SOCIAL SECURITY SPOTLIGHT: DISABILITY BENEFITS
What are disability benefits? Social Security disability benefits are benefits paid to disabled workers and their dependent beneficiaries. Just like Social Security retirement benefits, FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) taxes also cover the cost of Social Security disability benefits. FICA taxes are payroll deductions paid by you and your employer.
What are the eligibility requirements for disability benefits? To be eligible to receive disability benefits, a worker must meet two eligibility requirements: work requirements and medical requirements. More information below.
What are the work requirements to receive disability benefits? To be eligible to receive disability benefits, a worker must have enough "substantial lifetime work" in order to be insured. Substantial lifetime work means that the worker has 1.5 to 10+ years of work paying into the Social Security system (6 to 40+ work credits). Most people will need the 10+ years of work or 40+ credits, but younger workers may qualify with less work credits. In addition to substantial lifetime work, the worker must also meet the criteria for "recent work" in covered employment (paying FICA taxes) prior to onset of the disability. Recent work refers to the required recent employment paying into the system and the amount needed is based on the age of disability onset.
What are the medical requirements to receive disability benefits? The Social Security program has a very "strict" definition of disability, and it may be different from other disability programs. Even many people with common medical conditions such as cancer or psychiatric disorders will not be approved for benefits. To be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, the worker must be unable to work due to a medical condition that is expected to last a minimum of one year or result in death. To meet this definition, the medical condition must be severe enough that you cannot do the work you did before and cannot adjust to other work due to the condition.
How do you apply for disability benefits? To apply for disability benefits, you need to complete an application either in person, on the phone, or online. You can find the online application at www.socialsecurity.gov. The SSA will review your application to ensure it meets basic requirements and then it will be sent to your state's Disability Determination Services office. This state agency will determine whether or not your application has been approved. Processing of the application can take a few months, so it is important that you apply as soon as you become disabled. You will receive a letter in the mail with the final decision.