Do you have to be out of work for a year to get disability?
Topic: How long do you have to be out of work to get disability benefits?
Question: "I am contacting you on behalf of a loved one. They have severe MS and should easily qualify for disability benefits. Unfortunately they were told they had to be out of work for a year before they would be considered. This is crazy for if they don't work they will be homeless."
You do not have to be out of work for a year prior to filing for disability. This is a common misunderstanding. The definition of disability states that a person must have a condition that is severe enough to prevent work activity at a substantial and gainful level a.k.a. SGA level, for a period of not less than a year. But, that does not mean that they will actually have to be unemployed for a full year before they can qualify for benefits, or even apply for disability benefits.
It's not uncommon for people to stop work due to their condition, or conditions, and then file for disability the following week, or even the following day. It is also not an uncommon occurrence for people to continue working at a reduced level and file for disability successfully. That's because SSA focuses on work earnings that go above a certain level and which invalidate a claim for disability.
So, to restate, your condition must be severe enough to prevent work activity at the SGA level for one year, but you don't have to actually have been unemployed for a year's time before you file a claim.
You can even be working as long as your earnings are under the limit to be considered disabled.
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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