Social Security Disability Income

Social Security Disability Income Benefits (SSDI)

Disability benefits provide partial replacement income for beneficiaries who become severely disabled and are unable to perform substantial work. The disability benefit is based on the beneficiary’s work record only. There is no option to receive disability benefits under a spouse’s work record. The disability may be either physical or mental, but it must be expected to last at least one year or result in an early death.

Determination of disability is based on medical evidence. If the beneficiary’s earnings average more than $ 980 a month (2009), he or she generally cannot be considered disabled.

To be eligible for SSDI (Social Security Disability Income), beneficiaries must be “fully insured” (i.e., have 40 credits) and “currently insured.” Applicants may obtain a copy of Disability Benefits (SSA Publication No. 05-10029), which contains the medical criteria that SSA uses to determine disability. It is intended primarily for physicians and other health professionals.

To be currently insured, a beneficiary must have at least 20 work credits within the last 40 calendar quarters.

When reviewing disability claims Social Security representatives ask applicants the following questions in order to determine eligibility:

  1. Are you working? If you are and your earnings average more than $ 980 (2009) a month, you generally cannot be considered disabled.
  2. Is your condition severe? Your impairments must interfere with basic work-related activities for your claim to be considered.
  3. Is your condition found in the list of disabling impairments? We maintain a list of impairments for each of the major body systems that are so severe they automatically mean you are disabled. If your condition is not on the list, we have to decide if it is of equal severity to impairment on the list. If it is, your claim is approved. If it is not, we go to the next step.
  4. Can you do the work you did previously? If your condition is severe, but not at the same or equal severity as an impairment on the list, then we must determine if it prevents you from doing the work you did in the last 15 years. If it does not, your claim will be denied. If it does, your claim will be considered further.
  5. Can you do any other type of work? If you cannot do the work you did in the last 15 years, we then look to see if you can do any other type of work. We consider your age, education, past work experience, and transferable skills, and we review the job demands of occupations as determined by the Department of Labor. If you cannot do any other kind of work, your claim will be approved. If you can, your claim will be denied

Beginning January 1, 2009, Social Security Disability beneficiaries could earn $ 980 a month and remain eligible for benefits. The Social Security Administration uses the term substantial gainful activity (SGA) to determine if work is substantial enough to make a person ineligible for benefits. Under this new rule, monthly SGA earnings limits will be automatically adjusted annually based on increases in the national average wage index.

The SGA amount applies to people with disabilities other than blindness. For people who are blind, the SGA amount was increased to $ 1,460, effective January 2009.

Waiting Period

There is a five-month waiting period for Social Security disability benefits. The philosophy behind the requirement is that this period is long enough to permit most temporary disabilities to be corrected or for the person to show signs of probably recovery within less than 12 months after the onset of disability.

Disability benefits continue until the beneficiary is able to return to work or until retirement age if the individual cannot return to work. Benefit levels are adjusted if the beneficiary receives other government benefits or pension payments. The total combined payments for recipients generally cannot exceed 80 percent of their average current earnings before becoming disabled.

Retirement benefits begin automatically when disabled individuals reach their full retirement age. Family assistance is also available under the same rules that apply for retirement benefits. The maximum family benefit is generally limited to 150 percent of the disabled individual’s benefit, including the payment to the disabled beneficiary.

The information above is reprinted from Working with Seniors: Health, Financial and Social Issues with permission from Society of Certified Senior Advisors® . Copyright © 2009. All rights reserved.