What is Social Security Disability and How Do I Apply?

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What is Social Security Disability and How Do I Apply?

According to the Social Security Administration, studies show that a 20-year-old worker has a three-in-ten chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement age. When a person suffers from a debilitating mental or physical disability, they may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits from the government.

The Social Security Administration pays disability benefits under two different programs: 

• Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) - Based on prior work for which Social Security Taxes were paid.

• Supplemental Security Income (SSI) - Based on financial need. Children, as well as adults, may be able to collect disability benefits. 

Unfortunately, meeting Social Security's definition of disability benefits is often challenging. That's where you could use the help of an experienced SSDI attorney, like the ones at SWS Accident & Injury Lawyers.

Our attorneys are thoroughly familiar with both programs and can work with you to help get you the benefits you deserve and desperately need. We have successfully represented hundreds of claimants, helping them obtain Social Security benefits after previously being denied. 

Social Security Administration Defines "Disability"

We all know what "disability" means, but this term has a specific definition in the context of the Social Security disability program and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. A person with a "disability" has the inability "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. 423 (d)(1)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(A).

"Substantial gainful activity" is another specific term defined by Social Security, and we will discuss this in our next blog. However, the big takeaway from the definition of disability is this: it deals with a severe health condition that interferes significantly with one's ability to work and must last or be expected to last 12 continuous months. This is why Social Security requires so much paperwork about a claimant's physical and mental abilities; it must decide how those abilities affect the claimant's functioning in a work setting.

Who Qualifies for Social Security Disability Benefits in Georgia?

Social Security Disability (SSD) exists to assist individuals who have paid into the Social Security system when they can no longer work.

How do you qualify to receive these crucial benefits? 

In general, you need to have worked in a job where the government deducted Social Security taxes from your pay; and you must have a medical circumstance that meets the Social Security Administration's definition of a disability.

The Definition of Disability

Social Security defines "disability" somewhat differently than other entitlement programs. The system only pays for total disability; individuals are not eligible for partial or short-term disability. This fact distinguishes SSD from similar programs like worker's compensation. The government considers someone disabled if they meet all of the following criteria:

• The individual is unable to work as they previously did;

• The Social Security Administration (SSA) determines that the individual is unable to adjust to different work due to their medical condition;

• The individual's disability has lasted (or is expected to last) for one year or more, or physicians expect the individual to die soon.

The SSA uses a strict definition of disability; this is why many Social Security Disability claims are denied. The Georgia SSD department approves about 30% of the claims that come through its office.

Your Contribution to the Program

The amount a person has worked and paid into the Social Security system is the other factor determining who is eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. Every year you work, you earn Social Security credits based on your yearly wages or income from self-employment.

The number of credits you earn will vary yearly, but four credits each year is the maximum. To qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, you generally need 40 credits, 20 of which should be earned in the last ten (10) years of your employment.

Although the government created SSD benefits for those who have spent their lives working, it is possible to qualify for them at a younger age. For example, if you become disabled before age 24, you can be eligible for benefits if you earned six Social Security credits in the three years leading to your disability.

Conditions that may qualify you for SSDI benefits

There is a list of approved diagnoses that will make you eligible for benefits, but that isn't a promise. Some conditions that may qualify an individual for Social Security benefits include:

• Depression/anxiety

• Blindness

• Arthritis

• Heart disease

• Paralysis

• Orthopedic injuries

• Diabetes

• Neurological disorders

Again, getting a diagnosis from this list does not guarantee the benefits you seek, but if you keep good records and submit appropriate paperwork, you are well on your way. You might be wondering if it is possible to expedite the process, but there are very few ways to rush the SSD process. If your conditions are more severe, look into the qualifications for the Compassionate Allowances Program. It is one of the only ways the government will expedite your SSDI case.

What Is The Compassionate Allowances Program, And How Does It Work?

Following a lengthy application process, you may wait weeks, even months, to hear back about Social Security Disability benefits. During that time, your bills could pile up quickly, especially if your disability leaves you unable to hold down full-time work. However, suppose your condition is unusually severe. In that case, you may be eligible for expedited approval via the Compassionate Allowances Program, which provides prompt assistance for those with serious (often terminal) medical conditions.

Which Conditions Qualify For the Compassionate Allowances Program?

The Compassionate Allowances Program maintains a list of over 200 conditions that qualify for expedited disability benefits. These include:

  • Huntington's disease
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
  • Gallbladder cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Stomach cancer

What Evidence Is Needed?

The process of proving eligibility for the Compassionate Allowances Program is surprisingly simple, although it varies somewhat based on the applicant's condition. More evidence is always better, especially as hospitals and clinics can sometimes be slow to respond to inquiries. Biopsy reports, discharge summaries, and physician letters are helpful and can pave the path to quicker acceptance.

Processing Timeline For Compassionate Allowances Program Applications

Typically, it takes several months to determine whether an individual is eligible for Social Security benefits. With the Compassionate Allowances Program, this decision is made in a matter of days. Unfortunately, the usual SSDI waiting period applies after approval or denial is granted. Established by federal law, this five-month waiting period cannot be waived, even for those accepted through the Compassionate Allowances Program.

The Compassionate Allowances Program can spell the difference between months of suffering and prompt financial relief. If your suffering is severe, and you cannot afford to wait for a disability determination, this program may be your best option.

How To Prove Your Medical Condition for Social Security Disability

Medical evidence is an integral component of any bid for disability benefits. When you file a disability claim, you are responsible for providing ample evidence of your condition and how it impacts your day-to-day life. This evidence must come from reliable sources who have treated your condition.

Tracking your condition can be tricky, but thankfully, you have many resources at your disposal. The Social Security Administration can help you obtain the necessary information if you provide permission, or you can turn to a Social Security disability lawyer for help. Keep the following considerations in mind as you track your condition:

Seek Evidence From Approved Sources

According to the Social Security Administration, accepted sources of disability evidence include:

  • Licensed physicians
  • Licensed psychologists
  • Licensed podiatrists
  • Licensed optometrists
  • Qualified speech-language pathologists

Additionally, the SSA may request copies of reports from clinics, hospitals, or even social workers. These reports may include the following:

  • Clinical findings
  • Laboratory findings
  • Diagnosis
  • Statements describing what the claimant can and cannot do, due to or despite medical impairments

Tracking Symptoms On Your Own

Your personal records of your symptoms will not be enough — you need feedback from licensed medical professionals. However, healthcare professionals will likely advise you to keep a detailed history of the symptoms you experience. Whenever an incident related to your impairment occurs, please take note of what happened, when it happened, and how much pain it caused. Avoid exaggerating or minimizing your condition, as this could lead to claim denial. Careful tracking of symptoms is essential for representative payees, who must record medical incidents and associated expenses.

The right Social Security attorney can help you locate the medical records and documents needed to support your claim. Look to Smith, Wallis & Scott, LLP for assistance filing for disability benefits and appealing denied claims.

How Can I Help Someone Apply for Social Security Disability?

Suppose your significant other, parent, sibling, or friend desperately needs Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income, but cannot apply for those benefits or follow through with the approval process. Now, it's up to you to secure the disability benefits your loved one requires. Keeping reading to learn more about this big responsibility:

Develop a Clear Understanding of the Impact of Your Loved One's Disability

Your loved one may be unable to communicate the full extent of their suffering. Be careful not to underestimate the pain this person is experiencing. Carefully observe what the disability applicant can and cannot do as a result of their condition, and be prepared to report on these observations.

Be Prepared to Act as a Representative Payee

The Social Security Administration appoints a representative payee to manage benefits on behalf of those who are too ill to do so themselves. The payee's job is to use the awarded benefits to pay for necessary care and save benefits that are not needed. The payee must also keep a clear record of these expenses and savings. The Social Security Administration recommends that payees act not only in the financial interests of the beneficiary, but also take an active role in that person's life.

Applying to Be a Representative Payee

If you already have power of attorney, you'll still need to apply to be your loved one's representative payee. The application process is simple, but it typically occurs in person. Complete form SSA-11, and be prepared to show documents that prove your identity.

As a representative payee, you can positively impact your loved one's life. Take your duties seriously — you are the integral link between your loved one and the care they desperately need.

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