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All You Need to Know About Disability Benefits

Getting Started
According to a report by the Council For Disability Awareness in 2013, just over one out of every four of today’s 20 year-olds will become disabled before they reach retirement. Additionally, the statistics state that over thirty-seven million people in the US would be classified as disabled equating to 12% of the population.[1] Of those individuals, over 8.8 million are receiving some form of Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.[2]

There are two main types of benefits provided by the federal government. They differ in many ways, yet are both administered by the Social Security Administration. Individuals must meet medical qualifications before obtaining benefits from either program. Social Security Disability Insurance pays benefits to you and certain members of your family if you are "insured," meaning that you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes. Supplemental Security Income pays benefits based on financial need.

Social Security Disability Insurance
In order to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, an individual must have worked in a job covered by social security for a set period of time (this is usually 10 years). The individual must also meet Social Security's definition of a disability.

The individual applying for benefits typically must have a condition expected to end in death, or keeps the individual from working for a year or more. The disability must be so bad that the worker cannot work despite their age, education and experience. Short term or partial disability payments are not available.

Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI)
SSI is a federal income supplement program that is funded by taxes. The goal of SSI is to help aged, blind and disabled people who have little to no income. They also strive to provide cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing and shelter. To look over the full eligibility requirements for an individual with SSI website.

How to Apply?
Once you determine you may be eligible for disability benefits you will need to apply. Social security offers an online application for your convenience.

Applying online allows you to:
  • Start your disability claim right away
  • Apply from your home or a public computer
  • Avoid trips to the social security office, saving you money and time

You can also apply by:
  • Calling 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; or
  • Contacting your local Social Security office.

What Do I Need To Apply?
Certain items are needed to process the application.
  • Your Social Security number
  • Your birth certificate
  • Names, addresses and phone numbers of the doctors, caseworkers, hospitals and clinics that have taken care of you
  • List of medications
  • Medical records and lab results
  • Summary of the type of work you did, and where you worked
  • Copy of recent W-2 form or federal tax returns

How Long Does It Take to Receive Disability Benefits
Once you have applied for disability benefits it may take anywhere from a month to two years to get approved. The average wait time for a new disability claim is three to four months. The more severe your disability is the quicker you may get approved. In many areas of the United States the initial application process is taking longer than normal. Why? Because more people than ever before are applying for disability benefits. This may be due to the economy or an aging population.

Once approved for disability benefits, you can await your payments. Federal law states that payments cannot begin until an individual has been disabled for at least five months. Social Security will let you know you are approved, when your payments will begin and how much your benefits will be. Disability benefits will continue as long as an individual's medical condition has not improved, and the individual cannot return to work.

Advances in medical science and rehabilitation programs have allowed many individuals to recover. Cases will be reviewed periodically to determine if an individual is still eligible for benefits.

What If I'm Denied?
First time claims have a denial rate of around 65%.[3] This means that there is a high possibility your disability benefits will be denied. With your determination letter there will be a summary explaining why your case was denied. The explanation may state that there are other jobs you can do, or it may include a list of medical issues explaining why your residual functional capacity (RFC) and past jobs.

If you disagree with your denial, the next step is filing an appeal. An appeal should be filed immediately, you only have 60 days to file. You can do this personally or with the help of a disability lawyer. An appeals case gives you a better chance of obtaining benefits than filing a new application, or waiting until your condition worsens. The appeals process takes about the same amount of time as the initial application (3-5 months on average but sometimes longer). However, if approved your benefits will back date to the first day you applied.

Navigating the process of obtaining disability benefits can be time consuming, and requires a lot of work. However, if you are disabled these are benefits that you deserve. Please don't give up on the process, fight for your rights, and go through the process. Even if it requires an appeal, or more time.

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1. "Disability Stats" .
3. "Disability Denial" .