Applying for Social Security disability benefits can be a bit confusing. We realize how important it is to have as much information as possible before filing an Application for Social Security Disability, and we’re here to answer your questions.
How to Apply for Social Security Disability – Frequently Asked Questions
- Who can apply for Social Security disability?
- Where can I apply for Social Security disability?
- Can I apply for Social Security disability online?
- What’s the difference between Social Security disability, SSI and retirement?
- What are the requirements for Social Security disability eligibility?
- What are the medical conditions to qualify for Social Security disability?
- Can I apply for Social Security disability after retirement?
- Can I apply for Social Security disability benefits while still working?
- Is there a Social Security disability earnings limit? Can I work part-time?
- What will my disability payments be?
- How many times can I apply for Social Security disability?
Social Security disability benefits are available to those who can’t work due to a medical disability. We’ll provide you with the information you need to start your application, so the process of applying for your benefits is not confusing or stressful for you and your family.
Who can apply for social security disability?
People who have worked and paid into Social Security for certain length of time are considered “insured” and eligible for Social Security disability. You may apply for Social Security disability if you have a medical condition that either prohibits you from returning to any “past relevant work,” which is defined as work performed in the 15 years before you had to stop working, or if your medical disability is considered terminal.
Widows and widowers can apply for Social Security disability based on their deceased spouse’s earnings record. Widows and widowers still have to meet the medical requirement that their medical impairments prevent them from either returning to their past work or if their medical condition is deemed terminable.
You can also apply for Social Security disability for children of workers who are either receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits, or who died but worked long enough to be insured for Social Security benefits. For these payments, a disabling medical condition must have begun before the child reaches age 22. There are special Listings of Impairments for Children, and when a child reaches age 18, an evaluation of medical impairments is done using adult disability requirements, which includes whether the “adult child” can perform any work after assessing limitations imposed by a medical impairment.
Where can I apply for Social Security disability?
There are three ways to apply for Social Security disability. First, you can begin your application over the phone by calling the Social Security administration at 800-772-1213 (or 800-325-0778 for TTY). Second, when you call SSA’s toll-free number, you can make an appointment at your local Social Security office. Third, you can go online to the Social Security website and file at www.SSA.Gov.
Before you begin your application, you should gather information about your medical conditions and why they prevent you from working. Include all of your doctors’ contact information, their addresses, the treatment you’ve received, your past work dates and your job duties.
Can I apply for Social Security disability online?
Yes, you can file for Social Security disability insurance online at the Social Security website. Just go to www.SSA.Gov to begin the disability application process. Along with the Social Security application, you’ll find Social Security disability forms you’ll need to complete to describe your medical condition and how it prevents you from working, give a list of your doctors and any hospitalizations, and the duties you performed in your past jobs.
What’s the difference between Social Security disability, SSI and retirement?
It seems that we all know someone who was on Social Security disability or SSI, or is drawing Social Security retirement benefits — but there are significant differences between these programs.
Let’s start at the beginning. Most employment requires payment of Social Security taxes, half by the employer and the other half by the worker. These are listed on W-2’s and pay slips as either OASDI (Old-Age, Survivor, Disability Insurance) or FICA (Social Security and Medicare). When workers pay into Social Security, they earn “quarters of coverage” with their taxes. Social Security is similar to many private company pension plans that require working a certain number of years to be “vested” in the company’s retirement program. To be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits, a worker must earn one covered quarter for each year after reaching age 21 (and before the year they turn age 62), or the year before they died, or the year before they became disabled. Putting it into simple terms, you have to earn 40 quarters of coverage (or 10 years of earnings) to be fully insured. Any calendar year that you were considered disabled by SSA isn’t counted towards your 40 quarters.
To be “fully insured” for disability purposes, 20 quarters of coverage must be earned in the 10 years prior to the disability onset date, AND one covered quarter must have been earned for each year between age 22 and the year before the disability onset date. Young workers don’t have time to earn 40 quarters of coverage before they have to stop working due to a disability, and there are special rules that apply to those under age 31.
A Social Security Statement can help you figure out how many covered quarters you have earned over your work life and if you are fully insured. You can get a Social Security Statement by registering for at www.SSA.Gov/myaccount or calling Social Security at 1-800-772-1213. This is also a good time to check that all of your earnings are posted correctly.
Now, what about SSI? Supplemental Security Income Benefits, or SSI, is a “needs based” program, primarily for low-waged individuals, or those who haven’t worked and who meet the requirements for disability under the Social Security Act. Children, for example, may be eligible for SSI based on a disability. They haven’t had an opportunity to work yet and, based on their disability and limited financial resources of their family, they may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income. SSI is also available for aged and blind individuals. There are strict financial disclosures and limitations that apply to SSI.
What are the requirements for Social Security disability eligibility?
Social Security regulations require several steps before an individual’s medical condition can be found disabling.
First, the individual must be “fully insured,” meaning you’ve worked enough to be fully vested in Social Security disability insurance. Once fully-insured status has been established, the focus turns towards evaluation of the disability. If an individual is working, a determination must be made regarding whether the work is “substantial gainful employment.” If yes, then the individual cannot be disabled. If no, medical records are reviewed to determine the medical impairments and whether they are “severe.”
A “severe” impairment” is a medical condition that limits a person’s ability to perform basic work-related physical and/or mental activities. For instance, standing and sitting, lifting and carrying, climbing stairs or ladders, concentrating for long periods of time, getting along with coworkers, or working with the public.
If the medical impairments are “severe,” the process moves ahead, and the Social Security administration considers the “Listings of Impairments.” The medical conditions contained in this list of impairments are presumptively disabling. Simply put, if your medical records show that you have an impairment on this list—not just the impairment name, but all the signs and symptoms that go along with it—then you should be found disabled. Not everyone who is eligible for SSDI benefits has a Listing-level impairment, however.
If your impairment is not included in the official Listings, the administration has the burden to show there is work you can perform that exists in the area where you live. To do this, the disability examiner looks over your medical records and your written statements describing your past work, and makes a “Residual Functional Capacity.” An RFC means the work-related abilities you still possess despite the limitations imposed by your medical conditions. Then, a determination will be made about whether you can return to your past work or other types of work. If no work is available that you’re qualified for when considering your work-related limitations, then you’ll be found disabled.
What are the medical conditions to qualify for Social Security disability?
Specific medical conditions that qualify for Social Security Disability without consideration of your past work or work-related limitations, can be found in the “Listings of Impairments,” in Appendix 1 to Subpart P, Part 404. The Listings have separate medical conditions for Adults and Children, and include the following:
- Low Birth Weight and Failure to Thrive (children only)
- Musculoskeletal Systems
- Special Senses and Speech (Vision & Hearing)
- Respiratory Disorders
- Cardiovascular System
- Digestive System
- Genitourinary System
- Hematological Disorders
- Skin Disorders
- Endocrine Disorders
- Congenital Disorders
- Neurological Disorders
- Mental Disorders
- Immune System Disorders
These are serious impairments, often with disfiguring, painful, and life-threatening symptoms that go along with them.
Can I apply for Social Security disability after retirement?
If you applied for Social Security retirement benefits at age 62, or are receiving widow or widower’s benefits at age 60 then yes, you can apply for Social Security disability. If you’re found to be disabled before you reached age 62 (or when you began receiving retirement benefits), then your disability benefit payment would rise to the full disability benefit amount. Also, you wouldn’t be penalized for retiring early and, when you reached your full retirement age, you would receive your entire retirement benefit amount. On the flip-side, however, if the administration finds that your disability began after you reached age 62 (or began receiving retirement benefits) or that you were not disabled, your benefit amount would stay the same.
Another plus is Medicare coverage, which usually doesn’t begin until age 65. Disabled individuals eligible for Social Security disability insurance become eligible for Medicare after 24 months of receiving SSDI payments. In most states, those eligible for Supplemental Security Income based on a disability are eligible for Medicaid with no waiting period — visit www.ssa.gov/disabilityresearch/wi/medicaid.htm to review your state’s requirements.
Can I apply for Social Security disability benefits while still working?
Yes and no. In the Social Security disability determination process, the very first consideration is whether you are performing “substantial gainful activity.” This is a “yes” or “no” question that must be answered. According to Social Security guidelines, “substantial gainful activity” is work that “involves significant physical or mental activities” and is generally performed for pay, even if you’re not getting paid to do the work. So, if you’re continuing to do “real” work and earning wages, chances are good that your disability claim will not be approved.
But if you’re working in a sheltered workshop or you have special accommodations for your disability that aren’t made for all employees, or your employer allows you to do less work for the same pay as other employees, then your work may not be “substantial gainful activity” and your application could be approved.
Is there a Social Security disability earnings limit? Can I work part-time?
For 2018, Social Security monthly earnings are limited to $1,180. Over that amount is considered “substantial.” However, the Social Security Administration wants you to return to work if and when you can, so they have programs that allow you to test your ability to work as well as obtain job retraining and rehabilitation assistance while still receiving benefit payments.
You can have a “Trial Work Period,” which is a 9-month period (not consecutive months) and work without considering your wages. SSA considers any month you earn over $850 to be a trial work month (or work more than 80 hours if you’re self-employed).
Then, there’s the “Extended Period of Eligibility,” a 36-month program that allows you to work and still receive SSDI benefit payments for any month you earn less than $1,180.
If you try to work and have to stop because of your disability, you can ask for an “Expedited Reinstatement” for five years after you returned to work.
Our concern with these programs is that, while they appear helpful on the surface, at any time during these periods, SSA can elect to perform a medical evaluation and find that you are capable of performing substantial gainful work activity and that your disability is not interfering with your ability to work.
What will my disability payments be?
The Social Security website contains a variety of benefit calculators that can provide you with accurate estimations of your payments.Your monthly payment is based on your average earnings over your entire work history. Your Social Security statement contains an estimated monthly disability benefit amount if your application for SSDI is approved. Call SSA at 1-800-772-1213 between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., and an SSA service representative can arrange to send you a copy of your Social Security statement. You can also set up an online account at MySSA.Gov and view your Social Security statement.
How many times can I apply for Social Security disability?
There is no limit to the number of times you can apply for Social Security disability. However, if you have a medical impairment that prevents you from working and your claim for disability benefits is denied, call our experts at Acadia Law Group. We can help you file an appeal of the denial.
Depending on where you live, the appeal is either a Request for Reconsideration or a Request for Hearing before an administrative law judge. Our team of experts specialize in Social Security disability. We are familiar with the rules and regulations of the Social Security administration, and we know what the judges look for when they review your file to make a finding of disability. Your Acadia Law Group attorney will file pre-hearing briefs, request and submit medical records, and accompany you to your scheduled hearing.
Contact Acadia Law Group
Social Security disability benefits are meant to help you and your family when you can’t work because of a disabling medical condition. Filing an application for Social Security disability insurance can be confusing and stressful when added to the problems caused by your medical problems. Here at Acadia Law Group, our expert staff members can answer any questions you might have when filing an application for SSDI benefits or appealing an unfavorable decision. We look forward to hearing from you.