Unlike many privately-held insurance companies, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has a stringent definition of disability. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) awards are not given to individuals who are temporarily disabled or expected to make a recovery.
The SSA assumes that families have access to other resources to assist with support during short-term illnesses, such as savings, worker’s compensation, insurance, and investments. If you have a condition or an injury that is expected to improve, such as a hip replacement, you will not qualify for benefits unless you have unusual complications that render you totally disabled.
Instead, those applying for Social Security disability must have a condition that is 100 percent disabling. Social Security disability benefits are reserved for people considered to be “totally and permanently disabled.” The following criteria must be met to be considered disabled:
- You must have a severe impairment that has lasted, or is expected to continue, for at least one year.
- Your condition must be severe enough that it prevents you from engaging in substantial and gainful activity (SGA). In other words, you must be unable to earn more than $1,220 per month due to your condition.
- You must be unable to adjust to other work due to your current health status.
Do I Need a Work History to Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits?
In addition to meeting the above definition for disability, you must have worked in the recent past, and for a certain amount of time, in order to be eligible for benefits. When you have worked and paid Social Security taxes, the SSA awards you work credits. These credits are based on your financial earnings.
The number of work credits required to earn a disability approval depends on your age when you become disabled. As a general rule, you need 40 credits, and half of those must have been earned in the last ten years. There are some exceptions for younger workers.
The amount of earnings needed for a credit varies from year to year. In 2019, working individuals will earn one credit for each $1,360 in wages, with a maximum of four credits earned per year.
Am I Allowed to Work While I am Receiving Social Security Disability Payments?
If you are applying for or receiving disability benefits from the SSA, you can continue to earn up to $1,220 per month (and $2,040 if you are blind). However, if you can earn more than this amount, the SSA will assume that you have the ability to support yourself despite your disability.
If you receive SSDI benefits due to a disability and your condition has improved to the point that you wish to return to work, the SSA will allow a trial work period. For nine months, you will be permitted to earn more than the SGA amount. In the 10th month of making more than $1,220, you will no longer be considered disabled.
How Soon Should I Apply for Disability Benefits?
Time is of the essence when applying for Social Security Disability Benefits. As soon as you have been diagnosed with a condition that is expected to last for a minimum of one year or is expected to end in death, you should begin the application process.
On average, the Social Security disability application process can take up to a year, or longer, to complete. Even if you are approved quickly, there is a five-month waiting period before benefits can begin. The SSA will pay your first benefit during the sixth full month after the day that you are deemed disabled.
Should I Work with A Disability Attorney During the Application Process?
From wait times to earned credits, there are so many rules that surround the SSDI application process. An experienced Social Security attorney can help you navigate the intricate process. Disability lawyers can be excellent resources in helping you understand all that goes into Social Security law.