The Social Security Administration provides assistance to people with disabilities under two different programs. Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (SSDI) may be paid to you and certain members of your family if you are “insured.” To be insured, you must have worked for a certain period of time (generally five of the past ten years) and paid Social Security taxes. If you do not qualify for Disability Insurance benefits, you may qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) which is paid based on financial need.
For example, you cannot collect SSI benefits if your assets (not including a single home and automobile) exceed $2,000.00 if you are single and $3,000.00 if you are married. Unlike other disability programs, Social Security does not pay benefits for partial disability or short term disability. Social Security pays benefits only for total disability. Disability is based on your inability to work.
Social Security will pay benefits only if it determines that you have a physical or mental impairment (or combination of impairments) that prevents you from doing not only the work you did before, but also that you cannot adjust to new work because of your medical conditions. In addition, to be eligible for benefits, your disability must have lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or result in death.
You can work and still qualify for disability benefits, but you must not make more than the limit set by the Social Security. The current limit in 2011 is $1,000.00 per month. If you can work and earn more than $1,000.00, then you are not “disabled.” The Social Security Administration defines disability as not being able to achieve substantial gainful employment.
Children may qualify for SSI payments if the child has a physical or mental impairment (or combination of impairments) that causes marked and severe functional limitations and has lasted or can be expected to last for at least one year or result in death. You can apply for Social Security disability benefits on the Internet, over the telephone or in person by visiting your local Social Security Office. If your application for disability benefits is denied (Social Security denies approximately two-thirds of initial applications) you can appeal the decision.
The first step in the appeals process is a Request for Reconsideration. You must request reconsideration of the denial of your initial application within 60 days from your denial letter. If your Request for Reconsideration is denied you may then request a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge. This request must be made within 60 days. If you are denied by the Administrative Law Judge you may appeal to the Appeals Counsel and then to the Federal District Court. If your initial application is turned down, it is very important that you appeal this decision rather than simply reapply.
You may be represented by a lawyer during your application and appeals process. The Social Security will work with your lawyer, just as it would work with you. Your lawyer cannot charge or collect a fee from you without getting written approval from the Social Security.
The Social Security has been working to decrease its backlog of cases; however, you should expect it to take three to six months to receive a decision on an initial application, another three to six months for the reconsideration and twelve months or longer for a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge.