Should I apply for Social Security disability?
You may be entitled to Social Security disability benefits if you have an illness or injury that is expected to disable you from working for at least a year or will result in death. You do not have to wait a year to apply. If you have an illness or injury that prevents you from working, you should consider applying for Social Security disability benefits.
How do I apply for Social Security disability?
You no longer have to go to the Social Security office to apply for benefits. You can apply online by going to www.ssa.gov/disabilityssi/ or by calling Social Security at 1-800-772-1213. If for any reason you prefer to apply in person at your local Social Security office, you can still do so, but it is advisable to call to make an appointment ahead of time in order to avoid extra-long wait times. If you are in Savannah, the number to the local Social Security office is 1-866-366-4923.
Am I eligible?
Just as with Social Security retirement benefits, you must have paid in enough in Social Security taxes while you were working to be “insured” for Social Security disability (“SSDI”). The rules on insured status can get complicated. But, as a rule of thumb, if you worked (and paid Social Security taxes) for a total of at least five years out of the past ten years, you are probably eligible. The Social Security Administration can tell you whether you meet the “insured status” requirement once you apply. Bear in mind you may also be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), a related but separate disability program, regardless of whether or not you have ever paid Social Security taxes. SSI does not require “insured status.” On the other hand, SSI is means tested, that is to say, you must have very little in way of savings, or other assets, as well as minimal outside income in order to be eligible for SSI.
If you are working, you are not eligible for SSDI. By “working,” the Social Security Administration does not mean sporadic or occasional work done for very little income. If you are just doing occasional, sporadic, or low-paid part-time work, you may well still qualify, if you are limited to earning that very small amount of money because of injury or illness. Under these circumstances you would probably not be considered to be “working” under Social Security Rules. But, if you are employed full-time, or are self-employed and do the equivalent of full-time work, you will not be eligible.
How do I show I am disabled?
The Social Security Administration will make its decision ultimately based on the medical records and reports from doctors in your file. These records must show that your injury or illness so interferes with your ability to do basic activities, that you are unable to do any of the jobs that you used to do or any other jobs that, in theory, exist in the nation that you would otherwise be qualified to do. Some illnesses or injuries are so serious that you may be found qualified for benefits regardless of your work history or capacity to do other work. The criteria governing these serious conditions are found in the Social Security Regulations under what is usually referred to as the “Listing.” But, in most cases, the issue will be whether your medical (physical or psychological) limitations prevent you from working or not. For that reason, it is essential that you have been regularly treating with a physician whose records will document your disability and support your claim.
Does it matter how old I am?
If you have a disability, illness, or injury, you can qualify for Social Security Disability benefits at any age. The Social Security Administration recognizes that, as one grows older, it is increasingly difficult to adapt to work that you had not previously done. For that reason, it is more difficult to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits under age 50. When you reach 50, and then again at 55, the requirements become significantly less stringent, because the rules recognize that if you had not done a physically less demanding job, as you get older, it is less likely that you would be able to adapt to such work. But, regardless of your age, if you are not able to do any work at all, you should not be discouraged from pursuing a Social Security Disability claim.
What do I do if the Social Security Administration denies my claim?
If you are denied, but believe your claim is legitimate, you should immediately request reconsideration. The Rules allow you sixty (60) days in which to file for reconsideration, but you should do so immediately. Do not make the mistake of letting the time lapse. Also, do not make the mistake of simply filing a new claim instead of asking for “reconsideration.” The Social Security Appeals process involves several steps, and in order to be successful, it is necessary to go onto the next step after denial, rather than simply repeating the previous step. Filing a new application simply brings you back to square one. If your claim is denied, you should definitely consider retaining an attorney to represent you. Statistics show that the percentage of cases in which an attorney is involved, have a much higher percentage of success than claims in which there is no attorney representation.