If you have suffered a disability that you believe will keep you from working full-time and are considering filing for Social Security disability income, one significant question you have is likely regarding the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) determination process. Here, the disability advocates at Disability Associates discuss how the Social Security Administration determines if you are disabled and qualify for Social Security disability income.

How the SSA Defines a Disability

It is first important to note that the SSA defines disability differently than other government programs and only pays benefits for “total” disability, not partial or short-term disability. For the SSA to consider you to be totally disabled under Social Security, you must meet the following criteria:

  • You can no longer perform the work that you previously did
  • Your disability has lasted or is expected to last one year, or result in death
  • You cannot adjust to other work due to your medical condition(s)

Social Security also has a full list of medical conditions deemed to be severe enough that a claimant will automatically be considered disabled.

How the SSA Determines if You Qualify

In addition to meeting the definition of disability under Social Security, you must have worked long enough—and recently enough—to qualify. Social Security uses “credits” to find out whether you have the minimum amount of covered work to qualify for benefits.

When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn up to a maximum of four credits for each year. In 2018, you will earn one credit for each $1,320 of wages or self-employment income. When you’ve earned $5,280, you’ve earned your four credits for the year.

The number of credits needed for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled. Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years ending with the year you become disabled.

However, younger workers may qualify with fewer credits. If you are disabled before the age of 24, for example, you may qualify if you have earned 6 credits in the 3-year period ending when your disability starts.

The SSA maintains a chart on their website that specifies how many credits are needed to qualify depending on your age. Remember that whatever your age, you must have earned the required number of work credits within a certain period ending with the time you become disabled.

If you qualify now but you stop working under Social Security, you may not continue to meet the work requirements in the future.

How the SSA Processes Your Claim

An applicant for disability benefits will require documentation from your physician regarding your impairment(s), treatment sources and other information related to the alleged disability. Most Social Security disability claims are initially processed through a network of local SSA field offices and State agencies (usually called Disability Determination Services or DDSs).

It is the role of the field office to verify any non-medical eligibility requirements, which may include age, employment, marital status or Social Security coverage information.

The DDS—which is fully funded by the federal government—is responsible for collecting and developing any medical evidence for a disability claim, and they make the ultimate determination on whether the claimant is disabled under Social Security requirements.

How an Attorney Can Help

Your claims process for Social Security disability benefits can be stressful and time-consuming, especially if your claim is denied. The advocates at Disability Associates concentrate exclusively on Social Security Disability law and are fully dedicated to providing the knowledge and competent representation to ensure you can get the benefits you deserve. For more information about how we are here to help your disability claim, contact us today.