Social Security Disability (SSD) is a government program that provides benefits to people who used to work for a living, but can no longer work because of a medical condition. SSD is part of the federal Social Security Act, the same law that provides Social Security benefits for retirees.
In the United States, SSD is part of Social Security benefits and, as such, is available to nearly all workers. However, you still need to prove that you meet two main requirements:
- You must have a medical condition that prevents you from working.
- You must have a long enough history of working and paying Social Security taxes.
How do I know if my medical condition will qualify for SSD benefits?
Many kinds of medical conditions can qualify you for SSD benefits, but the key factor is that your condition must be serious enough that you cannot work. Ultimately, it is the Social Security Administration (SSA) that decides whether a condition counts. And there are a few conditions that the SSA always considers this severe, including end-stage kidney disease and some types of cancer. For those types of conditions, all you need is a doctor’s diagnosis to be eligible for benefits.
Most people, however, have a condition that might or might not be serious enough to qualify you for benefits. The SSA calls these “disabling conditions.” If you have a disabling condition, you will have to prove that your case is severe enough to count as a disability. This means having evidence of three main things:
- Your condition is either terminal or expected to last for at least a year
- You can’t go back to your old job because your condition prevents you from doing it
- You are also not able to do any other type of work. For example, if a leg injury prevents you from going back to your job as an emergency room nurse, but you could still work a desk job in hospital administration, you would probably not qualify for SSD.
How much work history do I need to qualify for SSD?
Social Security programs are funded through the taxes that all workers pay, usually through deductions from your paycheck. To get benefits, you must have paid into the system over the past 10 years. The SSA measures your work history in “work credits,” and the basic rules are simple:
- Work credits are based on your income, and you can earn up to four per year
- To get SSD benefits, you must have earned at least 40 work credits total
- At least 20 of those credits must have been earned within the last 10 years
That may sound like a lot, but you may have enough work credits even if you have had employment gaps or have worked part time.
If you do not have enough work history, you may still qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a similar program that offers benefits based on financial need.
What do I need to do to get SSD benefits?
You must apply for benefits through the SSA. As part of your application, you will be asked to provide documentation about your medical condition. This may include such things as a doctor’s diagnosis, a statement from your doctor about your prospects for returning to work with your condition, or an evaluation by an occupational specialist. The SSA will evaluate your application, and you should be prepared for the reality that many applications are denied the first time around.
If you are not initially approved for benefits, you can appeal. Your denial letter will help you understand why your application was not approved, and an appeal gives you an opportunity to address those issues and present a stronger case. You may have a lawyer represent you in preparing and presenting your appeal.
If necessary, you can appeal your case more than once, and your appeal will ultimately be heard by a judge. The full process can take months, and you do not get benefits during that time. This is why it’s so important to present the strongest application possible, as soon as possible. A Social Security Disability lawyer can help you put together an application or appeal that shows the SSA the evidence they need to approve your application and get you benefits sooner.
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