Last month, we talked about getting Social Security when we retire. What is much more perplexing to most is what to do if you cannot work prior to retirement age. We’ll start that conversation here by making sure we understand the requirements for qualification for Social Security Disability Benefits.
First, it’s important to know that whether you are at the initial review level, or have appealed and are waiting for a hearing, medical evidence will be the most important determining factor in whether you win or lose when it comes to SSDI. In fact, it’s not even close.
The higher powers that run the Social Security Administration will want to see evidence of a disabling injury or illness that will keep you out of the work force for 12 months or more. Medical records from your primary doctor are great and can be helpful. However, to really the best chance of success, a Claimant needs to consult on a regular basis by a specialist in the field of their disability. For instance, if you claim you can’t work because of a lower back problem, the opinion of an orthopedist or orthopedic surgeon will be of much greater value than that of your family doctor. Remember, the Administrative Law Judges who hear your case at the appeals level, and certainly the worker bee who evaluates your case before then, are not medical doctors. They are making medical determinations based on what your doctors are saying without the benefit of a medical degree to sort it all out. Those triers of fact, especially the ALJ’s, will want to see doctors who specialize in your disability opining that your injuries are too debilitating to allow you to work. SSDI benefits are tough to come by.
There is also a myth that you can not work at all in order to collect Social Security Disability Benefits. This is simply not the case. However, there is a monthly cap on what you can make and still qualify. Right now that cap is $1,130.00.
Work history also plays a large part in qualification. Your level of work throughout your life will determine whether you are eligible for Social Security Disability Benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). While we will talk about SSI in more detail next month, for now it is important to know that SSDI (which is a higher monthly payout), depends on having the requisite number of “quarters” of work behind you. Typically, if you have worked significantly for 10 years or more, you will be eligible for SSDI.
If you believe yourself disabled and do not have the work history we talked about, don’t panic yet! We’ll speak next time about Supplemental Security Income, another avenue towards getting the help you need. Until then, I’m available to answer any questions you have about Social Security or Workers Compensation Law. Remember, the government and your employer have weapons that you do not so its more important that ever to have as much information as possible!