SSDI is part of the federal government’s Social Security program. It is available to almost all workers in the United States. However, to qualify for benefits, you must be able to prove two things:
- You are unable to work because of a medical condition, and will remain unable to work long-term.
- You have sufficient history of working and paying into the Social Security system.
Will my medical condition qualify me for SSDI benefits?
SSDI benefits aren’t limited to any one type of medical condition. The key requirement is that your condition must be so severe that you cannot work. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will decide whether your condition meets this standard. A few types of conditions will always qualify for benefits, as long as you have been diagnosed by a doctor. Examples include end-stage kidney disease and certain types of cancer.
Most people’s conditions fall into a gray area. Sometimes these conditions are so serious that you can’t work, but not always. For example, most heart patients can continue with their normal lives, but some are unable to work or exert themselves in any way. At the SSA, these are known as “disabling conditions.” If you have a disabling condition, you will need to provide much more information to get approved for benefits. There are three main things you will have to show:
- Your condition is either terminal or it will go on for at least a year.
- Because of your condition, you can’t return to your old job.
- You also can’t do another type of work. For example, if you can no longer do construction work but could have a desk job instead, you probably would not be able to get SSDI benefits.
What kind of work history will I need to qualify for SSDI?
SSDI is paid for through Social Security taxes. Everyone who works for a living in the U.S. pays these taxes, usually as a deduction from your paycheck. If you haven’t paid Social Security taxes, you can’t get SSDI benefits. Your eligibility is determined by the number of “work credits” you have earned from paying into the system.
- The number of work credits you earn can vary depending on your income, but you can earn up to four each year
- You need at least 40 total lifetime work credits to qualify for SSDI
- You must have earned at least 20 of your credits over the past 10 years
The totals are what matter. That means you may be able to get benefits even if you worked part-time or had periods of unemployment.
If your work history does not allow you to qualify for SSDI, you may still be able to apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a similar program that pays benefits based on your income.
How do I apply for SSDI benefits?
You apply through the SSA. You’ll need to provide information and documents about your medical condition, such as your doctor’s diagnosis, a statement from your doctor about your ability to continue working, or an occupational specialist’s evaluation. It’s extremely common for the SSA to deny applications the first time around.
You do, however, have a right to appeal. Your denial letter will give you information about the reasons your application was turned down, and the appeal gives you a chance to put together a stronger case with better documentation. A lawyer can help you prepare and present your appeal.
If your appeal is unsuccessful, there are more opportunities to appeal, but you will be without benefits while you wait for the process to play out—typically for months. To avoid this, you must present the best case you can, as early in the process as possible. A Social Security Disability Insurance lawyer can help you assemble an application or appeal that will give the SSA the proof it needs.
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