When You Can’t Work: How to Tell If You Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits

Are you battling a chronic mental or physical condition that leaves you unable to work? Do you think that you might qualify for social security disability benefits?

There are about 9 million Americans who receive SSDI, and the average payment is $1,200 per month.

Social security disability payments are based on your work history and the amount of money that you’ve earned during your career. 

If you need to know more about social security disability requirements, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll explain the way that a judge will evaluate your claim and help you find a good disability attorney. 

Is SSI the Same as SSDI?

It’s easy to confuse SSI with SSDI, but they’re actually two different programs.

SSI, or Supplemental Security Income, helps people with disabilities who have never — or rarely — worked. It also helps people who are over 65, blind, or Deaf. 

The thing to remember about SSI is that it’s funded by our taxes, not by the Social Security Administration. The monthly payment is about $750, but there are still stringent requirements to get approval. 

SSDI, on the other hand, is funded by the SSA. Social Security Disability Insurance is distributed based on your work history and the date you became disabled. 

In general, if you’ve worked more than 10 years then you should qualify for disability benefits. Check with your lawyer to see how many work credits you have.  

Social Security Disability Requirements

If you have become disabled, it’s important to find a lawyer quickly. Look for a firm that specializes in disability benefits. 

Surprisingly, many law firms don’t require you to pay up front. If you win your disability case, they’ll simply take a percentage of the back pay.

Here’s a list of what you’ll need to prove in court to get your social security disability benefits.

Length of Illness

Every social security disability claim has to include the length of your illness. When did it start? How long is it expected to continue? 

Your lawyer will help you determine your onset date, and the court will request access to your medical files. You don’t have to have the records on hand but you may have to sign a release. 

If you have a mental health condition, your onset date might be the date you first went to an inpatient hospital program.

Physical conditions might be harder to pin down. If you’ve got chronic pain, you may have lived with it for longer than you remember.

People who receive SSDI benefits typically receive back pay of about two years’ worth of benefits. 

Severity of Illness

Another of the key qualifications for disability is the severity of your illness. Are you confined to your home? Are you able to work? 

Again, your lawyer will help you prove that your illness is severe. Your primary care physician or mental health caseworker may be called to submit their professional opinions. 

Capacity to Work

Surprisingly, you’re able to work and get SSDI benefits. If you’re making more than $1,200 per month, however, you probably won’t qualify.

The court is looking to see whether you can carry on “substantial gainful employment,” and it may turn down your application if you make too much money. 

If you do get SSDI benefits, you can earn up to $1,180 per month without affecting your benefits. Anything more than that, however, and you risk having your benefits revoked. 

There are also many work-from-home options that you can tackle, even with a disability. Just make sure that you’re not exceeding that $1,180 per month figure. 

Ability to Find Other Work

Don’t be surprised if you get turned down the first time you apply for SSDI. Although you may have SSDI eligibility, the judge might ask you to try and find other work. 

The great thing about getting a lawyer is that they’ll help you figure out what to say during your hearing. In general, you should let the judge know what you can’t do anymore. 

For example, you may have been able to lift 50 pounds several years ago, Now, however, you can only lift 15 pounds. 

Another change in function would be having to install a wheelchair ramp at home. What kinds of adaptive technology do you have to use? Make sure to tell your judge. 

How Long Does the Application Process Take?

After you contact a lawyer to discuss your social security disability eligibility, you should settle in for the long haul. About two-thirds of all disability cases are denied after the first application. 

If you are denied, you can work with your lawyer to appeal the decision. You may have to apply and re-apply several times in order to get a favorable verdict. 

Ideally, the process will take six to eight months. The reality, however, is that many cases take much longer than that. 

To be fair, judges have to weed out fraudulent claims, which total more than $3 billion each year. There’s no way to go to the front of the line, but keep re-applying for at least two years after you get rejected. 

How to Find a Good Disability Lawyer

If you meet the social security disability requirements and you’re ready to move ahead, it’s time to find a disability lawyer. 

How do you know you’ve found a good one? Look for a record of success and check their rating on the Better Business Bureau. 

Be wary of firms that want money up front and see if you can get a lawyer from the closest large city. If you live within an hour of New York City, for example, you can get an experienced lawyer with the budget to travel. 

If you reach out to a law firm that can’t accept your case, ask them to refer you to one of their colleagues. You’re looking for a firm that will prioritize your case and help you put together a case to present the judge. 

Do you need to know more about how to stay healthy while you’re pursuing your claim? Check out our blog for articles on wellness, lifestyle, and travel!

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