Social Security Disability Benefits

Published: September 8, 2003  |  Source: ssa.gov
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When to apply:

You should apply as soon as you become disabled. If you apply for Social Security, Disability benefits will not begin until the sixth full month of disability. The Social Security disability waiting period begins with the first full month after the date we decide your disability began. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits are paid for the first full month after the date you filed your claim, or, if later, the date you become eligible for SSI.

How to apply:

Call the Social Security Administration at (800) 772-1213 or (800) 325-0778 for those who have hearing impairments or are deaf.

What you need:

The claims process for disability benefits is generally longer than for other types of Social Security benefits, from 60-90 days. It takes longer to obtain medical information and assess the nature of the disability in terms of your ability to work. However, you can help shorten the process by bringing certain documents with you when you apply and helping get any other medical evidence you need to show you are disabled. These include: your Social Security number; your birth certificate or other evidence of your date of birth; your military discharge papers, if you were in the military service; your spouse’s birth certificate and Social Security number if he or she is applying for befits; your children’s birth certificates and Social Security numbers if they are applying for benefits; and your checking or savings account information, so your benefits can be deposited directly; names, addresses and phone numbers of doctors, hospitals, clinics, and institutions that treated you and dates of treatment; names of all medications you are taking; medical records from your doctors, therapists, hospitals, clinics and caseworkers; laboratory and test results; a summary of where you worked in the past 15 years and the kind of work you did; a copy of your W-2 Form (Wage and Tax Statement), or if you are self-employed, your federal tax return for the past year; dates of prior marriages if your spouse is applying The documents presented as evidence must be either originals or copies certified by the issuing agency. Do not delay filing for benefits just because you do not have all of the information you need. The Social Security office will be glad to help you.

Applying for SSI:

If you are applying for Supplemental Security Income benefits you also need the following: information about the home where you live, such as your mortgage or lease and landlord’s name; payroll slips, bank books, insurance policies, car registration, burial fund records and other information about your income and the things you own.

How disability is determined:

Social Security uses a step-by-step process involving five questions: Are you working? If you are and your earnings average more than $700 a month, 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? Social Security 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, it has to decide if it is of equal severity to an Impairment on the list. If it is, your claim is approved. If it is not, go to the next step. Can you do the work you did previously? If your condition is severe, but not at the same or equal severity as an impairment on the list, then Social Security must determine if it interferes with your ability to do the work you did in the last 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 in the last 15 years, we then look to see if you can do any other type of work. Social Security 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, your claim will be denied.

What kind of disability benefits does Social Security pay?

People who are severely disabled may be eligible for monthly benefits under one or more of the programs Social Security administers. The Social Security and SSI programs provide a monthly income for people with severe disabilities. However, the nonmedical eligibility requirements for the two programs are different. The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program pays benefits to disabled workers and their families. To be eligible for SSDI, you must be disabled and 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. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program provides monthly income to people who are age 65 or older or are blind or have other disabilities and have limited income and financial resources. Effective January 2001, the SSI payment for an eligible individual is $530 per month and $796 per month for an eligible couple. If you are married, and only one person is eligible, a portion of your spouse’s income may be counted. In addition, your financial resources (savings and assets you own) cannot exceed $2,000 ($3,000 if married). You can be eligible for SSI even if you have never worked in employment covered under Social Security. No SSI benefits are paid to family members, only to the person with disabilities. Generally, to be eligible for SSI, an individual also must be a resident of the United States and must be a U.S. citizen or a noncitizen lawfully admitted for permanent residence. Also, some noncitizens granted a special status by the Immigration and Naturalization Service may be eligible.

What is the difference between Social Security disability and SSI?

This is confusing to a lot of people because both programs are administered by the Social Security Administration. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a program that workers, employers and the self-employed pay for with their Social Security taxes. You qualify for these benefits based on your work history and the amount of your benefit is based on your earnings. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a program financed through general tax revenues — not through Social Security trust funds. SSI disability benefits are paid to people who have a disability and who don’t own much or have a lot of income.

How does a child qualify for disability benefits?

Children who have severe disabilities may be eligible for monthly benefits under one or more of the programs Social Security administers. The Social Security program pays benefits to disabled or retired workers and their families and to the families of deceased workers. Child’s benefits generally may be paid to a dependent unmarried child under age 18, to a child age 18 or older who became disabled before age 22, and to a full-time elementary or secondary school student under age 19. If the parent is alive, he or she must be entitled to retirement or disability benefits. If deceased, the parent must have worked long enough under Social Security for survivor’s benefits to be paid on the record. A child age 18 or older may be entitled to Social Security benefits based on his or her disability when a parent who has worked long enough under the program is entitled or dies. The criteria used to evaluate the disability are the same as those used to evaluate disability in adults. The child must be unable to do any “substantial” work because of a medical condition that has lasted or is expected either to last at least 12 months or to result in death. (Usually a job that pays $700 or more per month is considered “substantial.”) The child’s disability must have begun before age 22. The SSI program provides monthly income to people who are age 65 or older, or are blind or disabled, and have limited income and financial resources. Children can qualify if they meet the definition of disability and if the household income of the parents and the child are within the allowed limits.

How do workers’ compensation payments affect my disability benefits?

Ordinarily, disability payments from other sources do not affect your Social Security disability benefits. However, if the disability payment is worker’s compensation or another public disability payment, your and your family’s Social Security benefits may be reduced. Your Social Security disability benefit will be reduced so that the combined amount of the Social Security benefit you and your family receive plus your workers’ compensation payment and/or public disability payment does not exceed 80 percent of your average current earnings. (Note that the unreduced benefit amount is counted for income tax purposes.)

I understand that to get Social Security disability benefits, your disability must be expected to last at least a year. Does this mean that you must wait a year after being disabled before you can get benefits?

You do not have to wait a year after the onset of the disability before you can get benefits. You should file as soon as you can after becoming disabled and benefits begin after a five-month waiting period. The waiting period begins with the month Social Security decides your disability began.

Is there a time limit on Social Security disability benefits?

No. You will continue to receive a disability benefit as long as your condition keeps you from working. Your case will be reviewed periodically to see if there has been any improvement in your condition and whether you are still eligible for benefits. If you are still eligible when you reach 65, your disability benefit will be automatically converted to retirement benefits.

How much can I earn and still receive disability benefits?

Social Security evaluates the work activity of people claiming or receiving disability benefits under Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Beginning Jan. 1, 2001, a Social Security Disability beneficiary can earn $740 a month and remain eligible for benefits. The Social Security Administration uses the term “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) to determine if work is substantial enough to make a person ineligible for benefits.

What is a disability trial work period?

The trial work period (TWP) allows disability beneficiaries to test their ability to work for at least nine months. During the TWP, Social Security beneficiaries may earn any amount and receive full Social Security Disability benefits. Effective Jan. 1, 2001, earnings of $530 per month count as a trial work month. After completion of nine trial work months, the substantial gainful activity (SGA) level is used to determine whether earnings are substantial or not. If earnings fall below the SGA level, full benefits generally continue. If earnings are higher than the SGA level, cash benefits are normally suspended while medical benefits continue. Beginning Jan. 1, 2001, a Social Security Disability SGA level is $740 a month, or $1,240for a person who is blind. This amount will be automatically adjusted annually based on increases in the national average wage index.