If you are a worker with a qualifying disability, you may meet the requirements for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The SSDI program provides a monthly payment to those with disabilities that prevent them from working for a year or more. If you meet the criteria for these benefits, you can continue to get them until you can work regular hours again or until you reach the required age to qualify for retirement benefits.
At Berger and Green, our attorneys know what the Social Security Administration (SSA) is looking for when they review an application for SSDI benefits. We can help you understand the requirements, review your claim, help you apply, and even navigate the appeals process if they already denied your initial claim. Call our Pittsburgh office today at 412-661-1400 to schedule your complimentary consultation with one of our lawyers.
What Are the Requirements to Qualify for SSDI?
You Must Have Earned Enough Work Credits.
SSDI is a program for workers who paid into Social Security over the course of their careers. To qualify, you must have an extensive enough work history and enough recent work to earn the required number of work credits based on your age.
When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn these credits based on your income. The average worker earns four credits per year. For 2017, you receive one credit for each $1,300 you earn, up the maximum of four credits. This means you only need to earn $5,200 in 2017 to receive all four credits.
You Must Fall Below the Current Substantial Gainful Activity Limit.
SSDI is not an income-based program, but the SSA has set a limit to how much you can earn from working a job and still claim to have a disability. This substantial gainful activity (SGA) limit includes only wages you gain from employment. You may be able to subtract any disability-related costs or the expense of certain reasonable accommodations. The SGA limit for 2017 is $1,170 per month.
We can help you understand how to calculate your income, including documenting any expenses that may not need to count against you. For example, if you need to take a wheelchair-accessible cab to work every morning, we can subtract the monthly cost of this expense and document it with receipts.
We can also review your finances for other earnings we can deduct from your monthly income amount. These may include anything from stock dividends to the proceeds from a rental property. You can earn money from investments in addition to getting SSDI without it jeopardizing your benefits.
You Must Meet the SSA’s Definition of Disabled.
Often the most difficult part of getting SSDI benefits is showing you meet the SSA’s definition of disabled. The SSA only pays out for those who suffer a long-term, total disability.
In general, your disability must last for a year or more—or your doctor must expect it to last for a year or more or cause your death. Then, you need to meet the criteria related to your condition outlined in the SSA’s impairment listings.
These impairment listings, sometimes called the Blue Book, divide disabilities by the body part or system affected. We can help you look up your condition and understand the criteria you must meet to qualify for benefits. If you meet them, we still need to ensure the SSA receives all the information they need to approve your claim. These claims rely heavily on medical documentation from your doctor, specialists, and others who treat your condition.
In some cases, you may not be able to work but do not meet the criteria in the impairment listings. This does not mean you cannot get SSDI benefits. It does mean, however, that you will need to rely on your residual functional capacity (RFC) to qualify.
Your RFC is your ability to perform certain work-related tasks. The SSA assigns your RFC based on a review of your medical records and any supporting documentation. They may also ask you to see an independent physician for a consultative examination.
If the SSA determines you cannot work your current job, any previous job, or a job that requires no specialized skills, you will likely qualify for SSDI benefits.
Are There Any Special Circumstances I Should Know About?
Most people who get SSDI must meet the requirements we discussed, complete an application, and wait several months to learn if the SSA approved their claim. Many receive a denial of their initial claim and must face the appeals process.
For others, though, there are special circumstances that make their process somewhat different.
Qualifying blind workers have special criteria for receiving SSDI. They are able to earn more at work and still qualify for benefits.
Widows or Widowers
You may qualify without the necessary number of work credits if your spouse had enough work credits but has since passed away. You also need to be between age 50 and 60, meet the disability guidelines, and have an impairment that began within seven years of your spouse’s death, or within seven years of any family member receiving survivor’s benefits based on the spouse’s earnings.
The SSA offers programs that allow those with certain serious injuries and terminal illnesses to begin receiving SSDI benefits faster. These programs give your claim priority in the review process.
When we meet to discuss your qualifications for disability benefits, we can review your situation and determine if you meet the criteria for any of these special circumstances.
How Can I Talk to a Pittsburgh Disability Attorney About My SSDI Application?
The knowledgeable SSDI lawyers at Berger and Green can help you get the full range of benefits you deserve based on your disability. Whether you need help with your initial claim or appealing a denial, we are ready to go to work for you. Call us today at 412-661-1400 to schedule your free initial consultation.