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Are You Eligible for Social Security Disability Benefits

  • Published: 2010-08-25 : Author: Marshall W. Conick, Attorney at Law
  • Synopsis: Current estimates by SSA note that it takes three to five months to process the application.

Main Document

Though it is not something people typically think about or plan for, the chances of becoming disabled at some point in a working career are great.

In response to the need and economic conditions of the time, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law in 1935. This year, Social Security celebrates its 75th anniversary. Over the course of its life, millions of people have been helped by Social Security. According to the Associated Press, over 12 million people will receive some sort of benefits under the act this year alone.

One of the main tenets of the program is to provide some measure of economic security to older and retired workers through a fund where employees contribute to their own retirements. Another critical aspect of the act is to provide a source of income for people who are either temporarily or permanently unable to work.

Though it is not something people typically think about or plan for, the chances of becoming disabled at some point in a working career are great. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), a 20 year old worker has a 30% chance of becoming disabled before he or she reaches retirement age.

Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits

A recent Associated Press report notes that over 3.3 million people will apply for Social Security disability benefits this year. Over two-thirds of those claims will be denied initially. With the proper representation of their claim, many who have been denied will prove their disability and receive benefits after appealing the decision. The length of time it takes to receive benefits can vary, and at times it can take up to two years to process a claim.

Processing the initial application can take a significant amount of time. Current estimates by SSA note that it takes three to five months to process the application. This, coupled with the time it takes to appeal an adverse decision, is a good reason for an applicant to file for disability benefits as soon as they become disabled.

How SSA Determines if a Person Should Receive Benefits

After your application is processed and SSA determines that it meets the basic criteria to receive benefits, the application is sent to a state agency which will determine whether benefits should be awarded. In general, recipients begin to receive benefits after they have been disabled for five full months. In order to qualify for disability benefits an individual must prove that their disability is such that it will last consecutively for twelve months. Furthermore, one must prove that they are unable to perform any type of employment, even work that is sedentary in nature.

To determine if someone is disabled and eligible for Social Security benefits, SSA uses a five step process. These five questions help decide the amount and type of benefits you will receive.

- Are you working If you are working and reach a certain level of income or greater each month, the state agency likely will not find that you are disabled. If you are unable to work, or your income is below the threshold, the agency looks further into your medical condition.

- Is your medical condition "severe" For a medical condition to be "severe" it must, for a period of at least one year, significantly limit your ability to do basic work activities.

- Is your medical condition on the list of impairments There are certain medical conditions that severe enough to automatically qualify a person for disability benefits. These conditions are defined on a "list of impairments" provided by SSA. If your condition is not on the list, the state agency will determine if your condition is as severe as a listed impairment.

- Can you do the type of work you did before In the event that you can perform the work you did before, it is likely that you will not be considered disabled. If you cannot, the agency will ask the last question in its process.

- Can you work at all If you cannot perform your old job, the agency will determine if you can do any type of work. Your medical condition, age, education, previous work experience and any other relevant skills will be considered in this process.

What if Benefits are Denied

Reconsideration is the first step in the appeals process. Your claim is reviewed by an official who did not make the initial decision. If your claim is again denied, you may appeal the decision and request a hearing in front of an administrative law judge. At this stage, you will again have an opportunity to present your case and bring in other evidence and witnesses, including medical and vocational experts, if necessary. If you are still denied benefits, you can request review by SSA's Appeals Council and ultimately in the federal courts.

To properly present your case, it is best to work with an experienced attorney at the beginning of the process to ensure that your application is complete, accurate and has a lesser chance of being denied. As most applications are initially denied, a seasoned social security attorney can be instrumental in effectively presenting your case throughout the appeals process.

Article provided by Marshall W. Conick, Attorney at Law Visit us at


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