Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits

One of the major elements of the federal Social Security system is the Social Security disability insurance program provided by the Social Security Administration.  The program aims to protect injured workers who cannot work from essentially becoming destitute.  Moreover, the program is the financial lifeline to nearly 7.2 million disabled Americans and their dependents who are unable to work.  As you may have already noticed, workers and their employers pay into Social Security disability with every paycheck issued, and after time, workers will become eligible for this coverage in the event they themselves become unable to work.

Am I Eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance?

Eligibility for SSDI coverage depends on whether or not you have enough credits to qualify.  The Social Security Administration uses a system of credits to tabulate a workers’ eligibility to benefits.  The criteria for credit accumulation include the amount of money earned and number of hours worked at jobs covered and paying into Social Security.  Your age is also an important factor as well when calculating eligibility for benefits.  As a rule, workers can only accumulate four credits per working year, and to be eligible for SSDI, you must have accumulated twenty (20) credits in the ten (10) years prior to your disability.  There are also exceptions to the twenty (20) credit rule as well, including provisions for:

  • Individuals deemed blind, having vision worse then 20/200 with glasses or limited field of vision by twenty percent, can accumulate their credits from any years worked after 1934
  • Relatively young workers, or those persons unable to realistically accrue ten working years prior to their disability, are given special exemptions for SSDI
  • Disabled widows or widowers, whose spouse had enough credits to qualify, can receive benefits under certain conditions

Is My Disability Covered by Social Security Disability Insurance?

Given the complex level of bureaucracy at the federal level of programs, the rules for SSDI eligibility are complex to say the least, but a good indicator that you are eligible for benefits would contain the following integral elements:

  • You are medically disabled, either physically or mentally
  • Your medical disability prevents you from performing substantial gainful work
  • Your disability will last at least one year, or result in death before the one year period

Proving a medical disability is in itself a daunting task requiring diligence.  Essentially, disabled individuals must obtain and document all medical professionals’ opinions on their disability and prepare this evidence accordingly.  Many times a direct letter from healthcare professionals or hospitals stating you are disabled and that the disability will last more than one year is produced to prevent any conflicts over semantics.

The second point of contention in assessing whether you are eligible for SSDI coverage depends on the term “substantial gainful work”.  With SSDI, occupations earning less than $900 monthly are deemed below the level of substantial and gainful.  However, the SSA will directly consider the unique and personal factors affecting your ability to get a job, including:

  • Extent of your injuries
  • Your age and overall health
  • Your past education, training, and work experience
  • Your documentable evidence assuring that you cannot work

For example, well-paid independent housing contractor with a physical injury unrelated to work may file for SSDI benefits only to find the SSA considers their skills more suited for rather sedentary, albeit lower paying, job in an office.  In addition, it is not part of the SSA policy to consider whether these jobs are actually available in your area, but rather, simply whether you can physically perform the job. 

Regardless of the severity, or the immediate medical trauma and risk, associated with an injury or illness, the SSA mandates that workers must prove their condition will or already has prevented them from working for at least one year.  A kind exception to this rule allows disabled workers expected to die within a year to collect benefits until death, which is probably a small consolation.  Obviously, individuals cannot self-diagnose the expected length of their medical disability, and explicit medical documentation from healthcare professionals is required to determine the expected length of your injury.

Are My Dependents Covered by Your Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits?

If you qualify for SSDI on your own, your spouse and dependent under the age of eighteen are entitled to benefits.  The total benefits limit per family is generally capped at 150% to 180% of the individual monthly SSDI benefits.  If a disabled family member receiving SSDI benefits dies, certain family members may still be eligible to receive dependent’s benefits, including:

  • Disabled widows over the age of fifty
  • Disabled ex-spouse if marriage last ten years and are older than fifty

Next Page: How to File a Claim

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