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THE BASICS

There are two types of Social Security benefit programs provided to those who have become disabled and cannot work: 

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides benefits to disabled workers, dependents, and their surviving spouses; and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provides benefits to disabled person whose income and assets are below a certain level. In order to qualify for either benefits program, your disability must prevent you from engaging “in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” In other words, you must have one or more “physical or mental impairment[s] of such severity that [you] are not only unable to do [your] previous work but cannot, considering [your] age, education, and work experience, engage in any other type of substantial gainful work existing in the national economy.” 

The requirements certainly do not end there. Pursuit of a claim for benefits will require proof of your insured status, a determination of how many work credits you obtained prior to your disability, and both an expert medical and vocational determination as to the extent of your disability, as well your ability to participate in any form of gainful employment. 

While your doctor, a workers’ compensation hearing officer, disability insurance, or someone else may have already declared you disabled, that does not mean that you are entitled to Social Security benefits. Part of that decision is determined on the documents filed in support of your claim, and the Administration meets the applicant only at the end of the process, when you have one last chance (after previously being denied) to present your case to the judge. 

The majority of applications made for Social Security benefits are denied in its initial phases, and the appeals process can be long and complicated. It is not uncommon for the entire process to take 1 or 2 years before a final determination can be made regarding your benefits. Furthermore, incomplete applications and missing paperwork often results in additional delays, causing additional frustration.