Should I Apply for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits?

If you can't work due to a medical condition, you may be eligible for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration. Before beginning the application process, here are some things to know first.

What is Social Security Disability Insurance?

Social Security disability insurance, or SSDI, is a financial safety net for workers who are unable to continue working due to a severe medical condition. It is a total disability insurance program for insured workers.

Are You Insured for Disability Benefits?

If you contributed to Social Security through the jobs you've had by paying an employment tax called the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA), you are insured for benefits. But, there's a catch.

Depending on your age, you also must have worked recently enough and accumulated enough quarters. For example, if you're 31 years old or older, the rule is that you must have worked a total of 20 quarters, or five years, within the last 10 years to qualify for disability benefits.

Check Your Earnings Statement

The best way for you to know if you're insured for disability benefits is to check your earnings statement. This statement used to be mailed to you annually about three months before your birthday. Now it's available online at the Social Security Administration web site.

It's a good idea to review your statement before applying for disability benefits. Not only will it tell you if you're insured, you can also find out how much your monthly cash benefit could be.

Understand that your benefits are figured out from your work history. So, if you're no longer working and paying FICA taxes, you can never get more in benefits, even if your condition gets worse.

Does Your Medical Condition Qualify?

Once you know if you're insured for benefits, the next hurdle is to prove that you're disabled.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) defines "disability" as a condition that is so severe it is preventing you from working at any job for a year, or could result in death.

SSA has identified a long list of medical impairments that meet this definition. You can find them in a publication commonly called SSA's "Blue Book."

If your condition is listed, more than likely you won't have a problem qualifying for disability benefits, especially if you have medical proof and the support of your doctors.

But, what if your condition isn't listed? Don't be discouraged. SSA understands that there are exceptions, and has devised a complex evaluation system to determine disability that takes into account your age, work skills, education, and medical history.

However, it could take months to get approved. Applying for disability is complicated, even online at the SSA Web site.

It may be best not to attempt an application on your own. Find a Social Security disability advocate to help you get your earned safety net of disability benefits.

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