Disability Law FAQ

Start here for answers to the most basic questions about Social Security Disability and SSI benefits.

How do I know whether I’m eligible for disability benefits or not?

Whether you are eligible for disability benefits depends on many factors, both medical and financial. But basically, Social Security disablity (SSD) or SSI benefits are for anyone who is physically or emotionally disabled to the point where they can not hold a regular job for 12 months or more. Social Security will look at how much you're working , whether your medical condition matches one of its disability listings, and whether you have the remaining "functional capacity" to do any type of job, even a physically or mentally simple job.  

What should I do if I’ve been turned down for disability benefits?

There are many individuals who are legally eligible for disability benefits that have been turned down. Many folks need to appeal to get their benefits, sometimes more than once. There are several levels of appeal for Social Security disability claims. The first is a review by a claims examiner, called a reconsideration. In the reconsideration, a claims examiner will simply look at your application and medical record to see if the first claims examiner made any mistakes. The second level is an appeal hearing in front of an administrative law judge who works for the Social Security Administration. The judge will look at all the facts of your case, including any new medical information you submit to Social Security, to decide if you're disabled.

See our article, The Social Security Disability Appeals Process, for more on the steps involved.

Can someone work and receive Social Security benefits at the same time?

People who receive Social Security disability (SSD) are allowed to do an "insubstantial" amount of work. In 2016, Social Security defines substantial activity as $1,130 per month. You can make less than that amount and not jeopardize your benefits -- if you are still disabled, meaning unable to work a full-time job.

Recipients of SSI are not held to the same standard, once they are approved for benefits. (Until they are approved for benefits, however, SSI applicants cannot be working over the substantial activity level.) The SSI program has several work incentives to encourage people to try to go back to work, and the SSD program has a trial work program for the same reason.  

There are different standards of what constitutes substantial activity for those who run their own business, since the amount of money one makes in a business isn't always reflective of how much they work. For more information, see our article on working and the "SGA limit".

How much money can a disabled person expect to receive per month as part of their disability benefits?

It depends on whether the person with a disability is receiving Social Security disability (SSD) or SSI (Supplemental Security Income). The average SSD payment in 2015 was $1,165 per month, but the exact amount depends on how much money the person made at work over a period of many years. The maximum you can receive from SSD is $2,663 per month.

For SSI, the answer is much more complicated. The most you will receive in SSI payments  from the federal government is $733 per month in 2016, but this amount will be lowered if you have any outside income (even "in-kind" food and shelter that are given to you). Also, most states provide a supplemental payment to some SSI recipients. If you live in one of these states ad you qualify for the supplement, this payment may be added on to your federal payment.

For more information, see Collecting Disability Payments: How Much Does Social Security or SSI Pay?

Can I receive disability benefits if I have never worked before?

Generally, only those who have worked a certain amount of years paying federal Social Security taxes are eligible for Social Security disability benefits. In addition, the spouses and children of disabled workers can qualify for dependents benefits.

If you are disabled and have never held a job, or haven't worked in a long time, you may be able to collect SSI on account of your disability.  

If I have been approved for disability benefits, will I receive 'back pay?'

Most disability applicants receive back pay when they are approved for Social Security disability or SSI. The back pay will cover the time that has passed since you first applied. For Social Security disability, you can even receive retroactive payments for up to a year before your application date, if you were disabled well before that time. For SSI, you can receive back payments back to the month following your application date.  

This money is typically awarded as a lump sum back payment.

Should I hire a disability attorney?

It is a good idea to at least seek a free consultation with a disability attorney.   If you have been turned down for disability, but you think you have a valid claim, you should consider hiring a disability a lawyer to appeal your claim for you.  

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