One of the most common mistakes made by people claiming Social Security disability benefits is filing a claim based on something that is not a disability that qualifies for disability benefits. Often, people make the mistake of assuming that just because a condition is considered disabling by their employer or a disability insurance company that they will qualify for Social Security disability benefits. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a very narrow definition of what constitutes being “disabled” for their purposes. In order to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you must be deemed completely unable to continue working in any full time employment available anywhere in the country for which you could reasonably be trained.
The SSA will take all jobs you have performed in the past 15 years into account when determining what kind of work you could reasonably be trained for. They will also consider your age and education level. Younger applicants are expected to be able to retrain for lighter or less stressful types of work in many cases.
Understanding what the SSA is looking for when they determine whether a person is disabled or not can help you determine whether it’s worthwhile for you to file for Social Security disability benefits or not. Here are some of the basic requirements to qualify for disability benefits:
- Your disability must be deemed “completely disabling.” This means that the SSA figures you are incapable of performing any kind of full time work (not just your current job).
- Your disability must be expected to last at least one year or to end in your death. SSDI, SSI and other disability programs overseen by the SSA are designed for people who have long term or terminal disabilities. If your disability is expected to be shorter term, you should not file, though you should make the SSA aware of your intent to file in order to establish a protective filing date, in case it becomes apparent your condition will be long term.
- Your condition must meet or be considered equivalent to a Social Security disability listing. The SSA’s “Blue Book” defines which conditions apply for disability benefits and how severe they must be in order to qualify. You can qualify with an unlisted condition, but it must meet the basic requirements for disability of one or more of the listed conditions.
- Many people become confused because their employer may tell them they are disabled, their doctors may tell them they are disabled, and they might even be able to collect from disability programs such as Worker’s Compensation or private disability income insurance. The confusion comes for a couple of reasons:
- Many disability programs don’t require total disability. This is particularly true of disability insurance programs which will pay out for partial disability in most cases.
- Many programs are tailored to your occupation. You can have a disability which hinders you from working at your current (or last) occupation, but which doesn’t hinder you from doing other types of available work. This will qualify for Worker’s Compensation and many insurance programs, but not for SSDI or SSI.
This isn’t to say that you should hesitate to file a Social Security disability claim if you are disabled. It is to say that you should consult someone who knows the SSA programs inside and out before you file. A Social Security disability lawyer can give you a reasonably accurate idea of whether your disability claim is likely to be approved by the SSA.