Am I Eligible For Social Security Disability?

In order to be eligible for SSI benefits or Social Security Disability (SSD), you must demonstrate that you are a) physically or mentally disabled and b) are in financial need (unable to perform substantial gainful activity) as a result of your disability.

Those individuals applying for SSD must prove that their medical condition prevents them from earning a certain amount each month, defined by the social security administration as substantial gainful activity (SGA). In order to qualify for SSD benefits, a claimant must make no more than the current SGA amount. However, the SGA is adjusted annually by the social security administration to reflect cost of living increases/inflation.

To qualify for SSI, an applicant must demonstrate not only an inability to earn the current SGA, but must also prove that he or she has no more than two thousand dollars in assets, including any bank accounts, insurance policies, and property (other than their home). Potential SSI applicants are allowed to own only one car to get to and from work'any other vehicle is counted as an asset, and its value may prevent them from qualifying for disability benefits.

If you're not sure if your financial status qualifies you for SSD/SSI benefits, the best thing to do is speak to claims representative (CR) at the social security office. The CR can review your assets and determine if you are qualified to receive either SSD or SSI (or both).

Assuming you qualify to receive disability benefits from a financial standpoint, your SSD/SSI case will be forwarded to a disability examiner for consideration. The disability examiner's job is to determine if your medical condition is severe enough to prevent you from working enough to earn the current SGA.

You will be granted disability benefits only if you can demonstrate, through medical records, that your impairment is severe enough to prevent you from working for 12 months or more. Detailed documentation of your condition by your treating physician is key here, and ideally will include a description of both your symptoms and how they prevent you from performing your job (or any other job to which you may be suited).

Of course, if your application for disability is denied by the disability examiner, you can appeal the decision. This appeal, also called a request for reconsideration or review, is decided by the same agency that considered the original application, the state disability determination services (DDS) agency. And, if your appeal is denied, you have the option of requesting a hearing before an administrative judge.

The administrative law judge, or ALJ, will consider only the medical evidence (which you have supplied in your medical history), but at this level of consideration the claimant has the advantage of actually meeting, in person, the individual that will decide if he or she is eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.

The judge will also review the claimant's work history to see if he or she is truly incapable of performing substantial gainful activity (earning a certain amount per month).

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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