Many people that come to us have already applied for Social Security Disability, but sometimes it does not make sense to have applied in the first place. If you are on the fence about whether to apply for benefits, here are a few things to think about.
Are You Working Now?
The first question that Social Security will ask in evaluating your claim is whether you are engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” This means is whether you are working and earning a minimum amount each month. Social Security will publish a specific monthly income amount that it considers to be significant gainful activity. If you are consistently making that amount of money month after month, your claim will be quickly denied. The current monthly income amount considered “significant gainful activity” is approximately $1,070.00. This changes each year.
There are always exceptions to this general rule.
One exception is if the income is "subsidized." Work is subsidized when the employer is paying wages or a salary, but accepts only that you are only performing a percentage of the work a healthy worker would provide. For example, you are being paid for full time work, but only showing up 25% of your scheduled work hours. In this case, the employer is subsidizing 75% of your earnings.
Work that is heavily coached or supervised may also not be considered substantial and gainful activity. You may be showing up at work, but you are getting a lot of help and support that a healthy worker would not get on the job. That is another kind of subsidized work.
Some people make an attempt to work, but do not make it very long because of your disability. Depending on how long you were able to work full time, Social Security may consider this a failed attempt at a return to work, and disregard this work and earnings.
How Old Are You?
The magic age is 50. This is the one time that it is an advantage to be older!
If you are under the age of 50 and claiming disability, you must show that you have a serious medical impairment that keeps you from not only doing your prior work, but any other work that exists in the national economy. For example, if you are working in construction, and suffered a serious knee injury that took you off work permanently, you may be disabled from that kind of work. However, if you could perform lighter work, like a cashier with the option to sit and stand throughout the day, you would not be considered disabled. It does not matter that your earnings may be significantly less.
You should also keep in mind that the jobs Social Security thinks you can still perform need only exist on a national level. They do not have to be available jobs, and they need not exist in where you live. We represent people all over Washington and Oregon, and the local job market changes from place to place. Social Security does not consider this. If there are significant jobs that exist on the national level, and Social Security thinks you can perform those jobs, you are not disabled.
When you turn 50, however, Social Security may find you are disabled even if you are still able to perform some kinds of work. Social Security has determined that it is more difficult for older workers to adapt to other kinds of work. Whether your age helps you with your claim depends on the physical and mental requirements of your past work. The more strenuous the work and the less skilled the work, but better chance you have of being found disabled. This is because you may not have the ability to adapt to lighter jobs.
These rules become more favorable for applicants over age 55, and then at age 60. Again, it depends on your past work experience, and what you are able to physically and mentally do in the work place in spite of your disabling conditions.
What is Your Doctor Telling You?
It is not only what your doctor was saying, but what your medical records say. Social Security will determine whether you have a "severe” medical impairment, which means that you have medical problem or a combination of problems that affects your ability to do work activity in general. Medical records play a big role in determining whether your condition is severe. This is because medical records contain “objective” medical evidence. This means the medical records show a problem that everyone can see it, like a broken leg on an x ray.
Your doctor will also have a large role to play in the process. Many doctors will agree that you have a serious medical problem, but the real question is often how much your medical condition limits your ability to do work activity. How much can you sit, stand, walk, lift and carry? Do you have a mental health issue that will prevent you from being at work regularly? Doctors will often provide opinions on these issues.
When You Should Apply?
When you apply for disability benefits, you have to show that you are disabled, but also that your disability has lasted or is expected to last at least a year. Some of our clients will wait several months, even years after they stopped working to apply. If you think that your health issues are going to keep you from work for a year or more, think about applying for benefits. Waiting does not help most of the time.
You also need to consider your "date last insured." Social Security is a disability insurance policy that happens to be run by the government. You pay premiums to the federal government every time you receive a paycheck. To be insured, you have to have paid into Social Security for so many quarters of a year over so many years. Once you stop working, you are no longer paying benefits, and at one point, you will no longer be insured. When this occurs depends on how many quarters of coverage you have accumulated when you stop working. It is always better to have your application in before your insured status expires. In some cases, you still have a chance at a later application if you are denied the first time around.
If you have questions about applying for Social Security Disability, contact us. We have handled hundreds of disability claims over the years, and can help you know where you stand.