities.
Most people pass this part of the test. After all, if they were able to work, they likely wouldn’t be applying for disability in the first place.
Is Your Disability “Severe?”
To qualify, you must have a disability that significantly affects your ability to perform work activities. As mentioned above, the SSA also wants to make sure you have a disability that will last or has lasted for 12 months or more.
To qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you can combine illnesses and disabilities. For example, a herniated disc, depression, sciatica and recurring headaches may not, alone, be disabling. However, combined, the SSA may consider them severe.
Your disability can also be mental/emotional in nature. The SSA considers and awards disability for mental conditions in much the same way as it does physical illnesses.
Important note: It's crucial that you see a doctor for your disabilities. Not only is this important to ensure your health and wellbeing are stable, but a doctor or healthcare provider must also document and diagnose your disabling conditions to confirm they're legitimate in the eyes of the SSA.
Is Your Disability on the List?
The Social Security Administration maintains a list of disabling conditions, both mental and physical. They include illnesses, injuries, loss of bodily functions and many other conditions.
Many of the listings require you to have more than just the listed problem. The disability must also affect you in ways noted in the listings.
For example, you may have cancer, and many cancers are on the listings. However, if you have cancer but you are active, perform social and some physical activities, and generally have minimal pain, you may not meet the listing for your type of cancer.
Additionally, some listings may say you have a disability if you can't cure or lessen the effects with medicine or devices (such as glasses for eyesight).
If your disability does meet a listing, you may receive Social Security disability benefits. The SSA will not go forward with any of the steps listed below.
However, if your disability doesn't fall under a listing, the SSA will proceed with the steps below.
Can You Still Do Your Prior Work?
You must show that because of your disability, you can't perform the work that you most recently performed. This is called “past relevant work.”
The SSA will look at your physical and mental capabilities to make this determination and compare what you're able or unable to do with your previous work.
If you can still do your most recent work activities even with your disabling conditions, you won't be considered disabled. If you can't do your previous work, the SSA will move on to the next step.
Can You Perform Other Work in the Economy?
If you can't perform your past work, the Social Security Administration will then ask whether there is any job in the national economy that you could still do, even with your disabilities (and even if you have no experience in those fields).
The SSA will consider your age, education and background. They will use experts to determine if you can perform jobs that are available in the national economy.
Should your case get to a hearing, an expert will likely appear in person to testify against you. A Social Security disability attorney knows how to cross-examine these experts to show the judge that, in fact, the jobs that the expert says that you can do, you actually would not be able to do.
If the SSA confirms that there aren't any jobs in the national economy that you can perform, they may award you benefits.
Not Sure Whether You Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits? Talk to a Professional
These steps may seem difficult. However, with legal help, you can work to prove that you're suffering enough to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.
If you're uncertain about your disability status or face issues qualifying for benefits, consider talking to an attorney. Accident.com makes it easy to connect with a lawyer who can help answer your Social Security disability insurance questions in any state. In addition, we have a comprehensive guide for how a Social Security disability attorney can help in your situation.
Don't wait. Pursue the benefits you deserve now.