Applying for Social Security Disability 

By Karen Lee Richards

Applying for Social Security Disability Insurance can seem like a daunting task.  Who gets approved and why often seems mysterious, random and sometimes unfair.  This article will attempt to break down both the application and appeals processes into manageable and understandable steps. 

There are two types of disability benefits available through the Social Security Administration (SSA):

•    Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) – Pays benefits if you have worked long enough and have paid Social Security taxes within the past five years.

•    Supplemental Security Income (SSI) – Pays benefits based on your financial need.

If you're unsure which program you qualify for, use the Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool to see which program you may be eligible for.  The steps and information in this article apply only to SSDI.  For more information about applying for SSI, see:  Supplemental Security Income Home Page

How SSA Decides If You Are Disabled

In determining whether or not you are disabled, SSA ask five questions:

1)    Are you working?  If you are working and earning an average of more than $980 a month, they do not consider you disabled.

2)    Is your condition “severe”?  Your condition must interfere with basic work-related activities.

3)    Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions?  The SSA has a list of conditions they consider so severe, they automatically mean you are disabled.  If your condition is not on the list, they have to decide if it is equal in severity to another condition on the list.  To check the SSA list of disabling conditions, see:  Listing of Impairments   If your condition is not on the list or equal in severity, they move to question four.

4)    Can you do the work you did previously?  If the SSA determines that your condition does not interfere with the work you previously did, your claim will be denied.  If it does interfere, they then proceed to question 5.

5)    Can you do any other type of work?  It's not enough just to be unable to do your previous job. They also look at your medical conditions, age, education, past work experience and transferable skills to determine if you could adjust to doing other types of jobs. 

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