Social Security

Last Updated on March 3, 2024 by Asfa Rasheed

On average, only 36% of Americans who file for disability get approved. 

While that can be a disheartening number, knowledge is power and knowing if you might qualify for disability benefits before you start your application will let you walk into the process knowing what to expect. 

Keep reading for Social Security facts about applying for disability to learn how to determine if you qualify for benefits. 

What is the Difference Between Social Security and Disability?

The United States Social Security plan provides economic security to older and disabled Americans and their families. 

As you work and pay Social Security taxes, you pay into the Social Security fund. If you are able to work until retirement age, you then qualify for regular Social Security benefits to support you during your retirement.

Paying into these Social Security funds can also be understood as a sort of federal insurance program. You can apply to receive benefits from this program based on disability.

Receiving Social Security benefits based on work qualification and retirement is fairly straightforward.

Applying for disability benefits has a lot more red tape. There are strict requirements to ensure funds are used for people who are unable to work and have no other recourse. 

What Does Disability Mean For Social Security Determination?

Social Security will only pay for total disability.

Do not expect to qualify for disability payments for partial or short-term disability. The Social Security Administration expects these situations to be covered by short-term disability insurance, savings, or workers’ compensation. 

The basic elements that determine your disability eligibility are:

  • You cannot do the type of work you did before due to a medical condition
  • You cannot adjust to other types of work due to a medical condition
  • Your medical condition has lasted (or is expected to last) for at least one year or will result in your death

There are different types of disabilities, but they must meet these basic requirements for Social Security to determine you are eligible for benefits. 

What Does Disability Mean For Social Security Determination?

Work Requirements and Medical Conditions Explained

Your work history and medical condition are the two major categories to understand when applying for disability benefits. Getting a basic understanding of these two factors is important to work through the specifics on your own. 

You Must Have Worked In Jobs Where You Paid Social Security

Social Security benefits are determined based on work credits. You can earn up to four work credits per year based on your total annual income. This amount varies by year; the recent changes for 2021 increased this amount to $1,470 per work credit. 

In general, to qualify for benefits you will need 40 work credits, 20 of which must be from the last 10 years.  There is a sliding scale based on age, the basic concept being that you must have earned half the amount of the required work credits within a certain number of recent years. 

You Must Have a Qualifying Medical Condition

The Social Security department will initially work from a pre-determined list of medical conditions to determine whether you qualify. If your condition is not on this list, they will then begin a process to determine if your illness or injury would be as significant as a medical condition on the list. 

Social Security’s Step-By-Step Process

When determining if you are eligible for disability, Social Security workers will use a predetermined step-by-step process consisting of five questions. Understanding this process is vital to determine if you will qualify. 

You can always reach out to a law firm such as Reasonover Law Firm for help walking you through this process. 

1. Are You Currently Working?

If you answer yes to this question, you will automatically disqualify yourself. While you may feel that you have to work until you can secure the disability income, Social Security will see it as proof that you can still work. 

If you are not working, your application will be sent to the office for Disability Determination Services (DDS), where they will continue to question 2. 

2. Is Your Medical Condition Severe?

Using the qualifications discussed above relating to medical conditions, whoever is working your case will determine if your medical condition will significantly impede your ability to perform work-related activity for a year or more.

3. Is Your Medical Condition Found In the List of Conditions That Qualify?

If your condition is on the list, you will move past this stage quickly. 

If your condition is not on their list, the Social Security personnel working on your case will have to determine if your condition is as severe as a condition on the list. This is where having as much medical documentation, information, and formal letters from your doctors will help your case.  

4. Can You Do Work You Did Previously?

Now that your medical status has been verified, your caseworker will look at your condition and decide if you can do the same kind of work you did before applying. Medical records and history will help them determine this. 

If you cannot do the same kind of work, they will consider the last question. 

5. Can You Do Another Type of Work?

This is a rather subjective question. If your medical condition is not severe enough to prevent you from doing a less strenuous or different type of job, you may not qualify. 

Know Your Social Security Facts When Applying For Disability 

These Social Security facts about applying for disability benefits can be overwhelming. Now that you understand this process, you will hopefully know whether it will be worth it for you to apply. Be sure to have as much paperwork, information, and medical records at your disposal as possible and good luck!

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