Social Security Disability Benefits: Determining Eligibility

Social Security Disability Benefits and WorkSocial Security disability benefits can be very beneficial for recipients, but applying can be a long and somewhat difficult process. First, you need to find out if your health problem qualifies you for benefits.

Generally, eligibility depends on if you have a health problem that is expected to prevent you from working in your current line of work (or any other line of work you’ve been in over the past 15 years) for at least a year or that the health problem may be terminal.

There is no such thing as a partial disability benefit. If you are fit enough to work part-time, your application will likely be denied. If you are working, your application will be denied.

Your skill set and age are factors too. Your application may be denied if your work history suggests that you have the skills to perform a less physically demanding job that your disability would not prevent you from doing.

To help determine if your disability may prevent you from working, visit the Social Security Administration website and go through the five questions it uses to determine eligibility.

How to Apply

If you believe you have a claim, your next step is to gather your personal, financial and medical information so you are prepared and organized for the application process.

You can apply online or call 800-772-1213 to make an appointment to apply at your local Social Security office, or to set an appointment for someone to take your claim over the phone.

The whole process lasts about an hour. If you schedule an appointment, a “Disability Starter Kit” will be mailed to you to help you prepare for your interview. If you apply online, you can download the kit.

It takes three to five months from the initial application to receive either an award or denial of benefits. The only exception is if you have a chronic illness that qualifies you for a compassionate allowance, which fast tracks cases within weeks.

If Social Security denies your initial application, you can appeal. Roughly half of all cases that go the appeals process will receive benefits, but there is a large backlog of appeals: approximately 800,000 people are waiting for a hearing so it may take 1-2 years.

Get Help

You can hire a representative to help you with your claim. By law, representatives can charge a maximum of 25% of your past-due benefits (up to $6,000) if they win your case.

It may be worthwhile to hire someone at the start of the application process if your disability is something difficult to prove, such as chronic pain. If your disability is obvious, however, you may not need to work with representative. If it is necessary, you can always hire a representative at a later date.

To find a representative, check with the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (845-682-1881) or National Association of Disability Representatives (800-747-6131). If you’re low-income, contact the Legal Services Corporation for free assistance.

Ticket to Work

If you are already receiving Social Security disability benefits and are interested in returning to work, contact Noble. We are an approved Ticket to Work provider. That means we are here to help you return to work through our Community Employment services.

Times have changed. There are many protections and supports available to you. Let our knowledgeable staff guide you through the process.

excerpted from Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of “Savvy Living”