How Do I Know If I Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits?

It’s probably safe to say that no one wants to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. However, if you’re in a position where you might need them, it’s certainly better to have them than not. However, the law places several restrictions on who can access SSDI benefits, and not everyone who may want them can qualify for them.

To access SSDI benefits, you need to meet three basic requirements: first, you must have a physical, psychological or psychiatric impairment severe enough that you cannot do work; second, you must have worked a sufficient amount of time and earned enough money over a certain period of time to satisfy the “work credit” requirement; and third, you must not currently be making more than a certain amount of money due to work. Alternately, if you are of sufficiently low income and don’t qualify for SSDI benefits, you may instead qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.

First, after you submit your application, your non-medical requirements are assessed by a claims representative, who evaluates whether your current income and prior work history allow you to qualify for either SSDI or SSI benefits. To qualify for SSDI benefits, you must have earned a certain number of “work credits” by paying a certain amount into Social Security through your work. You earn a work credit by making, and paying Social Security taxes on, $1,360 per fiscal quarter, to a maximum of four credits by making $5,440 per year. You must also have consistently worked a certain amount of time- either five of the last ten years if you are 31 or over, or half the time between your current age and whenever you turned 21.

If you do not meet one or more of those requirements, you can instead get SSI benefits if you make less than $771 a month as an individual, or less than $1,157 as a couple. However, what qualifies as “income” for the purposes of making an SSI determination is not straightforward, as there are certain kinds of income which are included and some which are not. You can read more about how your income is calculated for the purposes of determining your eligibility for SSI benefits here.

If you meet the previous requirements for SSDI or SSI benefits, the claims representative will then make the determination as to whether you are currently doing a “substantial amount of work,” which currently is $1,220 per month for non-blind disabled SSDI or SSI applicants, and $2,040 for blind SSDI applicants. If you are making that amount or more, the presumption is that you are not sufficiently disabled to need disability insurance.

If you have met the work and income requirements for SSD or SSI benefits, you are then referred to Disability Determination Services (DDS), a state agency that evaluates medical claims on behalf of the Social Security Administration. There, you will be evaluated by a DDS agent, in concert with a medical expert, to see if your condition meets the criteria for you to qualify as disabled. They look at the severity of your condition, as well as whether your symptoms match an accepted medical condition, and then determine whether you can perform your previous job, or any other job, based on your age, experience, education and work history. If they determine that your disability is severe enough, and that it is unlikely you will be able to return to your old job or find gainful employment in a different, less strenuous job, you will be approved for SSDI or SSI benefits.

If you believe you qualify for SSDI or SSI benefits but are struggling to access them, or have had any problems in the application process, please contact the attorneys of Sullivan and Kehoe, LLP. With over 50 years of combined experience between its lawyers, our attorneys may be able to assist you or a loved one in obtaining disability benefits. Call our office at (800) 395 – 7830 to schedule a consultation in our New York City, Garden City, Kings Park, Riverhead or White Plains office.

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