Who Is Eligible for Social Security Disability Benefits?

Requirements for Disability Benefits

The federal Social Security Disability program provides benefits to qualified disabled individuals. The program sets out numerous requirements for recipients, including a strict definition of disability and a minimum work history. If you have questions about whether you qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance, contact a lawyer from Hiller Comerford Injury & Disability Law to learn more.

“Disability” Under Federal Social Security Law

To qualify for Social Security disability benefits, an individual must be completely disabled. While some other insurance or employee benefits programs may cover people who are partially disabled, the Social Security program says that a qualifying disabled person must be unable to engage in any productive work, whether it is the type of work the person did before or some other gainful employment that the person might perform.

The disability must arise from a serious medical condition. The condition must be expected to last (or have lasted) for at least one continuous year or end in death.

The condition must be medically determinable. According to Social Security Administration guidelines, this means that the condition has been diagnosed using medically acceptable techniques. Whether the condition is mental or physical, the individual’s reporting of symptoms is not enough. Specific medical evidence must back up the claim.

With a mental or psychiatric condition, the impairment can be more difficult to demonstrate. The individual must have significant symptoms. These symptoms may include difficulties with behavior, memory or thought. Again, self-reporting of symptoms is not enough; there must be medical diagnoses or test results to support the claim.

The standards for proving a disability that makes you unable to work can be stringent and complex. An experienced Social Security disability attorney can help you sort out what you need to show and whether you are likely to be regarded as disabled.

Work Requirements

To qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), a person must have a certain work history. The work history must include recent work and sufficient earnings. This is because Social Security Disability is an “insurance” program. It works like the Social Security retirement income program: you satisfy part of the requirement when you contribute money through your taxes. (Supplemental Security Income (SSI), on the other hand, requires not a specific work history but a limited amount of resources, plus disability.)

The tests are based on how many work “credits” you have earned — for each quarter of a year worked at a certain earnings level, you earn one credit. Some spouses, former spouses, widows/widowers and children are eligible based on their spouses’ or parents’ work history.

The Recent Work Test

The recent work test looks at how old the individual was when he or she became disabled and how much the individual worked in the years immediately preceding the disability’s onset. The rule requires different levels of recent work depending on the age of the individual when the disability began. Generally, once a person turns 31, Social Security looks at the past 10 years and whether the person worked during at least half of the quarters during that time.

The Duration of Work Test

The individual also must meet the duration of work test. This test looks at whether a person has worked long enough over time to earn enough work credits to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. This work does not have to be recent. Some blind workers only need to meet this prong of the test.

Contact an Attorney

The disability criteria and the earnings tests under federal Social Security law are specific and demanding. If you need help navigating the regulations of Social Security Disability law, consult an attorney from Hiller Comerford Injury & Disability Law.