Social Security Disability benefits are available to many people who are unable to work because of injury or illness. Unfortunately, many people don’t know this important benefit exists, and many more don’t have enough information – or enough accurate information – about their benefits. In this article, we will go over some of the basics – though of course any specific person’s situation may be different.
Are you covered by Social Security? When you work, pay taxes and report income, you eventually become insured for Social Security Disability benefits. Many people only think about Social Security in terms of retirement benefits. But there are many different types of Social Security benefits available. Disability benefits for inability to work are one type of Social Security benefit – and are sometimes be payable with little or no work history at all.
When are benefits payable? Social Security Disability benefits are generally payable if you are disabled and unable to work (unable to perform “…substantial gainful activity…”) for a period of one year or more. Many disabled workers are under the impression that they must wait a full year before applying for disability benefits. That is not correct. Technically an application for disability benefits may be submitted on the first day of the disability (although it’s often better to wait at least a few months before filing).
Does applying prevent you from going back to work? Many people are concerned that they can’t return to work if they apply for Social Security Disability benefits, either because applying prevents them from going back to work or because returning to work means they will lose their case. However, the Social Security regulations were written to encourage people to try to return to work. While returning to work before the one-year period may disqualify you from receiving benefits, if the attempt to return to work was unsuccessful the application will continue and benefits may be payable. Also, if someone returns to work after being out for a year or more, they may still be entitled to benefits for the period before they returned to work.
What if you are being paid by your employer? Social Security Disability benefits may be payable if you are disabled and unable to work – even if you are continuing to be paid by your employer. While earnings from actual work may prevent a claim from being made, payments of accrued sick, vacation time or compensatory time, union benefits, differential pay or continuation of pay for any reason not based on actual work do not.
What about workers’ compensation benefits? Although workers’ compensation benefits may reduce your entitlement to disability benefits, that is not always the case and many claimants receive both benefits while disabled and unable to work.
What if your disability is only temporary? As we mentioned above, Social Security Disability benefits are payable for temporary disabilities as long as they prevent you from working for more than one year. Many Social Security Disability recipients return to work and eventually stop receiving disability benefits.
What happens if you go back to work? Another misconception about Social Security Disability benefits is that they stop immediately if you return to work. Just like the rules encourage people to try to return to work while their application is pending, they also encourage people to try to return to work after they have been approved for benefits. One way they do this is by providing a “trial work period” during which disability benefits continue to be paid even while you are working.
What if you had other medical problems before becoming disabled? Many people who are unable to work due to an injury or illness suffered in the workplace often had limitations that preexisted the work-related injury or illness, so they assume those aren’t important to their application. However, Social Security will consider all conditions that limit your ability to work whether related to a workers’ compensation claim or not. These additional, preexisting limitations often become significant factors in a claim being approved.
What are the legal fees? There is no up-front fee to consult with or retain our firm to assist you in a claim for Social Security Disability benefits. Social Security Regulations provide that an attorney fee is only payable if the claim is approved and you are entitled to retroactive benefits. When that successful result happens, the Social Security Administration approves a fee and deducts it from the retroactive award.
For all of these reasons and more, it is important to seek legal counsel to determine what your rights are whether you may be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits.