Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Disability is a subject you may read about in the newspaper but probably do not think that it is something that might actually happen to you.  However, your chances of becoming disabled before you reach full retirement age are probably greater than you realize.  Studies show that a 20-year-old worker has a 3-in-10 chance of becoming disabled before reaching his or her full retirement age.

While we spend a great deal of time working to succeed in our jobs and careers and  few of us think about ensuring that we have a safety net to fall back on should we become disabled.  This is an area where Social Security provides money and medical benefits to help you.  

To qualify for benefits, usually you must have worked in jobs covered by Social Security.   Then you must have a medical condition that meets Social Security’s definition of disability.   In general, the Social Security Administration pays monthly cash benefits to people who are unable to work for a year or more because of a disability.

Benefits usually continue until you are able to work again on a regular basis.   There are also a number of special rules, called “work incentives,” that provide continued benefits and health care coverage to help you make the transition back to work.

If you are receiving Social Security disability benefits when you reach full retirement age your disability benefits automatically convert to retirement benefits but the amount remains the same.

How Much Work Do You Need?

In addition to meeting the definition of disability, you must have worked long enough–and recently enough–under Social Security to qualify for disability benefits.

Social Security work credits are based on your total yearly wages or self-employment income. You can earn up to four credits each year.

The amount needed for a credit changes from year to year. In 2011, for example, you earn one credit for each $1,120 of wages or self-employment income. When you’ve earned $4,480, you’ve earned your four credits for the year.

The number of work credits you need to qualify for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled. Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years ending with the year you become disabled. However, younger workers may qualify with fewer credits.

IMPORTANT: Remember that, whatever your age is, you must have earned the required number of work credits within a certain period ending with the time you become disabled. If you qualify now but you stop working under Social Security, you may not continue to meet the disability work requirement in the future.

What is a “Disability”?

The definition of disability under Social Security is different than other programs. Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or for short-term disability.

“Disability” under Social Security is based on your inability to work. You may be considered disabled under Social Security rules if:

You cannot do work that you did before;

The SSA decides that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s); and

Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

This is a strict definition of disability. Social Security program rules assume that working families have access to other resources to provide support during periods of short-term disabilities, including workers’ compensation, insurance, savings and investments.

How Does the SSA Decide Whether You are Disabled?

To decide whether you are disabled, the SSA uses a step-by-step process involving five questions. They are:

 1. Are you working?

If you are working in 2011 and your earnings average more than $1,000 a month, you generally cannot be considered disabled.

If you are not working, we go to Step 2.

2. Is your condition “severe”?

Your condition must interfere with basic work-related activities for your claim to be considered. If it does not, the SSA will find that you are not disabled. If your condition does interfere with basic work-related activities, the SSA goes to Step 3.

3. Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions?

For each of the major body systems, the SSA maintains a list of medical conditions that are so severe they automatically mean that you are disabled. If your condition is not on the list, they have to decide if it is of equal severity to a medical condition that is on the list. If it is, you will be found disabled. If it is not, the SSA then goes to Step 4.

4. Can you do the work you did previously?

If your condition is severe but not at the same or equal level of severity as a medical condition on the list, then the SSA must determine if it interferes with your ability to do the work you did previously. If it does not, your claim will be denied. If it does, the claim proceeds to Step 5.

5. Can you do any other type of work?

If you cannot do the work you did in the past, the SSA sees if you are able to adjust to other work. They consider your medical conditions and your age, education, past work experience and any transferable skills you may have. If you cannot adjust to other work, your claim will be approved. If you can adjust to other work, your claim will be denied.

Special Situations

Most people who receive disability benefits are workers who qualify on their own records and meet the work and disability requirements we have just described. However, we want to point out some situations you may not know about:

Disabled Widows or Widowers

If something happens to you, benefits may be payable to your widow or widower with a disability if the following conditions are met:

He or she is between ages 50 and 60.

The widow or widower meets the definition of disability for adults.

The disability started before your death or within seven years after your death.

Note: If your widow or widower caring for your children receives Social Security benefits, he or she is eligible if disability starts before those payments end or within seven years after they end.

The SSA uses the same definition of disability for widows and widowers as it does for workers.

Disabled Children

A child under age 18 may be disabled, but the SSA doesn’t need to consider the child’s disability when deciding if he or she qualifies for benefits as your dependent. The child’s benefits normally stop at age 18 unless he or she is a full-time student in an elementary or high school (benefits can continue until age 19) or is disabled.

For a child with a disability to receive benefits on your record after age 18, the following rules apply:

The disabling impairment must have started before age 22, and;

He or she must meet the definition of disability for adults.

Note: An adult may become eligible for a disabled child’s benefit from Social Security later in life.

For example, a worker starts collecting Social Security retirement benefits at age 62. He has a 38-year old son who has had cerebral palsy since birth. The son will start collecting a disabled “child’s” benefit on his father’s Social Security record.