Social Security Disability (SSDI) FAQs
Listed below are the most frequently asked question applicants have when trying to successfully apply or appeal for Social Security Disability benefits. By clicking on the questions you will be sent to the answer further below.
Q: How does the Social Security Administration define disability?
Quick Social Security Disability FAQ Answers
Q: How does the Social Security Administration define disability?
The Social Security Administration defines a “disability” as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of no less than 12 months.”
The SSA will consider you disabled if:
• You cannot do work that you did before
• We decide that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s)
• Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.
Q: How to apply for Social Security disability benefits?
To apply for disability benefits, an individual may go to the nearest Social Security office and wait in line (can be up to a couple hours at times) to file a claim in person. If an individual rather not meet or cannot meet in person, they can call the closest Social Security office and schedule a telephone interview to apply. Filing through the SSA can be a frustrating and difficult task; there are private advocacy organizations such as the Disability Care Center who help Americans apply and appeal to get them the benefits they deserve. To learn more about applying for disability benefits, see our Apply for Disability Page.
Q: What documentation is needed before applying for disability benefits?
One must ensure they have collected the proper documentation to support your disability claim before applying for disability benefits. Missing any important documents can result in an incomplete application that will be delayed or rejected. It is important to inform your doctors and medical experts of your intentions to apply and obtain all information and documentation from them that directly correlates to your disability(s). These documents are necessary to support your claim and will help for a quick and timely response. For more information about documentation, view our page on medical documentation.
Q: How long does the disability application process take?
The initial application process takes 30 to 90 days for the initial decision. If denied, an individual has 65 days to file a request for reconsideration and will take another 30 to 90 days to receive a decision from the SSA. The application processing time varies depending on your medical condition(s), documentation provided, and whether or not you were denied and would like to file an appeal.
Q: Is it possible to receive both SSI and SSDI at the same time?
Under particular conditions, an individual may be able to receive Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) simultaneously. This situation is generally described as “concurrent benefits” and is only obtainable if you have already been approved for SSDI with low monthly benefits. Several circumstances can result in low monthly payments for SSDI such as little work history and low wages throughout employment history. The SSI program is a financial need based program that takes in consideration all sources of “countable income” which is all earned and unearned income sources. The SSA sets a limit of allowing no more than $710 per month (limits can be higher depending on the state) in unearned income. As long as your SSDI benefits and other sources of income don’t exceed the SSI limit in your state, you may qualify for concurrent benefits.
Q: What is the difference between SSI and SSDI?
The SSA runs two different disability programs, Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). SSI is a financial need-based program for disabled individuals who haven’t earned enough work credits or haven’t worked at all in the past 10 years. SSDI is a disability program for workers who have earned enough work credits based on taxable employment in the past 10 years. Overall, the main difference resides in how long an individual has worked in the past 10 years.
Q: If my application is accepted, how much money can I receive from disability benefits?
The SSA determines the amount of benefits one receives by reviewing that individual’s past work history, the amount of income received, and the current household situation. In April of 2015, the national average SSDI payment given out to beneficiaries was $1,165 while the national average SSI payment was $541. The maximum payment allowed for SSDI is $2,663 while the maximum payment for SSI is $733 for an individual and $1,100 for a couple. Overall most beneficiaries’ payments range from $500 to $2,000.
Q: Can I receive Social Security disability benefits and still work at the same time?
The SSA gives out benefits based on an individual’s inability to work due to an illness or condition. The benefits are provided to compensate for the lack of work. Although limited, a beneficiary of SSI or SSDI is allowed to work no more than 20 hours a week and will still receive disability benefits.
Q: Is there a list of illnesses that the SSA considers disabling?
The SSA provides a “listing of impairments” that gives an overview of the major types of impairments that can be potentially approved for benefits. The list covers a wide selection of serious conditions but is not exclusive to these impairments and is known as the SSA's "blue book". Although, any illnesses or conditions, if severe enough, can potentially qualify for disability benefits.
Q: What is the probability of being approved for Social Security disability benefits?
Due to the immense magnitude of new applications, severe budget cuts from the federal government and the unpredictable nature of the economy, the Social Security administration denies over 70% of the applications in the initial stage. The SSA might deny a valid case for several reasons including missing or not enough medical documentation, application was not completed correctly, applicant is working too many hours, etc. Approximately 12% of claimants who put in a request for reconsideration are approved and roughly 35% who put in a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) are approved.
An effective alternative to raise your chances of approval is to seek help through a disability advocate or attorney. Disability advocates know how the social security system works and will efficiently handle your application by collecting all necessary evidence and documentation. A disability advocate will also continue to help you through the appeals process should you get denied. Many disability advocate organizations can increase your chances of approval by 50-70%. For more information, check out our page on the advantages of representation.
Q: Where can I get help with my Social Security disability application?
Seek out the assistance of a qualified disability advocate or lawyer who has experience in Social Security Disability. They help disabled Americans file claims by gathering all necessary information and documentation. Going through a disability advocate can potentially decrease the time it takes to receive an approval by 4-10 months and will ensure you receive the max amount of benefits possible. The Disability Care Center is one of these qualified disability advocate organizations that can help assist you file your claim.
Q: How can I increase my chances of receiving disability benefits?
There are several ways to increase your chances of approval. Make sure you have seen a medical doctor at least once in the past year (the more visits the better) and keep tabs on your list of medications. Also gather all relevant documentation from your doctor(s) and have them complete a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) questionnaire for you. The SSA generally does not inform the public that you can have your doctor fill out the form instead of a Disability Determination Services specialist. This can improve your chances of being awarded disability benefits. Another method to increase your chances of approval is to find assistance through a disability advocate or attorney such as the Disability Care Center.
Q: Who determines If I am approved for disability benefits?
When an applicant applies for Social Security Disability benefits, the claim is sent to your state’s local Disability Determination Services Office to be evaluated by a disability examiner working along side a doctor. If the case is denied and the claimant asks for a request for reconsideration, the claim is sent through the same exact process but with a different examiner and doctor. If denied again and the claimant wants to appeal, the case is sent to an Administrative Law Judge for a final decision.
Q: What is the reason an initial application is denied?
The Social Security Administration might deny an applicant who has a valid case for several reasons:
• Missing or not enough medical documentation of condition in application
• Application was not completed correctly
• Applicant is working above Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) levels earning more than $1,090 per month.
• Applicant is not seeking regular medical treatment with a doctor or medical expert
• Applicant’s disabling condition is curable in under a year
Q: What is a Social Security Disability technical denial?
Over 27% of initial applications are denied before even being reviewed due to what is called a “technical denial.” A technical denial occurs when an applicant does not meet the general, non-medical requirements for disability benefits. Below are some common reasons for technical denials:
- Not enough work history was shown for proper eligibility.
- The claimant is currently working over the allowed limit.
- The claimant is receiving too much in earned and/or unearned income.
- The claimant has too much in assets.
The other 45% of Americans that are initially denied up to 52% have qualifying cases but the SSA denies them in hope that the claimant will not pursue an appeal saving the federal government money. The entire approval process may be extensive; but statistically a majority of claimants who face initial denials are awarded benefits later in the appeal process.
Q: What are my options if the SSA denies me disability benefits?
When an applicant is denied at the initial stage, they have exactly 65 days from the letter of denials date to file a request for reconsideration. If an applicant waits more than 65 days to file an reconsideration, they will have to start the whole process over with a new application. If you are denied at the request for reconsideration level, you have another 65 days to file an appeal. If you need help filing an appeal or starting a new application, the Disability Care Center’s team of qualified Disability advocates is here to assist you. To learn more about appealing a denial, see our Appeals Denial page.
Q: What is reconsideration?
When a claimant is denied disability benefits at the initial stage, they have 60 days from the letter of denial to file a “request for reconsideration.” The SSA then sends the case to a different certified disability examiner for a second evaluation. Approximately 84% of the requests for reconsideration are denied. If the claimant is denied again, they have 60 days to file an appeal.
Q: What are my chances of getting approved at reconsideration?
Approximately 84% of applicants who file a request for reconsideration are denied. This means around 16% of the applicants who file a request are approved at the reconsideration stage.
Q: Can I get both worker’s compensation and Social Security disability benefits?
Yes, it is possible to receive both at the same time however there is a counterbalance. In the majority of states, when an individual receives workers compensation it reduces their social security disability benefits. In the minority of states workers compensations is reduced due there is approval of disability benefits.
Q: What is a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)?
Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) is the maximum work amount an individual is capable of despite their impairment(s). When your case is sent to the Disability Determination Services (DDS), a disability examiner and medical consultant will complete a RFC assessment on your claim. Based on medical record and work history, the consultant will determine your functional limitations, physical capabilities, and job restrictions to fill out the form. You may choose to have your own physician(s) fill out the RFC form instead. This provides an advantage because your physician(s) will be more knowledgeable about your impairments then the DDS consultant who never meets you in person.
Q: What is the appeals council?
The Appeals Council is the last administrative decisional level that makes the final decisions for claims filed under Title II and Title XVI of the social security act. The council consists of “approximately 71 Administrative Appeals Judges, 46 Appeals Officers, and several hundred support personnel.” The council reviews the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) decisions and ensures national consistency in decision-making.
Q: What are the fees associated with representation?
Federally regulated by the SSA itself and applies to all attorneys or disability advocates, the attorney receives one-fourth of the back due benefits or $6,000 whichever is less if the claimant wins. Should the claimant lose the case, there are no fees involved and the attorney or advocate incurs all costs.
Q: Is it necessary to hire an advocate or lawyer to represent me in my Social Security disability claim?
Assistance from an advocate or lawyer is not necessary. Individuals can go through the whole process themselves if they desire. However, statistically over 75% of applicants who apply on their own are denied even if their disability claim is valid. This happens due to several reasons including missing or not enough medical documentation; applicant didn’t complete the application correctly, etc. Legal assistance can significantly increase a claimant’s chances of approval at the initial stage and will generally result in a larger monthly benefits check. For more information regarding representation, see our article on the Advantages of Representation.
Q: What happens if I move out of the U.S.? Do I lose my disability benefits?
When a claimant moves out of the United States, there is a time limit on how long your benefits will keep going until they eventually stop. This depends on whether the applicant is receiving SSI or SSDI, what country they are moving to, and how long they will be in the new country for. Generally if you are receiving SSI and leave the U.S., the SSA will stop your benefits after 30 days and you cannot be reinstated until you return. If you are receiving SSDI and leave the U.S., the SSA won’t stop your benefits for at least 6 months after you move considering you moved into a non-prohibited country.
Q: What happens if I go to jail while receiving benefits? Do I lose my Disability benefits?
The SSA does not give benefits to an individual who is incarcerated even if they are disabled. If you are receiving benefits and become incarcerated, the SSA will take away your benefits once you have been in jail for more than one month. However, if you’ll be incarcerated for less than a month, the SSA will not take away your benefits and they will continue as normal.
Q: Can I still qualify for disability benefits if my disability isn’t permanent?
The SSA considers an individual disabled under Social Security rules if their “disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.” If your disability isn’t permanent but will last more than a year, you still can qualify for disability benefits.
Q: Does the SSA consider a mental illness disabling?
Yes but it depends if the mental illness is severe enough to qualify. Hundreds of thousands of American beneficiaries receive disability benefits for their mental illnesses. If you would like to know if your mental illness qualifies for disability benefits, feel free to contact us, the Disability Care Center, for a pre-screening evaluation at no cost.
Q: What happens if I start to feel better while receiving disability benefits and I decide I want to return to work? Will I be allowed to work again?
You may return to whenever you like. However, depending on the benefits you are receiving and how much you’ll be earning while working, the SSA will re-evaluate your situation to determine if your impairment is still “disabling” and will change your benefits accordingly. If you are receiving Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) and begin working, the SSA will “reduce your benefits by subtracting part of your income from your payment, and terminate them if you go over the SSI income limit.” If you are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and begin working, your income can’t exceed the SSA’s “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) limitation. You can earn no more than $1,090 per month and still receive disability benefits. If you exceed that restriction, the SSA will deem that your disability has “ceased” and you are now capable of working again.
The SSA has developed several work incentives for both programs SSI and SSDI to encourage disability beneficiaries to go back to work such as the “Plan to Achieve Self-Support,” “Work Expenses for Blind People,” and the “Trial Work Period.” Some of these programs will allow an individual to exceed the SGA limit for a given period and help beneficiaries find out if they are ready for the work force.
Q: Can drug addicts and alcoholics get disability benefits?
The SSA is prohibited by Congress to give benefits to individuals who are only having difficulty with drug addiction and/or alcoholism. Congress doesn’t want drug addicts and alcoholics to spend their disability benefits on drugs and alcohol. However, these individuals are just as susceptible to diseases, mental illnesses, and other impairments like any other person and could potentially qualify for disability benefits. Although in most instances, it requires the individual to seek treatment for the addiction before benefits can be received.
Q: If I have never worked a job before and I am disabled, can I still receive benefits?
Yes. Even if you have never worked in your entire life or worked very little, you may qualify for Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) benefits as long as you don’t exceed the SSA’s limits in unearned income and assets.
Q: I have a child who is disabled. Can my child receive disability benefits?
Potentially. If your child is less the 18 years old, your child may qualify for Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) benefits as long as you (the parents) don’t exceed the SSA’s limits in income and assets. If your child is over the age of 18, your child may qualify for SSI while completely disregarding the parent’s income and assets. To learn more about disability benefits for children, view our article on SSI benefits for children.
Q: I have been taking care of my children at home and have not worked a job in several years. Do I still potentially qualify for disability benefits?
Possibly. If you haven’t worked much or not at all during your lifetime, you may qualify for Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) benefits as long as you don’t exceed the SSA’s limits in income and assets. If you have worked 5 out of the past 10 years or earned enough work credits in the past 10 years by the SSA’s standards, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
Q: What are my options if the SSA attempts to cut off my disability benefits?
When the SSA notifies you that your benefits will be terminated because they have deemed your condition no longer disabling, you will still receive benefits for another 2 months after the notification. If you feel their decision is incorrect, then you may file for an appeal. If you file an appeal within 10 days of the termination notification, you have the choice to continue your benefits throughout the disability appeal. However it comes with a risk, if the judge deems that you are not disabled, the SSA will force you to pay back the benefits you received while waiting for the appeal decision.
Q: Will I get Medicare if I am approved for Social Security disability benefits?
If you are approved for Social Security Disability benefits other than Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI), you will receive Medicare after two years of receiving disability benefits.
Q: Will I get Medicaid if I am approved for Social Security disability benefits?
If you are approved for Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) benefits, in most states you will be automatically approved for Medicaid benefits. If you have concurrent benefits (receiving SSI and SSDI at the same time), you may also qualify for Medicare under the right circumstances.
Q: What is the difference between Medicare and Medicaid?
The main difference between Medicaid and Medicare is that Medicaid is given to people with low income and assets. When an applicant is approved for Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI), they are automatically qualified for Medicaid due to the fact that they are disabled and have low income. Doctors are paid low rates when servicing anyone with Medicaid. This causes doctors to be more reluctant to take on these patients. However for Medicare, your income and assets are irrelevant. If you qualify for any of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, you will become eligible to receive Medicare after 24 months have passed. Doctors are paid at a higher rate with Medicare than Medicaid and will be more willing to provide service.
Q: If I move into a different state, what happens to my disability benefits? Will I have to re-apply or fill out a new form?
You will not have to re-apply for disability benefits if you move to another state. If you are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and plan to move into another state, you will need to contact your local office to give them your new address to ensure you keep receiving important information from the SSA and your disability checks (if not direct deposit). If you are receiving Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI), moving into a new state can potentially change the amount of the monthly benefits you receive or could potentially disqualify you from receiving disability benefits depending on the new state’s restrictions.
Q: What is disability freeze?
In several instances, disabled individuals have gaps in their work history or periods of time when they made less money then usual due to their impairments. These gaps can cause those who qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI only, not SSI) to have lower monthly benefits for disability. To help fix this issue, the SSA developed what is called “disability freeze.” This occurs when the SSA is deciding your monthly disability payments and ignores a period(s) of time in an individual’s income history. In result, the disability freeze decreases the impact of the little to no earnings during those given periods.
Q: What are the work requirements established by the SSA and what exactly are work credits?
The SSA requires that an individual has worked at least 5 out of the past 10 years for them to qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI). The SSA calculates this by awarding “work credits” when an individual is employed and was paying Social Security taxes. Work credits are based on your income when you were working. Currently, one work credit is equal to $1,220 and an individual can earn no more than 4 work credits per year. To qualify for SSDI, you need to have earned at least 20 work credits in the past 10 years. If you fall below the requirement, you may still qualify for Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI).
Q: If I am receiving Social Security Retirement benefits, can I still receive Social Security Disability benefits as well?
In most instances, you cannot receive Social Security Disability benefits and retirement benefits at the same time. If an individual has been receiving disability benefits and has reached full retirement age, the SSA simply takes your disability benefits and transfers it to retirement benefits. The check will continue to be the same amount as your disability check, which is larger than a normal retirement check.