A severe illness or physical disability can be overwhelming and worrisome, especially if it limits your ability to work. Thankfully, you have some help. The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides a safety net in the form of long-term disability and Social Security benefits for those who become unable to work.
This program is called Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Here's what you need to know so you can file for the assistance you need.
What Is the Social Security Disability Insurance Program?
SSDI provides you with a monthly income if you’re unable to work for an extended period of time because of an accident, disability or medical condition. There's no income threshold to qualify, and you can receive SSDI benefits as long as you remain unable to work or until you reach your full retirement age.
Who Can Qualify for Long-Term Disability and Social Security Benefits?
There are two main items that the SSA will look at to determine your eligibility.
You earn credits through the payroll taxes you pay to the SSA. You can earn a maximum of four credits each year based on your income. You’ll become eligible for long-term disability and Social Security benefits once you have enough credits.
The number of credits you need varies based on your age. Most people need 40 credits, with 20 earned over the past 10 years.
You need to have a condition that corresponds with the definition of disability under the Social Security Act. It can be a physical or mental condition, but it has to affect you for at least a year or result in death. This condition must prevent you from working and from finding employment in a different role or field.
How Much Are Long-Term Disability and Social Security Benefits?
The SSA will look at up to 35 years of past earnings and use indexation to take inflation into consideration. The SSA determines your average monthly income and uses three bend points to calculate your primary insurance amount.
In 2021, SSDI recipients are getting the sum of the following bend points:
- 90% of the first $996 of their average indexed monthly earnings.
- 32% of the amount earned between $996 and $6,002.
- 15% of anything earned over $6,002 a month.
The SSA adjusts these bend points every year to reflect changes in the cost of living. In July 2021, the average SSDI payment added up to $1,280 a month.
SSDI and Retirement
Once you reach full retirement age, your disability benefits will become retirement benefits. The amount you get won't change. If you were disabled after reaching your full retirement age, you'll receive retirement benefits instead of SSDI, even if you were still working before becoming disabled.
If you become disabled after turning 62, you can get SSDI benefits instead of qualifying for early retirement. SSDI payments are usually higher, and you may be eligible for full retirement benefits once you turn 66 or 67. You can apply for SSDI even if you already filed for early retirement.
What Is the Application Process Like?
You have to fill out an application form with your personal details and work information. You also need to attach the following documents:
- Your birth certificate.
- Proof of U.S. citizenship or proof of your alien status if applicable.
- Military discharge papers if applicable.
- W2 forms or self-employment tax returns.
Additionally, you have to provide information about your disability and any treatment plan you’re following. The form has a section where you should enter the contact information of the doctors, hospitals and other healthcare professionals who have been treating you. You also need to attach any medical records you have. The SSA will ask you to sign a release form so they can access your medical records.
If you’re receiving workers' compensation benefits, you have to document these payments as well.
Is There a Time Limit to Apply for SSDI Benefits?
No. You can apply for long-term disability and Social Security benefits at any time. However, you can only receive back benefits for up to twelve months.
What Happens If Your Claim Is Denied?
If the SSA rejects your claim, you have 60 days to file an appeal, so don't delay in taking action. Depending on the reason for the denial, you might have to submit additional documentation.
You'll have to attend a disability hearing during which a judge will ask questions about your disability and how it’s affecting your ability to work. You’ll have to explain how your medical condition is stopping you from performing different tasks at work.
Should You Seek Legal Representation?
A Social Security disability attorney can help you navigate the application process. They can help you put together the documents you need to support your case. If your application is denied, your attorney can represent you during the hearing, call medical experts and present a compelling case to fight for your rights.
If you need help with a disability case or want to know if you qualify for SSDI benefits, fill out Acciden.com's short form to tell us more about your situation. We'll put you in touch with an attorney from our network for a free consultation.