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When should you apply for Social Security Disability?



Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a Social Security disability program which provides benefits for people who have worked, and earned enough "credits" to qualify for disability benefits. Many people are under the impression that it is virtually impossible to receive Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. In order to be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, an individual must be unable to perform substantial gainful activity by reason of a physical or mental impairment which has lasted, or is expected to last, at least twelve consecutive months. It is not necessary to wait the entire twelve month period to file a claim. If you know that a physical or mental impairment is going to prevent you from working, and that inability to work is going to last for twelve consecutive months, then you can file on day one, after a week, or as soon as you know.

You should apply for Social Security Disability if:

  1. You have been seriously ill/injured and are not able to work for an extended period of time;
  2. You have an illness which is expected to end in death in less than 12 months;
  3. You are unable to work and are covered by private disability insurance, your insurance carrier may require that you apply for benefits; and
  4. You are totally disabled and are receiving Workers' Compensation benefits.  We may recommend that you apply for benefits as a "safety net" should anything adverse happen to your Workers' Compensation benefits, or to provide a monthly income should you settle your Workers' Compensation claim for a lump?sum amount.

By filing a claim and gaining approval for Social Security Disability benefits, you also protect your retirement benefits.  For every year that you work you receive earnings credits. When you retire, these credits are averaged to determine your monthly retirement benefits. If you should, unfortunately, become disabled and unable to work, but Social Security has not been made aware of this disability, a zero or zeros will be added into your account for the year or years that you have been unable to work. As a result, you will have a lower earnings credit average when you retire and your retirement benefits may be substantially lower. When you receive Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, the period when you are disabled is excluded from the calculation of your retirement benefits (i.e., no zeros are added into the equation) and there is no lowering of your earnings credit average. Consequently, your retirement benefits will not be reduced as a result of your disability.

If you become eligible, some family members (children under 19 who have not finished high school; children 18 or over who become disabled before age 22; a spouse caring for a child under 16; as well as a spouse, or divorced spouse in certain instances, aged 62 or older), may also be eligible to receive separate payments to compensate for your inability to provide income. And, after you have received Social Security Disability Benefits for two years, you are eligible to apply for Medicare coverage, regardless of your age. 

It is important therefore, to file a claim for Social Security Disability benefits if you are unable to work for 12 months or longer. Rarely, however, does someone have disability insurance benefits approved on their initial application. If there is denial of the claim at the first step, the next step of appeal will be directly to an administrative law judge. Statistics do show, that individuals who seek the advice of an attorney before they apply for disability insurance benefits, are far more successful at obtaining all the benefits to which they are entitled.

The best news of all is, under certain circumstances, you are entitled to a trial return to work.  If you try and fail, you do not lose your disability insurance benefits. If you try and succeed (make over $700 a month for a consecutive nine-month period) then, obviously, you have made somewhat of a recovery, are back at gainful employment, and your Social Security Disability benefits would end.

If you would like more information, you may contact Charlene Canty at (412) 338-1153 or Shelley Elovitz at (412) 338-1114 or visit our website at

© 2008 Rothman Gordon, P.C.  The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for obtaining legal advice applicable to your situation.

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