Will The Condition You have Determine How Much You Get For Disability?

Firstly, Social Security Disability is not based upon what medical or mental condition an individual has. Social Security Disability is based upon "residual functional capacity". Residual functional capacity is what an individual is able to do in spite of their impairment. Residual functional capacity is what enables an individual to work or prevents them from working.

The definition of disability for Social Security purposes is that an individual has been unable to work at a substantial work activity level--or that they expect to be unable to work at substantial work activity level--for twelve months due to a medically determinable mental or medical impairment.

So, if an individual's condition has nothing to do with the amount of their disability benefit, what determines how much they will receive for their disability benefit? It depends upon which disability program pays their disability benefit.

Social Security manages two disability programs: Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income disability (SSI). If an individual is entitled to Social Security Disability, their disability benefit amount is determined by their earnings prior to becoming disabled. Generally, the longer an individual was able to work and the higher their earnings, then the higher their monthly disability benefit amount is.

If an individual is entitled concurrently (meaning entitled to both Social Security Disability and SSI) or to SSI only, their benefit is based upon a monthly earnings amount set by Social Security each year (meaning that there is a fixed maximum monthly SSI benefit that applies to all SSI recipients). Regarding "concurrent benefits", there are times when individuals who are entitled to Social Security Disability can receive SSI. Social Security beneficiaries are not entitled to a disability benefit until the six month following their date of onset.

Translation: when you are approved for SSD, your first five months of benefits are taken back by the federal government; as a consequence of not receiving their SSD benefits during this five month waiting period, they are able to receive SSI disability benefits for that time period as long as they meet income and resource limits for the SSI program.

There are some individuals whose monthly Social Security Disability benefit is low enough to enable them to continue to receive SSI even after they begin to receive Social Security Disability. Such individuals, as previously stated, are in the position of receiving "concurrent" (i.e. dual) benefits.

However, it is important to note that all concurrently entitled disability beneficiaries are bound by the maximum SSI monthly disability amount. So, if you receive both SSD and SSI monthly disability benefits, your total benefit amount can never be greater than the amount received by someone who is receiving a full SSI benefit each month.

In summary, an individual's condition never determines the amount an individual receives for their monthly disability benefit. What determines an individual's monthly disability benefit amount is the disability program they are receiving their benefits from. An individual's earnings determine their Social Security Disability benefit amount, whereas an individual's SSI disability benefit amount is determined by the Social Security Administration each year.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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