According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 61 million adults in the United States have a disability. For many of these people, their disability is of a nature or extent that prevents them from maintaining gainful employment.
If you develop an illness or injury that impacts your ability to work and is expected to last at least a year or end in death, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. What’s not always clear to most people is when they can apply for them and even then if I apply for disability can I still work? This resource explains when you should apply for SSDI benefits, the steps you need to take, and how a disability attorney at Bross & Frankel, PA can help you file your claim as well as appeal any denial.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Explained
The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program pays monthly benefits in the event that you become disabled and cannot work before you reach retirement age. Disability claimants must meet specific requirements in order to qualify and be approved, as benefits are only available to those with a severe and long-term total disability.
- Having a severe condition means you are unable to carry out the basics of your job.
- A long-term condition is one that has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year.
- A person with a total disability is unable to perform substantial gainful activity for at least one year.
In addition, if the applicant is currently working and earning more than a certain amount ($1,550 per month in 2024 for disabled applicants, $2,590 for those who are blind), the SSA will find that the applicant is not sufficiently disabled to qualify for SSDI benefits.
Depending on your age when you become disabled, you will need a certain number of work credits to qualify for SSDI. If you are under 30 when you become disabled, you must have earned at least one work credit each year since you left school. A person over 30 needs to have earned 20 work credits out of 40 possible quarters in a year. That is, you must have worked five years out of the past ten.
There are no income or resource limitations. The disability and number of quarters worked are the only factors determining SSDI eligibility. It does not depend on the applicant’s income or resources falling below a certain limit; these limits only apply to those receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
When Should You Apply for SSDI Benefits?
As soon as you become disabled, you can apply for benefits. Some claimants mistakenly believe that they’re only eligible once 12 months have passed since the onset of their disability. This confusion arises from the fact that your condition must be expected to last at least a year, so they wait to ‘prove it out.’ The truth is that as long as your medical records indicate that your disability will last that long, you can apply once your symptoms prevent you from working.
Once you receive your diagnosis, we recommend applying as soon as possible, since it may take up to a year for your application to be processed. A waiting period of five months must also pass between when your condition begins and when you are eligible to receive disability benefits. Applications can be submitted at any time after diagnosis, but payments will not arrive until five months have passed.
If you aren’t in a position to apply immediately but intend to do so ASAP, you may want to get what’s known as a protective filing date. This means that you let the SSA know in advance that you intend to make a claim. This preliminary notice is important because when you do get around to applying, the date you provide this notification essentially becomes the date of your application.
How to Apply for Social Security Benefits
When you’re ready to apply for SSDI, you’ll need to complete a Disability Report (you can do this online) in addition to an application. To determine whether you need the necessary disability qualifications, the Social Security Administration will need the following information from you:
- Your name, Social Security number, and birth certificate.
- Contact information for any healthcare facilities where you have been treated, along with the names of any doctors and caseworkers who have treated/worked with you.
- Medical records. You must provide proof of disability, and the SSA has particular requirements for the type of medical documentation needed to substantiate your claim. This documentation is often condition-specific.
- A current W-2 Wage and Tax Statement, or a Federal tax return if you are self-employed, along with a work summary.
Being prepared before submitting your application can increase your chances of having it approved at the initial review. This includes:
- Collecting documentation of your medical history as it relates to your disability, including the onset of symptoms and any medical tests and procedures performed.
- Details about how your disability negatively impacts your job performance and daily activities.
You should also provide details about your work history for the past 10-15 years to help the SSA confirm that you have worked enough quarters to qualify for benefits.
When the SSA receives your application, it will use a five-step process to determine whether you are sufficiently disabled to receive benefits:
- Are you working, and do your earnings exceed a specific amount?
- Is your medical condition sufficiently severe?
- Is your condition listed in the SSA Blue Book, which is its list of impairments?
- Can you do the work you did before your illness or injury?
- Can you do any other type of work?
Note: Applicants who are blind or visually impaired must comply with many additional rules.
Be Prepared for Your SSDI Claim to Be Denied
Although SSDI benefits are available to disabled workers with sufficient work history, getting approved can be difficult. Over 60% of claimants have their initial applications denied, but the SSA has an extensive appeals process in place, starting with a request for reconsideration. At this stage, your claim goes back to Disability Determination Services (DDS), where it will be reviewed by a different SSA examiner. If they decide against you, the next stages are as follows:
- Hearing Before an Administrative Law Judge: Your case will be heard by an administrative law judge (ALJ) who will review your medical evidence before issuing a detailed written decision. If it is unfavorable, you have 60 days to file a Request for Review with the Appeals Council.
- Appeals Council: When it receives your appeal, the Appeals Council may reverse the ALJ’s decision and rule in your favor or remand your case to the ALJ for further review. In most cases, the Appeals Council will deny the Request for Review. If this happens, you have 60 days to seek judicial review in federal court.
- Federal Court Review: The court will only overturn an earlier decision if it finds an error of law or determines that the decision was not based on substantial evidence. In most cases, though, it will uphold the original decision or send the case back for a new hearing.
You can hire an attorney to assist you throughout the process. Although there is no requirement for you to work with an SSDI lawyer, your chances of approval greatly increase when you get legal help with your claim. Experienced SSDI attorneys know how to prepare and defend claims and can ensure the SSA receives all the information necessary to substantiate your case.
At Bross & Frankel, PA, we are dedicated to representing disabled claimants in all aspects of the application and appeal process. As experienced SSDI lawyers, every member of our team is committed to helping clients obtain the benefits they deserve. If a disability makes it impossible for you to earn a living, we can work with you to dramatically improve your chances of obtaining the financial and medical benefits you need.
How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Social Security Disability Lawyer?
In Social Security disability matters, attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, meaning they only collect a fee if the case is successful. Whether you are applying for SSDI or SSI (Supplemental Security Income), your lawyer does not charge you until the case is resolved. When that happens, the SSA will pay them directly out of any back pay you are owed.
At present, there is a $7,200 cap on legal fees. However, when a case requires multiple hearings or an appeal to the Appeals Council or federal court, a disability lawyer may request a higher payment by filing a fee petition with the SSA. If the fee petition is reasonable, Social Security will approve it. If you have questions about how fees work in Social Security Disability cases, be sure to address them with your attorney.
Can I Still Work While Receiving Disability Benefits?
You can work while receiving disability benefits, but to maintain your eligibility, you cannot perform substantial gainful activity, which means you cannot earn more than a certain amount each month. If you make more, you will likely stop receiving benefits because the SSA will deem you able to work.
The SSA offers programs to assist those who wish to keep working without jeopardizing their benefits. For example, you can participate in the Ticket to Work Program, which allows participants to find jobs and earn additional income while preparing for a return to work.
Is There a Time Limit to Apply for SSDI?
While there is no ‘deadline’ for applying, any delay can result in you losing the benefits you are legally entitled to. The Social Security Administration can only pay retroactive benefits for 12 months before you submit your application for benefits. Therefore, if you wait more than a year after you stop working, you risk losing more benefits with each passing month.
For example, if you become disabled in 2017 and don’t file for SSDI until 2021, you will only be paid benefits from 2020 onward. You will not be paid for 2017-2019, which can represent a loss of thousands of dollars in benefits.
Are You Wondering When to Apply for SSD?
If you are disabled and unable to work, Social Security Disability Insurance benefits can provide you with the financial resources you need to take care of yourself and your family. However, the claims process can be frustrating and multiple appeals may be necessary. For these reasons, it may be in your best interests to work with an SSDI attorney.
At Bross & Frankel, PA, we can help you with your SSDI claim. We have successfully represented many disability claimants throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware and have taken cases through the various stages of the appeals process. We fight for your right to disability compensation and give you the personal assistance and attention you deserve. To learn more and schedule a free consultation, call 856-210-3345 or contact us online.