What is Social Security?

Social Security is a federal program that provides financial benefits to retired or disabled individuals. This program was set up by the federal government and is required for all workers to earn an income. The purpose of the program is to provide financial assistance for an individual when they reach retirement age or if they become disabled prior to retirement age.

Social Security Retirement

Social Security Retirement is an age-based program. You can elect for early retirement at age 62 at a reduced monthly rate (approximately 25% off of the full retirement) or you can wait until you are 66 to draw retirement and you will get the full amount. The monthly benefit you will receive is based on the amount of money you have paid into the system over the years. Social Security will look at your earnings history and calculate your monthly benefit based on that.

The other Social Security program affects individuals who are not of retirement age but are unable to work. This program is similar to car insurance in that you pay a premium and have disability coverage for a certain time period. There are two types of Social Security Disability programs. One is based on your work history and the other is based on your current financial resources. Both programs share the same medical requirements but differ in terms of their technical qualifications.

  1. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) – this program is base upon the length of time you have worked and what you have paid into the system.
  2. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) – this is a needs-based program, based on your financial needs.

You can collect SSD benefits in conjunction with early retirement benefits. However, your disability will be offset by your early retirement amount. Essentially, if you’re collecting early retirement and you can prove you are disabled, the disability benefit will supplement the penalty you took by collecting the early retirement (i.e. that 25%).

Obtaining retirement benefits is a fairly easy task. As long as you meet the age requirements for retirement, the Social Security Administration should be able to start your monthly benefits relatively quickly.

The Disability program is not quite so simple. This is because eligibility is not based simply on age. There are a multitude of factors that are considered when determining eligibility for the disability program. There are two thresholds you must meet to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. The first is you must meet the technical requirements for the program. As mentioned above, the SSDI and SSI programs have very different technical requirements. SSDI requires that an individual has worked and paid FICA taxes for the past 5 out of 10 years. As with any type of car insurance, your disability insurance coverage only lasts for five years after you stopped working and paying taxes into the program. This means if you stopped working and paying taxes in 2008 then you would need to prove your disability began prior to 2013, the expiration of your insurance coverage (Five years after you stopped paying taxes).

To meet the technical requirements for SSI, if you are an individual your combined income and assets must be less than $2,000 per month. If you are married that combined amount is $3,000. The SSI monthly amount is $733. This amount is significant because if you do have any type of income, that amount will reduce the potential monthly amount you may receive. Also, if you have income that exceeds $733 then you won’t be eligible to receive SSI benefits.

If you meet the technical requirements for one or both of the disability programs, the next consideration would be whether you meet the medical requirements. Social Security Disability is defined as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. Because of the 12 month durational requirement that is built into the Social Security disability definition, it’s clear this program is not meant to be a short-term type of benefit. If you believe you will only be out of work for a short period of time, less than 12 months, then there is no point applying for the program. Social Security is very strict on the 12-month durational requirement. The 12-month rule is built right into the exact definition of the program.

Medical evidence is key to proving you meet the medical requirements of disability. Medical evidence can include physical examinations and treatment notes, mental health records, laboratory testing, imagining studies including MRIs, CT scans and X-rays. There is a long list of what counts as medical evidence. The bottom line is in order to win your SSD case you need to have some sort of medical treatment documenting your condition and/or limitations.

Medical evidence is important because it is used to determine whether you meet a Social Security Listing, and if not, what your functional capacity is. The Social Security Listing is a list of impairments for each major body system that are considered severe enough to prevent an individual from working full-time. Most of the listed impairments are permanent or expected to result in death. If you do not meet a listing, then the records will be used to determine your overall functional capacity and whether there are jobs you could perform.

When assessing an individual’s functional capacity, Social Security considers the individual’s ability to do sustained work-related physical and mental activities in a work setting on a regular and continuing basis. Meaning, 8 hours a day for 5 days a week. (See SSR 96-8p). If you require a significant amount of breaks during a regular working period that may make you unemployable.

Here is a brief recap:

  1. Social Security is a federal program that provides monthly benefits for retired and/or disabled individuals
  2. Social Security Disability is an insurance program for younger individuals who are unable to work.
  3. Social Security Disability has two different programs with different technical requirements, but the same medical requirements.
  4. If you think you may qualify for SSD you should seek the help of an experienced SSD attorney to see if you meet the technical and medical requirements for this federal program.

Much of the frustration involved in applying for Social Security disability benefits can be avoided by seeking a disability attorney to look over your case and provide knowledgeable legal advice. At the LaBovick Law Group, we provide free evaluations at any stage in the process. Within minutes we can tell if you have a legitimate shot at obtaining Social Security Disability benefits.

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