The ABC’s of SSDI

Q: How do I qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) benefits?

The fast answer: You apply for them. The more thorough and thoughtful answer: You consider consulting a Social Security Disability Law attorney for expert advice and help with the process which, contrary to the headline, is not literally as easy as A-B-C.

Although you can apply for SSDI benefits on your own, the application process is rigorous, time-consuming, and the rejection rate is high. According to the Social Security Administration (“SSA”), only 33% or about 1/3 of all SSDI applicants are approved. If the process was easy, there wouldn’t be attorneys who devote their entire practice to helping disabled people obtain these benefits, right off the bat or upon appeal.

SSDI attorneys can also help you with appealing an SSDI application denial.

SSDI is the federal government benefits program available to adult workers who worked and paid into the Social Security system through their payroll taxes prior to becoming disabled. In addition to satisfying the work credits criteria (in terms of number of years and hours worked), the applicant must be under the age of 65 and be suffering from a physical or mental condition that prohibits them from working and that meets the legal definition of “disabled”.

While the SSA– not your doctor–determines whether you will receive SSDI disability benefits, you will need your doctor to support your application that you are disabled if you want the SSA to approve it. There are back up documents that you will have to obtain and submit in support of your application which are outlined in the guidebook found on the SSA website.

If you are approved for SSDI benefits, you shouldn’t expect them to equal or even replace most of your income. The benefits are based on your working income—which means that the amount you receive will differ from someone else’s SSDI benefits– but SSDI benefits are only intended to cover basic living expenses. The most recent available average monthly disability benefit figure from Social Security Administration is $1165.  As that is an average, your award may be higher or lower than that figure.

SSDI is only awarded for expected long-term or terminal disabilities, not short-term disabilities. It is also not necessarily a permanent award. Applicants may be subject to periodic reviews of eligibility, depending on their particular cases, at intervals ranging anywhere from an initial review at 6 to 18 months, to reviews every 3 years, or every 7 years.

If your SSDI application is approved, which can take several months, your “disability effective date” will be determined and your first check will generally be received six months after that date.

A common question many applicants or recipients ask is whether they are ever able to return to work after qualifying for and receiving SSDI disability benefits. The Social Security Administration has procedures in place that enable disabled workers to attempt to return to work during a trial period without jeopardizing their SSDI benefits. There are specific rules regarding an attempted return to work and a return should not be undertaken without the prior advice of an SSDI attorney or SSA official.

Understandably, the physical or mental condition causing you to consider applying for SSDI benefits is stressful enough without the financial burden that comes with it.

If you or a loved one is applying for SSDI benefits, or if your application was denied and you need assistance with an appeal, the Social Security Disability experts at the Law firm of Peňa & Bromberg can help.  From our offices in Fresno, we serve clients throughout Central Valley, California including San Francisco Bay, Oakland, Bakersfield, Madera, Stockton, Sacramento, and Modesto. Call 559-439-9700for a free disability evaluation.

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