Since 1956, the Social Security program has provided cash benefits to people with disabilities. Specifically, Social Security pays benefits to people who have a medical condition which prevents them from seeking gainful employment. In fact, every year almost 10 million people receive social security disability benefits. However, federal law mandates a very strict definition of a disability, and therefore, the process can become complicated in determining whether you are eligible.
To be eligible for Social Security Disability Benefits, a person must:
Meeting the Insured Requirement
To be eligible for Social Security Disability Benefits, you must meet two different earnings tests: (1) the recent work test—which looks at whether you have worked recently enough to qualify; and (2) the duration of work test—which looks at whether you have worked long enough or earned enough work credits under Social Security to qualify. Meeting these two tests means that a person must have worked long enough, and recently enough, in a job paying Social Security taxes.
For the recent work test, Social Security bases eligibility on the calendar quarter in which you have or will turn a certain age. For reference, the calendar quarters are broken up as follows: First Quarter: January 1-March 31; Second Quarter: April 1-June 30; Third Quarter: July 1-September 30; Fourth Quarter: October 1-December 31. The recent work test is concerned with how recently a person has worked within a certain time period before applying for disability benefits. Generally,
The duration test on the other hand is primarily concerned with how long you have worked in your life prior to applying for Social Security Disability Benefits. You must have a minimum of six quarters of coverage to meet the duration requirement. This minimum requirement of six quarters of work also applies to individuals who are 22 years old or younger.
Another way to think about the duration work test is in terms of work credits. Social Security work credits are based on an individual’s total yearly wages. Each person can earn up to four credits per year. The amount of work needed for one work credit increases slightly each year based on average earnings. (For example, in 2020, you receive one credit for each $1,410 of earnings you make, up to the maximum of four credits per year).
The number of work credits you will need to qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits will depend on your age at the time you became disabled. For quick reference, below is a general estimate of the amount of time you must have worked or the number of work credits you must have accrued to meet the duration test based on your age at the time you became disabled:
If you become disabled before you turn 24 years old, you will typically need 1 ½ years of work, or 6 work credits, acquired within the past three years before you became disabled. If you are age 24 through 30, you typically need to have worked, or obtained work credits, for half of the time between age 21 and the time you became disabled. If you are self-employed, you earn Social Security credits the same way regular employees do. Likewise, if you are in the military, you earn Social Security credits the same way civilian employees do, however, you may also be eligible for additional earnings under certain circumstances. For other work that does not fall under the above categories, such as farm work, work for a church or church-run organization, or domestic work, special rules apply about earning credits.
Full Retirement Age
To be eligible for Social Security Disability Benefits, you must be younger than full retirement age. For many years, the full retirement age, also known as “normal retirement age,” was 65 years old. However, as people began living longer and staying healthier in their older age, Congress passed a law to raise the full retirement age. This law includes individuals born in 1938 or later. Essentially, this law gradually increases the retirement age by a few months for every birth year, until it reached 67 for people born in 1960 or later. Therefore, based on the year you were born, your full retirement age is:
If you are still receiving Social Security Disability Benefits when you reach your full retirement age, your disability benefits will automatically become retirement benefits. However, the amount of your benefits will stay the same.
Definition of Disability
Under Social Security, the definition of a disability is oftentimes different than what other disability programs use, as well as what people generally believe a disability to be. Social Security only pays benefits for individuals who are totally disabled, and thus, it does not pay benefits to individuals who may be partially disabled or who have a short-term disability. The Social Security Act defines “disability” as an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” Additionally, individuals who are 55 years or older and who are blind may also be considered disabled for purposes of Social Security Disability Benefits. A medically determined physical or mental impairment is considered an impairment that results from a bodily, biological, or psychological abnormality that be established by medical evidence. This medical condition must significantly limit your ability to do basic work activities—such as lifting objects, standing or sitting, walking, or remembering things. The medical condition must also interfere with your ability to do these basic work-related activities for at least 12 months. If it does not, it will be considered a short-term disability and will not qualify.
Under the Social Security Act’s definition of disabled, to be eligible, a person must also not be capable of engaging in substantial gainful activity. The Social Security program uses a dollar amount to determine whether an individual is engaging in substantial gainful activity, and that dollar amount is adjusted annually based on the national average wage index. In 2020, if your earnings averaged more than $1,260 a month, you will not be considered disabled for Social Security purposes.
The Social Security program maintains a list of medical conditions that are considered to be so severe that it prevents a person from doing any gainful activity. This list includes impairments considered to be permanent or likely to result in death. If you have an impairment that is included on this list, evidence of such impairment is generally sufficient to establish that you are disabled. If you do not have an impairment that is listed, your application will be evaluated under additional steps in order to determine whether you are considered disabled.
To determine whether you are disabled for purposes of Social Security Disability Benefits, your application will be sent to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) office in your state, which will review your application with these 5 questions in mind:
Filing an Application for Social Security Disability Benefits
You can apply for Social Security Disability Benefits either online, over the phone, or by making an appointment to file a disability claim at your local Social Security office in person. Most importantly, do not forget that you have the right to be represented by an attorney through this process. Call us today at (480) 634-7480 and find out how our team can help you.
You can apply for Social Security Disability Benefits in three different ways. First, you can go to the Social Security website at www.socialsecurity.gov, to file an application online. The second way you can file an application is by calling 1-800-772-1213 to set up an appointment for someone to take your claim over the telephone. Finally, the third way you can apply for Social Security Disability Benefits is by making an appointment to file the claim in person at your local Social Security office.
When you make an appointment, either by phone or in person, a social security representative will interview you and complete your application for disability benefits for you. The interview itself lasts approximately one hour. Prior to your disability claims interview, you will receive a Disability Starter Kit to help you prepare and gather the information you need. Each Disability Starter Kit contains (1) a fact sheet about what you should know before applying, (2) a checklist of documents and information that will be requested, and (3) a worksheet that will have you fill in information that you will be asked during your disability interview. The Disability Starter Kit will vary depending on if you are an adult or child. You can access both Disability Starter Kits on the social security website.
When you should apply
The application process of your Social Security Disability Benefits claim can be quite involved. There is a lot of documentation and information you will need to obtain prior to even starting your application. Once your application is submitted, it may take three to five months, or even longer, to process the application. Therefore, you should apply for disability benefits as soon as you become disabled.
By gathering all the required information and documentation prior to starting your application, or prior to your disability claims interview, you can greatly speed up the process. Also, you can further expedite the process by submitting your application online.
Information you will need to apply
By accessing the Disability Starter Kit on the Social Security website, you can obtain a checklist of information and documents that you will need prior to filing your application. The following are some of the documents or information you will need to submit with your application or bring to your disability claims interview:
Along with your application, you will also need to submit, or bring with you to your interview, a Medical and Job Worksheet. You can access this worksheet on the Social Security website. This worksheet is divided in sections, from part A to G. In section A, you are required to list all physical or mental impairments, including emotional or learning problems, that limit your ability to work. In Section B, you are asked to provide the date which you stopped working. Section C asks questions regarding your weight and height. In Section D, you are asked to list your medical providers, including their names, addresses, phone numbers, and the dates in which you first saw them and last saw them. Section E inquires about any medication you are taking, the name of such medication, why you are taking it, and who it is prescribed by. Section F deals with medical testing. Specifically, it asks that you list any medical tests that you have had done or are planning to have in the future, the name of that test, the provider who ordered it, and the dates when you had or will have the test completed. Finally, Section G asks questions pertaining to your employment history. It asks that you list the last five jobs you have had in the 15 years prior to the time you were disabled. It also requires you to list your job title, type of business, the dates you were employed, the hours and days you worked, and your pay rate.
What happens after your application is submitted
Once your application is submitted, along with all the other documentation required, it will be reviewed to determine whether you have met the basic requirements—that you have completed the application correctly, that you have worked enough years to qualify for benefits, and that you are not currently working or exceeding the monthly income limit.
Once the application is evaluated for these basic requirements, it will be forwarded to the Disability Determination Services office in your state. There, the medical evidence provided by your doctors, hospitals, and other places of treatment will be considered. Specifically, the disability specialists that work for this agency will question your medical providers regarding:
The disability specialists reviewing your claim will also ask your doctors for information about your ability to work and preform work-related duties. These duties include basic things such as walking or sitting, lifting, carrying, and remembering instructions. While your doctors will provide this information to the agency to review, your doctors will not be the ones that decide whether you are disabled.
It is not uncommon for the agency to require more medical information before making a decision as to whether you are considered disabled for Social Security purposes. Sometimes this means that the agency will seek additional medical records. Other times, however, if the needed information cannot be provided through additional medical records, the agency may require you to have a special examination, either by your doctor or by an independent medical evaluator.
A five-step process is used to determine whether you are disabled as defined by the Social Security Act. This process first looks at whether you are currently working, and if so, whether you earn too much money per month. If you are not working, or your income does not exceed the limit, your application moves on to the next step. The second step attempts to determine whether your medical condition is considered “severe.” For your application to succeed, your disability must substantially limit your ability to perform basic work activities for a period of at least 12 months. If your medical condition or impairment is not considered severe, you will not be considered disabled for Social Security purposes. Step three evaluates whether your medical condition is one that has been predetermined to be considered a qualifying disability. In doing so, the agency will review a list of impairments which medical experts have deemed severe enough to prevent a person from doing any gainful activity. If your medical condition is not one that is listed, the agency will decide whether it is medically equal to a condition listed. If your condition is listed, or it is determined to be medically equal to a condition listed, then you will be deemed to have a qualifying disability. However, if it is not listed and determined to not be medically equal to a condition listed, your application will move on to the final two steps. You can access this list of impairments on the Social Security website.
The final two steps look at your work history and your prospects for future employment. During step four, the agency will decide whether your medical condition prevents you from preforming any of your past work. In doing so, the agency will review your job history, your job duties, the hours you were required to work, and any physical or mental requirement needed to preform those job tasks. If your disability does not prevent you from doing any past work you have previously done, then your application for Social Security Disability Benefits will be denied. If it is determined that your medical condition does prevent your from doing any of your past jobs, your application will move on to the final step. In step five, the agency will decide whether there is any other type of work you are able to do despite your medical condition. In making this decision, the agency will consider your age, education, past work experience, and any skills you may possess. The agency will also consider your mental or physical condition and whether it would limit you in performing other job tasks. If it is determined that you can do other work despite your medical condition, your application will be denied. However, if it is decided that you cannot do other work, the agency will deem you disabled.
Notification of Application Decision
After your application is reviewed and a decision is made, notification of that decision will be mailed to you. If your application is accepted, the letter will layout the amount of benefits you have been approved for and when your payments will begin. If your application is denied, the letter will give you an explanation as to why the application was not accepted. The letter will also explain that you have the right to appeal the denial of your application and the process to do that.
The application process is extensive and can be very involved. Missing or inaccurate information could lead to the denial of your application. Keep in mind that you have the right to an attorney throughout this process. Call us today at (480) 634-7480 and find out how our team can help you.
The short answer to this question is that the amount of time you must work to qualify for Social Security Disability depends on your age at the time you become disabled. Your eligibility for disability benefits will be determined by the Social Security Administration based on how long you have worked in your life and also how recently you have worked.
There are two forms of disability benefits. The first is Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI benefits are based on your financial need. The second is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which is based on the length of your employment and paid into through taxes on your income. The Social Security Administration determines whether you are eligible for SSDI based on how many work credits you have.
What are Work Credits?
Each year that you earn wages and pay taxes into the Social Security system, you receive work credits. Social Security work credits are based on an individual’s total yearly wages. Each year the amount of work needed for one work credit increases slightly to reflect the national average earnings. For example, in 2016, you had to earn $1,260 in wages to obtain one work credit. In 2020, you receive one work credit per $1,410 of earnings. Therefore, when you have earned $5,640 in wages, you have earned four work credits for the year.
The maximum number of credits you can obtain in one year is four. The older you are when you become disabled, the more work credits you will need to have full disability benefits. For quick reference, below is a general estimate of the amount of time you must have worked or the number of work credits you must have accrued to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits based on your age at the time you become disabled:
The number of work credits you have earned in your life does not affect the amount of disability benefits you will receive. The Social Security Administration only uses the number of work credits you have obtained to determine whether you are eligible for disability benefits. Hence, you do not get extra benefits for earning more than the minimum number of credits. Rather, the amount of your monthly payment of disability benefits will be determined using the average earnings you received over your working years.
Not only must you have earned at least 20 work credits to qualify for disability benefits, but you must also have earned these work credits within a certain amount of time prior to your disability. The typical rule of thumb is that you must earn at least 20 work credits within the past 15 years to be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. Therefore, if you worked when you were younger, but took a significant amount of time off to raise a family or go to school, then you would no longer be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.
Special Rules for Blind or Low Vision Individuals
If you are blind or have low vision abilities, the Social Security Administration takes into consideration the severe impact this may have on your ability to work. Therefore, there are a number of special rules that apply to individuals who meet the legal definition of blindness. To be considered legally blind under Social Security rules, your vision cannot be corrected to better than 20/200 in your better eye, or if your visual field is 20 degrees or less, even while wearing corrective lenses. This means that many people who meet this definition of blindness may still have some sight and may be able to get around without the assistance of a cane or guide dog.
Taking into consideration the impact your blindness or low vision may have on your ability to be gainfully employed, the Social Security Administration has imposed special rules for determining eligibility for disability benefits. For example, the monthly earnings limit for an individual meeting the legal definition of blindness is $2,110, which is higher than the limit that applies to non-blind disabled workers. Additionally, the Social Security Administration offers what is called a “disability freeze” for blind workers. You can use this rule if you are blind, but not yet receiving Social Security Disability benefits because you are still working. If your earnings are lower because of blindness, the Social Security Administration will exclude those years when calculating your disability benefits in the future. Because the amount you receive in disability benefits is based on your average lifetime earnings, your benefit will be higher if those years are not counted.
If you do not meet the legal definition of blindness under Social Security rules, you may still be able to qualify for disability benefits. The Social Security Administration will take into consideration whether your vision problems alone or combined with other health problems you may have, prevents you or seriously impacts your ability to work.
Work Credits for Individuals 30 and Younger
Younger workers who become disabled may be eligible for benefits despite not having obtained 20 work credits yet. While you will need to have still worked and paid into the Social Security system, you can qualify for disability benefits with fewer work credits. That is because it is unreasonable to expect that at age 30 you have earned 20 work credits within the past 15 years. Therefore, different rules apply to calculate whether a person under the age of 30 qualifies for disability benefits.
If you are 24 years old, you may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits if you have earned 6 work credits within the 3 years prior to your disability. If you are between ages 24 and 30, you must have worked for half the time between the age of 21 and the beginning of your disability. For example, if you become disabled at age 27, you need 12 work credits to qualify for disability benefits. Therefore, you must have earned 4 work credits for the past three years to meet the required number of work credits.
Proving Your Work History
To qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, you will need to show that you have worked at a job paying into Social Security taxes for a long enough duration of your life. Proving your work history in this respect is relatively simple. The Social Security Administration will have a record of your earnings and the taxes you have paid into the Social Security system. You can view these earnings by creating an account on the Social Security Administration website. Additionally, on each paycheck that you receive, the amount withheld for Social Security taxes is viewable.
What if You Are Self-Employed or Work A Non-Traditional Job?
Individuals who are self-employed or do freelance work are generally eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. That is because most of these individuals pay self-employment taxes to the Social Security Administration as part of estimated taxes or with their tax return. If you pay taxes to the Social Security Administration, then your eligibility will be evaluated the same as those individuals who pay Social Security taxes through their paycheck—namely, whether you have worked long enough and recently enough to qualify. There are some individuals who are self-employed that may not pay into Social Security tax. For example, some business owners, like owners of S corporations, do not pay self-employment tax. Therefore, these individuals would not meet the requirements for Social Security Disability benefits.
There are other professions that have different rules for qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits. If you are in the military, for example, you can earn work credits in the same way civilian employees do. However, individuals in the military may also be eligible for additional earnings under certain circumstances. Likewise, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits if you work for a church or a church-run organization, do domestic work, or work on a farm. However, special rules apply to these types of jobs for earning work credits.
What if you have not worked long enough?
If you have determined that you have not worked long enough to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, you may still be able to apply for SSI, or Supplemental Security Income. SSI benefits are for people with a severe financial need. Rather than take into consideration how many years you have worked and how many work credits you have accrued, the Social Security Administration will primarily look at your assets and your income to determine whether you are within the income limits for SSI.
Many millions of Americans suffer from mental disorders every day. For some, their mental disorder impairs their ability to work on a regular and consistent basis. Social Security Disability benefits can help those individuals that cannot work due to their mental disorder.
Social Security uses a Blue Book to determine which conditions and mental disorders qualify a person for Social Security Disability benefits. The Blue Book identifies nine categories of mental illness:
To qualify for Social Security Disability benefits under a mental disorder, you must show that you are receiving consistent medical treatment. In addition, you must show that you are complying with the medical treatment outlined by your medical professional.
In addition to the nine categories identified in the Blue Book, there are other mental conditions that qualify under a mental disorder evaluation. Other mental conditions that will be considered for Social Security Disability benefits are the following conditions: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); Asperger’s Syndrome; bipolar disorder; chronic insomnia; depression; eating disorders; intellectual disability; memory loss; obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD); panic attacks; postpartum disorder; post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); and social anxiety.
Understanding the specific requirements to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits with a mental condition is important, as each category of mental illness has different requirements to qualify for disability benefits. Regardless of your mental condition, you must have medical documentation showing that the mental disorder affects your ability to function, despite undergoing treatment for the mental disorder. Failure to produce medical documentation of your medical condition will result in a denial of Social Security Disability benefits.
If you are denied by Social Security for a mental condition, but have medical documentation evidencing a mental condition that significantly impacts your ability to function, it is important to find an attorney that specializes in Social Security Disability.
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