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Ins and Outs of Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits

Living with a debilitating illness or serious life-threatening condition can be extremely challenging. One vital resource for workers who have to stop working because of these kinds of disabilities is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). This payroll tax-funded federal insurance program provides a critical lifeline to those individuals whose disabilities are often worsened by long-term chronic pain, as long as they meet the eligibility requirements.

However, navigating the Social Security disability system can be daunting. The SSDI application process is complex and time-consuming, and more than 60% of initial applications are denied. The backlog for processing applications is equally high, increasing by 30% to more than 730,000 in FY 2021 due in part  to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who Is Eligible for SSDI?

To qualify, you must:

  • Be between 21 and full retirement age
  • Have worked at least five out of the last 10 years and paid FICA taxes
  • Be unable to work in any capacity because of a mental or physical impairment that is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death
  • Be under the care of a healthcare professional who can verify severity of medical conditions

How can you improve the likelihood of being approved?

First, do not delay. Begin the process of applying for SSDI as soon as possible. The application, review, and approval steps may take over 100 days so the sooner you apply, the better.

Be sure to have answers to the following questions:

  • Are you able to earn more than $1310 per month? This is the 2021 Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) amount which typically indicates you are able to work with your disability. If not, then you are meeting one of the key requirements.
  • Is your physical and/or mental condition severe? If so, does it meet Social Security’s definition of conditions or impairments that would prevent you from working?
  • Are you able to do your previous job or any job?

Another path to being quickly approved for SSDI is Social Security’s Compassionate Allowance program (CAL). Chronic diseases, such as certain cancers, adult brain disorders or other rare diseases, qualify for expedited SSDI approval.  Social Security frequently updates the CAL listings to include illnesses or conditions that meet the agency’s standard for disability benefits.

SSDI Benefits Beyond Your Monthly Income

  • Medicare Coverage
    You’re eligible for Medicare, which includes medical, hospital and prescription drug coverage, 24 months after your disability benefits begin.
  • COBRA Extension
    The length of your COBRA benefits may be extended up to 11 months.
  • LTD Security
    Applying for SSDI benefits protects your private long-term (LTD) disability benefits
  • Retirement Benefits
    Approval for SSDI automatically freezes your earnings record that will prevent a reduction in future retirement income.
  • Dependent Benefits
    SSDI approval can activate benefits for your children if they are under the age of 18, which can increase your monthly payments up to 50%
  • Cost-of-Living Adjustment
    Your monthly benefits can automatically increase each year when the SSA evaluates a federal measure of the cost of living.
  • Return to Work
    There are incentives if you return to work after being approved for disability benefits. You can receive free help from a SSA-approved Employment Network, protection to work, and more.

The SSDI process can be overwhelming especially when you are dealing with your health, treatments, and loss of income. Consider working with a knowledgeable disability representative who can do the heavy lifting and increase your chances of being approved for disability benefits.

By T.J. Geist, Principal Advocate

T.J. Geist has more than 18 years of experience with Allsup and its subsidiaries, and he applies his 15 years of Social Security Disability Insurance claims experience with training and consulting roles, as well an industry expert on Social Security disability topics. Geist holds a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and is a Certified Direct Pay Representative with the Social Security Administration.


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