5 Things to Ask Yourself Before Applying for Disability Benefits

If you are newly disabled, you may be wondering if you qualify for financial assistance from the Social Security Administration (SSA). The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program was developed to assist those who have become permanently disabled.

Each year millions of Americans apply for disability benefits, and only a portion of those applicants are approved. If you are considering applying for benefits from the SSA, you may want to spend some time contemplating the following five questions.

1. Is My Condition Disabling Enough?

The answer to this question may be difficult to answer. While an individual who has sustained a spinal cord injury or a terminal cancer diagnosis may be obviously disabled, what about someone who suffers from an “invisible illness” such as chronic pain or severe anxiety?

The SSA maintains an impairment listing manual called the Blue Book. Included in this book are both mental and physical impairments that will automatically qualify a person for SSDI benefits, provided the applicant meets the specified criteria for a listing.

However, not all health conditions that cause a disability are listed in the SSA’s Blue Book. If your specific condition is not listed, or if you have multiple health difficulties, you may match a listing in the Blue Book by meeting the criteria for a different listing.

To be approved for SSDI benefits, you must have a condition that is so severe that it prevents you from performing your daily living activities, including work. Your will need to provide substantial evidence in the form of medical records to support your claim.

5 Things to Ask Yourself Before Applying for Disability Benefits

2. Is my condition severe enough to keep me out of work for 12 months?

The SSDI program is a total disability program, meaning that financial awards are only issued to individuals who are considered 100% disabled.

Disability applicants must be able to provide evidence that their condition is so severe as to prevent them from returning to their job for at least one year. While you might feel as though you are disabled, if you are able to return to work in less than a year, the SSA will deny your claim. For example, if you have had a hip or a knee replacement, unless you suffer from unusual complications, it is highly unlikely that you will qualify for an SSDI award.

3. Am I able to continue working in any capacity?

One of the most important questions that you should ask yourself is whether or not you are able to work at your current job or if you are able to adjust to a less strenuous type of work.

If you do not meet a Blue Book listing, the SSA might consider a medical-vocational allowance on your behalf. First, the SSA will determine your residual functional capacity (RFC), or how well you are capable of functioning despite your condition. Using your RFC, the SSA will decide whether or not you can do the work you once did or if you are able to enter a new line of work. Proactively asking yourself if you are able to work to any capacity will help you determine if applying for SSDI is right for you.

4. Does my work history qualify for SSDI?

To be eligible for SSDI benefits, you must have earned “insured” status from the SSA. The SSDI program is an insurance program available to individuals who have worked and paid FICA taxes into the system.

In order to be approved for SSDI benefits, you must have contributed a certain amount of money into the system, which is dependent on your age and number of years you have worked. Further, you must have worked a certain amount of that time in the recent past. The SSA will determine your “work credits,” or the unit of measurements used to determine if you qualify for disability benefits. If you have not contributed enough taxes into the system, you will not be eligible for SSDI benefits.

5. Do I need assistance with filing my claim?

While answering the above questions will provide you with a good start, the Social Security Disability claims process is complicated. You may have additional questions that are not addressed here. If so, you may want to consider obtaining legal assistance.

An experienced Social Security attorney or disability advocate can be an invaluable ally in the SSDI process. If you feel that you have a strong case, or even if you are uncertain, contacting a lawyer might help you to determine the next steps in your disability case.

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