Social Security Disability Benefits

How to Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits

If you are unable to work full-time and earn an adequate income because of a medical condition or an injury, you might be eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits to help you cover the costs of your medical care and to take care of your living expenses. In order to be considered eligible for disability benefits, you must meet the criteria set forth by the Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA uses a
medical guide, which is called the Blue Book, to determine if all the proper criteria are met to qualify as being medically disabled.

The Blue Book has different sections for different body systems, such as Musculoskeletal disorders, respiratory disorders, hematological disorders, and so forth. You must then must meet the criteria that are listed for your specific condition in the Blue Book or for a symptom resulting from your condition.

As an example, if you have an autoimmune disease but don't meet the criteria under immune system disorders in Section 14.00, but your condition causes anemia and vitamin deficiencies that enable you to meet the requirements under Hematological Disorders in Section 7.00, you can still be approved for   monthly Social Security disability benefits.

The Kinds of Disability Benefits

The SSA administers two kids of disability benefits. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is for workers who have become unable to work after having an established work history. To qualify for SSDI, you must have earned sufficient credits and have paid sufficient taxes. In general, this means that you must have worked full-time for about five years out of the last 10 years.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a needs-based disability program for those who are disabled. To qualify, you must meet specified financial guidelines, which means you cannot earn more than $733 for an individual per month or $1,100 per couple. Children can qualify for SSI, but the family's income is given consideration. Not all income counts toward the SSI income limits.

What is Classified as Substantial Gainful Activity?

If you are approved for SSDI benefits, you can work part-time as long as you don't exceed the established amounts that are considered substantial gainful activity (SGA). SGA does not apply to SSI benefits because the amounts exceed the financial requirements to be eligible to receive SSI.

SGA is described as a level of work activity. Work is considered to be substantial if you do a significant amount of physical or mental activities or a combination of the two. If you are able to perform substantial work duties, you are not disabled per the SSA guidelines. Often, SGA is calculated based on dollar amounts.

For 2018, the SGA is $1,970 per month for blind individuals. This means a blind person who qualifies for disability benefits can still earn up to $1,970 per month from a part time job and not lose Social Security disability benefits. If you are disabled but not blind, the SGA amount is lower.

The 2018 SGA monthly income limits cap at $1,180 for disabled individuals who are not blind. If the earnings from a part-time job exceed the corresponding SGA that is allowed, you will no longer be allowed to receive disability benefits. SGA amounts can change on an annual basis to coincide with the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) adjustment. COLA also sometimes results in a raise to disability checks depending
upon the situation and the inflation rate at the time.

Applying for Social Security Disability

If you are ready to start the Social Security disability application process, you can apply online at the SSA’s website or you can call 1-877-772-1213. You can also arrange an appointment at your nearest SSA office to meet with an employee face-to-face to get the application process started.

It usually takes five months on average to be approved for benefits. You can be denied twice, but you can appeal those denials. The last step would be a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) who will rule on your case and determine if you are disabled per the SSA guidelines.

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