Help me understand Disability benefits (social security)?
July 14, 2014 3:15 PM   Subscribe

I am a late 50's year old woman living in Ohio, with chronic diabetes, stroke, and other ailments. I have been employed for the past 20 years, but it is getting exceedingly difficult to do any work. I want to know if I quality for disability benefits (like a monthly check?) even if I own my own home, and I own some other real estate properties. Who can qualify? What are other things that might disqualify me? Will receiving Disability benefits exclude me from receiving Social Security benefits when I reach the age of 65? Tanks.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
There are two types of disability programs, SSI and SSDI. SSI (Supplemental Security Income) is for low income people, and has tons of restrictions on assets. Owning property, you would not qualify for SSI. SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) is based on your lifetime earnings. If you paid into Social Security during your working career, you've earned credits that qualify you for a potential SSDI benefit, regardless of your financial status. Your annual Social Security statement will tell you how much you would likely receive as a disability payment.

It can be difficult to get onto SSDI (the legend goes that everyone is denied for the first application), and it's by no means a quick process. If you get on SSDI, the only restriction is that you cannot earn a wage over a certain amount per month. If you maintain your own rental properties, this may also be an issue.

Getting on SSDI is effectively getting on Social Security now, because you also qualify for Medicare benefits immediately, and you'll be converted to Social Security retirement benefits when you hit your required age.
posted by hwyengr at 3:27 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes if you have worked 20 years and paid taxes on your income you qualify. It is a major process to Get benefits so start as soon as you can. You will move onto retirement benefits when you are eligible.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:28 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your annual Social Security statement will tell you how much you would likely receive as a disability payment.

Just FYI:

Up until 2011, the SSA mailed annual Social Security Statements to everyone age 25 and over (who was not already receiving Social Security benefits). Now you need to go online to get a copy of your statement or view it online, unless you are over age 60 and not yet collecting Social Security benefits. Go to and open an account with Social Security to view your statement. (You can no longer request a printed statement either using Form SSA 7004.)
posted by AllieTessKipp at 3:35 PM on July 14, 2014 [6 favorites]

As stated above, there's two types of "disability" - one is a welfare-type program for low-income people who are disabled, and another is disability insurance that all working people pay into and are entitled to if they are indeed disabled. The difficult part is getting a judge to agree that you actually can't work.

As someone who just watched a few people go through this process, I really highly recommend you get a lawyer. Outside of a few "holy shit" cases, many people get rejected outright during their first attempt or two. It's a complicated, time-consuming process. Having a lawyer who's on your side, keeping things organized and explaining things will help immeasurably. They get paid when you get approved by taking a cut of your back-pay (when you get approved, it gets back-dated to the date you became disabled, so you typically get a check with however many years of payments you missed.)

But be aware that at the conclusion of all this rigamarole the actual amount they give you to live on is not great. If you definitely cannot go to work then it's better than starving to death on the street but it's barely enough (in the experience of the people I know and what I've read online). There is a definite bias towards getting people to think about the types of work they can manage to do rather than stopping altogether.
posted by bleep at 3:47 PM on July 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just a caution. SS disability is based on an inability to perform significant gainful employment for which you are qualified, i.e. you can't work, for at least a year. Benefits will be denied if you ARE working, even though painfully. Benefits will be denied if you COULD work, even if you can't find work available to you within your capacities (so long as that work exists in substantial numbers). So, you have to be out of work due to an inability to work during the claims process, which can extend for several years. Legally, people who are out of work due to on-going disability are not eligible for unemployment benefit during that period since they are, by definition, not able to work. It's a cruel twist and hole in the safety net. Beware!
posted by uncaken at 4:14 PM on July 14, 2014

Call your local Social Security department and make an appointment to discuss your case with someone. Write out everything you have a question about and go down there and get it all answered. They'll be able to give you informaiton and tell you what you need to do.

I'm sorry you're not well, but don't let any of dealing with the goverment daunt you. You've paid into the system throughout your working life and you're entitled to the help if you need it.

Another thing to look into is SNAP, Welfare, etc. So you can quit work and continue to live in your home while waiting for everything to resolve itself.

Another thought is to get a couple of roommates to help you with expenses.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:54 PM on July 14, 2014

Following up on uncaken's important advice: the amount of SSDI benefit is based on your income over the past so-many years. So if you do decide to stop working, it's important to stop while you're still working full-time. Many folks keep trying to work, and cut back to 60% then 40% and we can't make enough to live on while we're also undermining the amount of benefit. Another twist/hole.
posted by Jesse the K at 6:11 PM on July 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine just received benefits after the first application, no lawyer, and it really wasn't an onerous process. Also, it did not involve any disclosure of assets or income. This is from him:

First, check this list: (Anyone know if I can use link function on ipad?)
He had a neurological condition that was listed by name. Diabetes is listed, but you'll have to figure out if you fit the conditions listed.
Second, he started a symptom diary two years before his application that he submitted along with medical records. He documented all the ways in which his condition impacted his daily living and ability to work.
Third, he complied, to the letter, with every request made by SSDI. Read everything twice, carefully! And be really nice to the agents when you talk to them. They've bullshit meters are really accurate, and they won't be anything more than businesslike in their communications. Just remember, they're people who are stressed themselves and have heard it all.
posted by Gusaroo at 6:14 PM on July 14, 2014

To clarify a bit: SSI and SSDI are not mutually exclusive. SSI kicks in if you don't get enough SSDI to meet a minimum monthly payment. SSI also adds extra restrictions on top of SSDI, mostly considering assets and income, but if you get a part-time job or whatever you still keep the SSDI even if you are no longer eligible for the SSI. But that probably wouldn't apply in your case anyway.

To get onto SSD for chronic illness is nearly impossible if you have a job in most cases. I had been unable to work for over 3 years when I applied for Welfare because I needed to get Medicaid. DSHS required that I apply for SSD, helped me to fill out the paperwork (actually filled it out for me), and could attest to my illness, and I was denied. And I had to go through the whole long process of appeals, including evaluations by their doctors, getting a lawyer, and then a hearing. It took over 2 years. And this was before 2008, when the system got so backed up with reforms, and then later, extra applications from people losing unemployment benefits.

If you really think you might have a case, it might be worth it to go to a disability lawyer and have them look over your records to see if they think you'd pass. Then you'd have a relationship with one if you needed them later for the hearing. The people I've dealt with at Social Security have been nice, but they are incredibly overwhelmed with work and it might be difficult to get in to see someone there, even more so if you are in a town without a Social Security office.

Basically you have to find a way to prove that you can no longer manage your illness and a job at the same time and it is unlikely to get any better. But that is far easier to do with physical illness than mental illness, so you do have that advantage.
posted by monopas at 6:25 PM on July 14, 2014

Does your state have a disability program that you pay into? That is how I began the process of going on disability. First I went out for two weeks and then extended it to 3 months (Doctor Order). At that time I applied for CA State Disability which is for people who will be off work for less than a year, meaning basically not permanently disabled. After acceptance into that program I applied for SSDI. It took four months and I transitioned off of State Disability and onto SSDI. It was stressful but not a horrible process. In my case the Doctor made all the difference. He knew exactly what to tell Social Security.

Have you discussed this with your Doctor. That, I think, is the resource to start with.

As far as assets go, I believe that earned income is the issue when on any type of disability. With SSDI you can earn some money but since I do not work at all anymore I am not familiar with the rules.

Four years ago a sibling of mine applied for SSDI, They were accepted the first time. And again it started with their Doctor communicating really well about why they could not work.

Good luck and take care.
posted by cairnoflore at 9:38 PM on July 14, 2014

(when you get approved, it gets back-dated to the date you became disabled, so you typically get a check with however many years of payments you missed.)

In my case, it only got back-dated to one year before I started the application process. (For all I know I could have disputed this but I didn't look into it.)
posted by Sockpuppet Liberation Front at 9:57 PM on July 14, 2014

> It can be difficult to get onto SSDI (the legend goes that everyone is denied for the first application)

This seems to have been shifting in recent years; the SSA is more hospitable to these claims than it used to be. But hwyengr and uncaken are right. SSDI will be awarded only if you cannot work, at any job, not if it is difficult to do so.

If someone is awarded SSDI in her 50s, this simply transitions to old-age SS at full retirement age.
posted by yclipse at 5:22 AM on July 15, 2014

There's conflicting advice above ("it really wasn't an onerous process" vs. "Outside of a few "holy shit" cases, many people get rejected"). Those statements are both true, but it's hard to know which category you fall into. For example, a stroke may qualify you for benefits, but only if it results in specific disabilities (e.g., "Significant and persistent disorganization of motor function in two extremities, resulting in sustained disturbance of gross and dexterous movements, or gait and station").

Rather than going straight to SSA (not much support and advice) or to a lawyer (costly and perhaps unnecessary), I'd suggest calling your local Ohio Agency on Aging and explaining your situation and asking for advice or a referral to someone who can advise you. Not only should they be able to help you with the decision on whether and how to apply for DI, they will be familiar with state, local, and nonprofit resources that might be able to help.

Good luck.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 5:55 AM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Re: SSA disability

I like this website because:

1. It is run by people, who have been through the Social Security Disability System whether it be applying, being denied, winning their claims or sharing strategies and resources. This is their basic statement:

We started because we were tired of not getting the right answers, we were tired of getting the run around and we were tired of searching for answers that were simply nowhere to be found.

2. It is not run by claimant representatives or SSA. I have no problem with either, but at least this site will give you info without an agenda.

I base this on many, many years of experience with SSA disability.
Best of luck.
posted by JERoll at 3:17 PM on August 11, 2014

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