If you're thinking about applying for Social Security Disability Insurance, you probably have a lot of questions. So, here are answers to five frequently asked questions about the application process from a Southern Illinois Disability attorney.
1. What are the requirements to be able to get Social Security disability benefits?
To qualify for benefits, you must have worked long enough over your career to be "insured" by Social Security. (This is covered in more detail in the eBook.)
To be found "disabled", you must prove that you have a medical condition or impairment that prevents you from working at a certain income level (Social Security calls this "Substantial Gainful Activity") for a period of 12 months or more or that your condition is likely to lead to death.
2. I can't do my normal work anymore, but I don't really feel "disabled", either. Is it really OK for me to apply?
As a Southern Illinois Social Security Disability representative, I understand that around these parts, people believe in good, honest, hard work. We take pride in pulling our own weight and don't want to accept anything that feels like a handout, because that just feels wrong to us. Unfortunately, this means that we feel guilty for relying on wonderful programs like Social Security Disability Insurance, even if we have paid into the system for years.
The fact is, most people who qualify for Social Security disability benefits do not think of themselves as being "disabled". They want to be positive, and try to think of the many other things they are still able to do. This is a great attitude! But at the same time, it's also important to be realistic about your work limitations. So if your condition no longer allows you to do your current job or other jobs available in the regional economy you might qualify for Social Security disability benefits. Remember, it's not a handout... you earned it.
3. So... how do I apply for Social Security disability benefits?
There are several ways to apply. If you're comfortable with applying online, you can do so on the Social Security website. https://secure.ssa.gov/iClaim/dib
If you prefer to apply in person, you can do so at your local Social Security office. Use the Social Security website's office locator service to find the field office closest to you. https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp
If you are unable to make a trip to your local office and do not feel comfortable applying online, you can also apply for benefits over the phone. Call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) Monday through Friday, 7 am to 7 pm.
4. I just applied for benefits. How do I check the status of my application?
You can check the status of your application on the Social Security website. https://secure.ssa.gov/apps6z/IAPS/applicationStatus.
Your application status will show the date your application was received, the address of the office that is processing your application, any additional documents needed from you, and whether a decision has been made or not.
After the application has moved from the field office to the disability determination office, you will receive correspondence from an adjudicator with a contact phone number.
5. Will my unemployment benefits conflict with Social Security disability benefits?
It is possible. While your unemployment benefits are not counted as earnings, by filing for unemployment benefits, you are indicating that you are capable of working in some type of job. Since your Social Security Disability claim is based on your assertion that you are not capable of working at substantial gainful activity level for 12 months or more there is an inherent inconsistency in having both claims at the same time.
In my experience as a Southern Illinois Social Security attorney, judges will often ask a claimant to amend the onset date to the first date after unemployment benefits ended.
Some states also require a repayment from the claimant if they receive Social Security Disability benefits during the same period that they received unemployment benefits.
The one thing you cannot do is keep it a secret. You must disclose the fact that you have filed for Social Security Disability benefits when you file an unemployment claim. You will also be asked about unemployment benefits when you file your Social Security claim. When your case is evaluated by the Social Security Administration, your claim folder will contain the details of the unemployment benefits you received. At your hearing, the administrative law judge will ask about your unemployment benefits.
Both programs are designed to help workers who are displaced from work either due to loss of jobs (unemployment) or disabling impairments (Social Security), but there are many instances where claimants are not qualified for unemployment benefits while their Social Security claim is pending. This means they might have no income for up to 3 years after their last work date.
The financial strain of dealing with injury or illness while having no income can be a harsh reality for many claimants. To protect yourself against this nightmare, purchase disability insurance coverage through your employer or a private company and set aside part of your income in savings so you can survive the financial strain if you ever have to file a Social Security claim.
Joni Beth Bailey is a Southern Illinois Social Security Disability attorney.