The Basics of Social Security Disability

What is Social Security Disability?

Social Security Disability is an insurance system set up by the Federal government. The purpose is to provide a "safety net" of income for people suffering from medical impairments which prevent meaningful employment and earnings. In order to be eligible, you must have paid FICA (Federal income tax deducted by your employer) while working for five of the ten years prior to the date that you became totally disabled. The benefits may also be available for disabled widows or widowers more than 50 years old.

What does it mean to be "disabled" in order to receive Social Security?

The term "disability" has different meanings, depending on the program, such as workers' compensation, Veterans benefits, private pension, etc. The Social Security Administration has a very specific definition of what is means to be "disabled." Basically, there is a 5 step process required to prove that you are "disabled":

  1. You can't perform "substantial gainful activity." Earnings of over $1,000.00 per month are presumed by law to be substantial gainful activity.
  2. Your inability to work or earn even minimal wages must last at least 12 months. Basic physical work activities include the ability to sit, stand, walk, bend, stoop, lift, carry, reach, handle, see, hear, etc. Basic mental work activities include following instructions, being able to accept supervision, getting along with co-workers and supervisors, being able to maintain attention and concentration, being able to follow work rules and behave appropriately in the work place, etc.
  3. Your inability to work must be the result of a “severe” medical condition, which can be a combination of impairments.
  4. Your inability to work must be properly documented by medical data.
  5. Your inability to work takes into consideration age, education and past work.

ALL component parts of the definition must be met to qualify as disabled.

What does it mean to be "insured" under Social Security?

A condition must become disabling before a person’s insured status ends, e.g. “date last insured.” To be fully insured, an individual must have 10 years of credited work or 1 quarter of work credit for each year from age 21 to the age of disablement. The work need not have been done in any particular year; it must merely meet the required total number of quarters, depending on the claimant’s age. To be disability insured an individual must generally show 20 quarters or 5 years of work in the 40 quarters or 10 years immediately preceding when the person stopped working.

What benefits will be paid if you are eligible for Social Security Disability?

If you win, you should start getting your benefits in one to two months. It may take several months for all back benefits to get paid. Another rule limits payment of back benefits to 12 months before the date of your application. The amount of monthly benefits you receive will depend on the calculation of your posted earnings. You are entitled to a cost of living increase every year. In no event will your monthly payments exceed the maximum amount that you would have been entitled under Social Security Retirement.

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