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Social Security Disability

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What is Social Security Disability?

Social Security Disability is a U.S. government program that provides financial assistance to individuals who are unable to work due to a long-term disability. There are two different programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSDI is for people who have a strong work history and paid into the Social Security System for at least 5 out of the last 10 years, while SSI is meant for disabled people who do not have a consistent work history.

Types of Social Security Benefits

Many people think of retirement benefits when they think of Social Security (SS) benefits. But the Social Security Administration (SSA) actually offers four types of benefits to those who have paid into the Social Security trust fund over a number of years, or to their family members.


Retirement Benefits

Retirement benefits are what typically come to mind when most people think of Social Security. Such benefits are available for people 62 or older who have worked at least 10 years. Your benefit amount will vary based on your pre-retirement salary as well as the age at which you begin collecting benefits. While it is not meant to be your only source of income, it can help you avoid debt during your retirement years. Additionally, your spouse or divorced spouse may be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits even if he or she has not paid into the program.

Disability Insurance Benefits

The Social Security Disability Insurance program serves individuals up to age 65 who have a medical condition that meets the SSA’s definition of a disability. To qualify, a person must have paid Social Security taxes on their income and have earned a sufficient number of credits. The number of required credits can differ depending on a person’s age when they become disabled. Certain family members of qualifying individuals may also be eligible for SSDI payments.


Survivors Benefits

Survivors benefits are meant to support spouses, children and parents who depended on deceased workers who paid into Social Security. Eligible individuals may receive monthly survivors benefits following the death of the worker who supported them.

Widows and widowers 60 years of age or older are an example of an eligible population. The age threshold drops to 50 years for disabled widows and widowers. There’s no age threshold for widows and widowers caring for the deceased’s child, if the child is under age 16 or disabled. Surviving divorced spouses may also be eligible, and the worker’s children up to age 19 if they’re attending school. Parents of the worker who received at least one-half of their support from the deceased and are aged 62 or older may also qualify.

Supplemental Security Income

The Supplemental Security Income program is funded by general tax revenue rather than Social Security taxes. The program makes payments to disabled or blind people whose resources and income fall under certain financial limits. SSI also supports seniors 65 years of age and older who aren’t disabled but meet the program’s financial guidelines.


How to Find Out If You Qualify For Social Security Disability Benefits

It can be disorienting to find yourself suddenly disabled and unable to earn an income due to an injury or illness. Some Americans become unable to maintain employment due to long-term hearing loss, others suffer from disabling injuries after an accident or even a build up of physical damage over time due to the requirements of their career.

Long-term illness, like autoimmune disorders or other so-called “invisible disabilities”, can gradually remove a person’s physical ability to maintain employment.

In these situations, individuals may find themselves wondering if their particular disability even qualifies for Social Security Disability benefits.

The Difference Between Disability and SSI Benefits

While many people think of Social Security Disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) as basically the same thing, the two are actually very different programs designed to meet separate needs.

Social Security Disability

  • An earned benefit program that focuses on physical or mental impairments that are severe enough to prevent employment
  • The qualifying impairment must be expected to last 12 months or longer
  • Financed using payroll taxes paid by workers, employers, and self-employed people
  • Minors under 18 with qualifying disabilities may receive SSD
  • Disability benefits can be paid out after the qualifying person’s death to their widow or widower or minor children

Supplemental Security Income

  • Pays benefits to low-income individuals who are disabled or blind or who are 65 years of age or older
  • Because SSI is means-tested, individuals who receive it are allowed a very low maximum earned income and combined assets
  • Financed by general revenues collected by the U.S. Treasury Department
  • SSI is available to minors under 18 who are disabled or blind
  • Unlike SSD, SSI benefits are not tied to an individual’s work record

How Do You File for Social Security Disability?

There are a few ways to begin the application process:

Apply online at the Social Security Administration website.

Call the Social Security Administration toll-free at (800) 772-1213 (For the deaf or hard of hearing, call (800) 325-0778.

Call your local Social Security Administration office and discuss applying over the phone, or schedule an appointment for an in-person visit.


Regardless of which method you use to begin the disability benefits application process, you’ll need to have some essential documentation on-hand. Having all of this information together will make it more likely that you’ll be approved and will help you to build your appeal in case of denial.

Gather together the documentation you need before applying for disability benefits, including:

  • Social Security number and proof of age
  • The names, addresses, and phone numbers of doctors, caseworkers, hospitals, and clinics you have received treatment or care from due to your injury or illness, and the dates of your visits (we suggest keeping copies of all receipts you receive when checking out after doctor visits, as well as medical bills)
  • Names and dosages of all medications you are taking
  • Medical records from doctors, therapists, hospitals, clinics, and caseworkers that you already have in your possession
  • Laboratory or test results
  • A summary of your employment prior to the onset of your disability, including the name and contact information of the company and the kind of work you performed
  • Your most recent W-2 form (if self-employed, provide a copy of your federal tax return)
  • Social Security numbers and proof of age for any other family members who may qualify for benefits
  • Proof of marriage if your spouse is also applying for benefits (plus dates of prior marriages, if applicable)

Provide Original Documents or Certified Copies

All the documents you provide should be original documents or copies certified by the office that issued them. The Social Security Administration should make photocopies for their own use and return your original documentation. If this does not happen, request to have the original documentation returned to you.


Notify the Administration of Any Missing Documents

If you are missing any of this documentation, let the Social Security Administration know during the application process. It may also be beneficial to speak with a legal representative, who can help you to ensure that the documents are gathered and that your individual rights will be represented during the process.


How long will it take for my Social Security application to be processed?

Annoyingly, there is no hard or fast rule. Some applicants can be approved in as little as 30 days. Others can wait in excess of a year before they receive a final decision.

One caveat: applicants who have severe medical conditions – think certain cancers and brain disorders – that clearly and obviously meet disability standards, and therefore require minimal, official medical records, are eligible for expedited review.

What can I do if my claim was denied?

If your claim was denied and you believe you qualify for SSD benefits, don’t worry. You can file an appeal. There are several levels of determination for Social Security Disability benefits. You have 60 days to appeal a denial to reach the next level of determination. If you fail to appeal a denial, you may reapply for Social Security disability or Supplemental Security Income. Please keep in mind that ‘appealing’ and ‘reapplying’ are not the same thing. Reapplying will mean that you have to start the process over again.


What's the process for filing an appeal?

If your initial application was denied, and you believe you qualify, you have 60 days to file an appeal to reach the next level of determination. First, you can hire a lawyer and have him or her schedule a hearing. Your lawyer should meet with you before the hearing to discuss what will happen and go over questions that are normally asked at the hearing. The hearing will be conducted by an Administrative Law Judge and will follow a five-step consultation. The judge will not issue a decision on the day of the hearing; a “Notice of Decision” will be issued to you and your attorney at the same time, which can take anywhere from two to six months.

Second, you can move on to an Appeals Council. The average processing time for the Appeals Council is 18 to 24 months. The council can review your claim and render a decision, choose not to review the claim, or remand your claim back to the Administrative Law Judge for reconsideration.

Finally, you can appeal to the Federal Court if all else fails. You can file a civil suit in a Federal District Court and appeal ultimately to the United States Supreme Court.

How long do I have to file an appeal?

Time is critical if your claim was denied. You only have 60 days to appeal. Otherwise you have to start the process all over again.

If your benefits were terminated, you have the right to file an appeal within 60 days. But, you only have 10 days to appeal in order to continue receiving your checks while the appeal is pending. If you appeal but are unsuccessful, and you continued receiving checks while the case was pending, you will have to pay back the money you received while the case was pending.


Do You Have to Pay Taxes on Social Security Disability Benefits?

Individuals applying for Social Security Disability benefits may wait two years or even longer for a final decision. Even after approval, a serious backlog of cases in nearly every local Social Security Administration office means it’s not uncommon for recipients to only receive their first payments months or even years after approval.

SSDI benefits include back pay for most or sometimes all of the time spent waiting on approval, appealing, or waiting on the first payments.

Individuals who persist through the process will receive a single lump sum covering that amount, which could be substantial.

We’ve all heard about someone who received a ‘lump sum’ payment in other circumstances, only to be dismayed to discover that single large sum of money threw off their expected Annual Income for the year and resulted in a higher rate of taxation.

Can Children Receive Social Security Disability Benefits?

While most people think of Social Security in terms of older adults who are retiring from active workforce participation, there is another, essential duty that Social Security performs — providing benefits for children undergoing serious disabilities or who have lost a parent or had a parent become disabled through illness or injury.

These benefits are explicitly designed to help the child and their family cope with the immense financial and emotional stress that could result after a parent’s death or disability or the diagnosis of disability in an infant or child.

Social Security Disability benefits for children are structured to provide for their needs through high school and until the age of maturity. Unmarried adult children who are dependents may still qualify beyond the date of maturity as well, depending on certain circumstances.

Unfortunately, families sometimes struggle to gain access to disability benefits for children, and it can be a great help to have a legal representative by your side, advocating on behalf of you and your child while allowing you to focus on what matters most — your child’s health and well-being during a trying time.

How Can a Lawyer Help with Social Security Disability?

Did you know that individuals who work with a legal representative with experience in Social Security Disability claims are more likely to have their claim approved? Research has shown that an applicant represented by legal counsel is more likely to receive final approval than one who isn’t. Most of this comes down to individuals applying for disability benefits receiving the benefit of the attorney’s experience working with the Social Security Administration and their dedicated advocacy through the process.

A Social Security Disability attorney will be able to help their client understand how to present their situation in the most favorable manner to the SSA and Social Security judge during their hearing.

We generally say that the best time to request a Social Security Disability consultation with a legal representative is as early as possible. You may find it helpful to receive advice on your initial application and more information on what steps you can take while waiting on the SSA’s decision.

If your initial application is denied, your attorney may be able to collect and submit important medical evidence, obtain an opinion from medical professionals you are receiving care related to your disability from, draft detailed briefs for the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who will oversee your appeal, and prepare you for the judge’s questions at the hearing.

With a Social Security Disability attorney by your side, you’ll be able to put together the strongest possible case for your qualifying disability.


What are your chances of winning a Social Security appeal?

The success rate for reconsideration was 15.7% of applications in 2019 and 61.7% for a hearing, according to research from the SSA.

The data for the SSA Appeals Council shows the number of cases remanded for hearings. This means the case was sent back for another administrative law judge hearing. In 2020, the Appeals Council processed 191,734 cases, and 14.59% were remanded. This does not necessarily mean there was a favorable outcome.

Data is not available for federal court reviews of denials. There are likely few cases because of the high costs of litigation.


Social Security Disability Lawyer

Social Security Disability Claim Denied? We Can Help! You can speak to a Social Security representative for help with Social Security benefits cover. If you are disabled, Call Today!