Some of the most inspiring people live with a disability. They accept and face the challenges presented by everyday life. Yet, they could also use some assistance.
While disability benefits can ease financial struggles, it isn’t always easy to obtain them. The application process for disability benefits is challenging, complicated, and time-consuming. It’s full of technical legal and medical terms. Simply being unable to work or having a recognized diagnosis is not enough to qualify for benefits.
What Government Programs Are Available for Disabled Individuals?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) manages two programs that provide cash benefits to disabled individuals: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). The financial eligibility requirements are very different for each program.
SSI is a means-tested program for people with disabilities who have very limited income and financial resources. SSDI is available to qualified workers with disabilities, regardless of their personal resources. Think of SSDI as a form of early retirement for those who become disabled before age 65. The financial requirements differ, but the SSA determines medical eligibility the same way for both programs.
What Does It Mean to Be “Disabled”?
The SSA has a strict definition of disability. A person is considered disabled if a medical condition or injury is expected to keep them from working for at least one full year (or the disability is expected to result in death). This means they cannot perform the work they used to do, and they cannot adjust to different work because of a medical condition. The medical condition could be a physical or mental condition or a combination of both.
The SSA does not provide benefits for partial or short-term disabilities. To qualify, the disability must prevent the individual from full-time work. This is a three-prong test. That means individuals who want to qualify for benefits must prove all three:
- They cannot perform work that they used to.
- They cannot adjust to different work because of a medical condition.
- They have suffered or are expected to suffer from their disability for at least one year (or the disability is expected to result in death).
Certain impairments, by their nature, meet this definition. SSA maintains a “Blue Book” that includes both recognized physical and mental conditions that will automatically meet the definition to qualify for benefits. There are different listings for children and adults. For adults, this list includes the following:
- Musculoskeletal problems, such as back and joint injuries
- Cardiovascular conditions, such as heart failure or coronary artery disease
- Senses and speech issues, such as vision or hearing loss
- Respiratory illnesses, such as COPD, cystic fibrosis, and asthma
- Neurological disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, or epilepsy
- Mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, autism, or intellectual disorder (low IQ)
- Immune system disorders, such as HIV/AIDs, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis
- Other syndromes, such as Sjogren’s Syndrome and Marfan Syndrome
- Skin disorders, such as dermatitis and soft tissue injuries like burns
- Digestive tract problems, such as liver disease and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Kidney disease and genitourinary problems
- Blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia or bone marrow failure
Regardless of whether your condition is listed, it’s useful when applying to include evidence of the severity of the disability from medical professionals, such as diagnoses, test results, prescribed medications, and treatment plans. Sometimes it’s helpful to support an application with nonmedical evidence, such as evidence of education, work history, or letters from previous employers or caregivers.
How Difficult Is the Application Process for Disability Benefits?
The application process can be tricky. Many people find it worthwhile to engage the help of an experienced lawyer who can make sure you present the strongest possible evidence of your disability so you can receive the benefits you deserve.
The lawyers at Hunter & Everage advise clients, helping them maximize their benefits. Our Social Security Disability lawyers are located in Charlotte, North Carolina; Montgomery, Alabama, and Richmond, Virginia.