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Do I Have to be Disabled for a Year to Apply?

Understanding the ins and outs of Social Security Disability benefits can be challenging, but applying for benefits may be the answer to financial woes when a serious medical condition prevents or reduces income from employment.

With monthly disability payments, you and your family can get by even without the paycheck of one of your household’s primary wage earners.

Basic Eligibility Requirements

One of the first steps the Social Security Administration (SSA) takes when reviewing any claim is to determine if an impairment or disability satisfies “severity level” requirements for eligibility. Many medical conditions can stop you from working for an extended period, but unless the impairment you have is expected to last 12 months or longer, you won’t be able to receive disability.

This is because the SSA’s disability programs are intended to provide financial support to individuals for whom disability is long-term. With a severe, long-term disability, or one that usually prevents employment for a year or longer, the SSA may find you eligible immediately. It’s also important to keep in mind that many severe medical conditions can put you off work for several months but also typically improve before a year has passed.

If I'm disabled for one year, will I qualify for benefits?

With conditions like these, approval for disability isn’t guaranteed. Often, the SSA takes a “wait and see” approach, and only grants benefits if the medical condition doesn’t improve as expected or doesn’t follow the “typical” path of improvement.

Continuing Eligibility Reviews

When the SSA does grant benefits, they periodically review for “continued eligibility.” This means they will look at your medical records and other documentation on a regular schedule to see if you still meet eligibility rules. The schedule of these periodic reviews differs, dependent upon the type of disability you have and the severity level of your medical condition.

Impairments that are permanently disabling and will forever prevent employment may only be briefly looked at once every seven to 10 years or longer. Some types of disabilities however may be expected to take a year or longer to improve, but will eventually get better or more manageable. If you have a disability that may eventually improve and allow you to reenter the workforce, then the SSA may look at your continued eligibility on a more frequent schedule, like every 18 months or three years.

When to Apply and Getting Help with Your Claim

Although a medical condition must be expected to last a year or longer for you to qualify, you don’t have to wait a year to file a disability claim. In fact, you should file as soon as you and your doctor suspect your disability will be long-term.

The disability review process can take months, sometimes more than a year before the SSA makes a determination on eligibility. The sooner you submit your application, the sooner you’ll have an answer from the SSA.

It can be difficult to know if you will qualify for disability. Your doctor can help you understand the medical criteria and a Social Security advocate or attorney can assist with filing and in fighting for benefits, if you are initially denied.