How to Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits

Social Security isn’t just for people over 65. If you have a serious medical condition that keeps you from working, you might be eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) oversees two different disability programs that provides monthly benefits to claimants who are approved. These two programs use the same medical criteria, which are listed in the Blue Book, but they have other technical criteria for approval.

One program, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), is based on your work history and the credits that you have earned from working. Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is the other program, is needs-based and involves your resources and income. To be approved for either, you must be physically disabled by a condition expected to last at least a year or have a condition that is expected to lead to death.

The Two Disability Programs

SSDI is a program that is based on your work history. To be “insured,” you must have earned adequate credits. You earn credits based on the income you receive from work during the year. As of 2019, you will earn one credit for every $1,360 of income that you have received. You can earn as many as four credits each year. Usually, you must have earned 20 credits during the last 10 years – with that ending the year that you became disabled. You should apply for SSDI as soon as possible, or your credits will expire, and you will lose your chance to receive benefits.

SSI is a needs-based program. While you must meet the medical criteria for disability, you must meet the income and resource requirements as well. As an individual, you cannot have resources valued at more than $2,000 while a couple cannot have resources worth more than $3,000. You cannot earn more than $1,180 each month and still qualify for SSI benefits.

Using A Medical-Vocational Allowance

If you don’t meet the specific criteria of a listing in the Blue Book, you could still be approved for disability benefits using a medical-vocational allowance. The medical-vocational allowance uses the residual functional capacity (RFC) form, which is a form completed by a healthcare professional that clearly indicates any restrictions or limitations you suffer from your medical conditions.

The RFC is used with your age, educational history, work history, and skills to determine what kind of work – if any – you could do. Documentation, specifically hard medical evidence, is essential to a successful disability claim. You need to submit test results, surgical notes, physician notes, x-rays and lab results, and so forth.

Applying for Disability Benefits

You can apply for disability benefits in three different ways. You can start your application online, by calling 1-800-772-1213 and talking with a representative, or by calling the toll-free number and scheduling an appointment at your local SSA office where you will meet with a SSA representative face-to-face.