If you’ve suffered a permanent injury or have a chronic health condition, one question that constantly looms over your head is how you’re going to support yourself. Maintaining steady employment can be incredibly difficult when pain and health problems prevent you from keeping a consistently reliable schedule, engaging in physical labor, or even just sitting at a desk for prolonged periods of time. Social security disability benefits are intended for people who find themselves in this kind of predicament. You pay into the system when you’re working, and you’re entitled to receive the benefits if you become too disabled to hold down a job. When you meet the qualifications, applying for social security disability benefits doesn’t have to be the insurmountable challenge some portray it as. It’s just a matter of knowing if you qualify and following the necessary steps, so if you need to make use of social security disability benefits, don’t let any bureaucratic roadblocks intimidate you—if you know what you’re doing, you can secure the benefits that are intended to be there to help you and free yourself to focus on other things that are important to you.
First of all, it’s important to understand what exactly your social security benefits are. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is funded by contributions to the social security trust fund you pay via payroll taxes. As is the case with social security retirement benefits, the amount you receive each month depends on how much your earnings were when you were working. If you’ve received SSDI for more than two years, you can qualify for Medicare benefits as well. SSDI isn’t means-tested like Supplemental Security Income is—that’s a completely different program intended for low-income people. It’s important to note, however, that if you are working when you apply, if you’re making over a certain amount of income each month (the maximum amount changes every year), then you’ll be considered to be able to work, and your claim won’t be approved.
How do you know if you qualify? Per the Social Security Administration, you have to be “unable to work because of a medical condition that is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death.” There are certain medical conditions that may automatically qualify you, but for others, you might need to establish your case with medical records or statements from your physicians. Before you start handing over the information to corroborate your claim, you’ll need to begin the application process. This isn’t hard; you can apply online, over the phone, or at a social security office near you.
When you apply, you’ll need to provide the SSA with your personal information, detailed documentation concerning your medical history and the reason you’re filing your claim, and information about your work history. You might have to provide letters from doctors, medical records, test results, tax forms, pay stubs, your birth certificate, and other documents, so try to be prepared ahead of time with everything you think you might be asked to show them. After you apply, you’ll have to wait for the SSA to get back to you with their decision, but you can always check on the status of your claim online.
Many social security disability applications are rejected, but there is an appeals process you can go through if you believe your application has been wrongly denied. Your first level of appeal, requesting that they re-review your original application, happens at the social security office level, but a different medical examiner will review your claim. Appealing a denial beyond this level may require you to appear before an administrative law judge or in Federal court, so you might want to consider the advantages of getting legal representation if you find yourself in this situation. There are many attorneys that specialize in social security disability claims. The best way to avoid ending up at this point is to make sure you have a legitimate, qualifying condition before you apply and provide the SSA with comprehensive documentation to back up your claim. Even so, people make mistakes and legitimate claims can end up getting denied, so don’t be afraid to lawyer up and fight for your benefits if you have to.
The process of applying for social security disability benefits is not, in itself, hugely difficult, but navigating the requirements and getting ready with all of the various forms of documentation and proof you’ll need to secure approval for your claim can be daunting. But you can do it! Knowledge and preparedness will be your best allies in this challenge, so make sure you’ve got them in your corner and don’t let any medical impairments keep you from having financial security for yourself and your family.
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