in Social Security disability, + other benefits
in Social Security disability, + other benefits
If you are living with a short-term or long-term disability, you might qualify for Social Security disability pay through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). These disability benefits go to people who have met work history, disability, and income criteria, allowing them to pay for necessities, such as housing or medical costs.
Understanding Social Security disability benefits can be confusing for those on the program, let alone someone new to the system. The following commonly asked questions and answers can help you learn what to expect from disability insurance benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
HOW DOES SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY WORK?
Social Security disability pay is in place to assist workers who have a medical condition that prevents them from working in the capacity they used to or at all. Those who qualify for these Social Security benefits will receive a monthly benefit that they can use for anything they need to support themselves or their families.
The money that funds the Social Security Disability Insurance program comes from payroll taxes. Each worker pays into the program. Therefore, if they need SSDI later, the money is there for them to collect. This is why the program requires workers to earn a minimum number of work credits to qualify for a cash benefit if needed.
How many credits you collect depends on how much you work and earn in a year. For the 2022 work year, each worker gets a maximum of four credits when they earn $6,040.
WHAT ARE THE ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS FOR SSDI?
Disability benefits through the SSDI program are primarily for adults who have had a work history that qualifies them for benefits. This is based on work credits. Each worker gets up to four credits per year, depending on how much they’ve worked that year. To qualify for disability insurance, a worker usually needs at least 40 credits, with 20 of those credits earned within the 10 years prior to receiving Social Security disability income.
In addition to work history, the SSA will look at an applicant’s income to determine if they qualify based on their financial situation. In 2022, most people’s earnings from employment can’t be more than $1,350 per month to qualify for a disability payment.
Most importantly, a person qualifies based on their disability. According to the SSA, an applicant must have a medical condition that falls under the SSA’s criteria of a defined disability. The process to determine if someone’s disability is eligible includes five considerations:
You’re unable to perform work that’s considered substantial gainful activity (SGA). Generally, the SSA decides whether your work is SGA based on how much you work and earn.
Your condition prevents you from completing specific activities, like standing or walking, that you would need for SGA for at least 12 months.
Your condition must fall within the SSA’s list of defined disabilities.
Your medical condition prevents you from doing the work you used to do.
If your condition prevents you from doing your previous work, but you’re unable to do other types of work to perform SGA, you could qualify for SSDI benefit pay.
WHO DETERMINES IF I’M APPROVED FOR SSDI BENEFITS?
The Social Security Administration is ultimately responsible for deciding whether disabled workers receive SSDI benefits for their disability. However, the SSA has multiple departments to help it with its various tasks. For SSDI disability claims, the Disability Determination Service decides. Each state has its own Disability Determination Service.
When you apply for SSDI, your application will go to your state’s Disability Determination Service. You may apply through your local SSA office, which will then forward your application to the DDS for disability determination. The DDS considers your application according to the SSA’s requirements, noting whether you’re within SSDI income limits, have a qualifying disability, and have enough work credits to receive Social Security benefits.
WHAT IS CONSIDERED INCOME FOR SSDI?
In 2022, the SSA requires most applicants to earn no more than $1,350 a month to qualify for Social Security disability benefits through the SSDI program. For blind applicants, the allowable amount is $2,260 per month.
The income that SSA counts is called earned income. Unlike other programs that count unearned income, like rental properties and investments, as part of your total resources, the SSA only looks at earned income from wages or self-employment to determine SSDI. This is because your earned income lets the SSA know how able you are to work, which is the primary consideration when making a disability determination.
So, you may have $5,000 in a retirement account and $900 a month from a rental property as income, but the SSA will only count the $1,100 per month you’re making from your job as income for SSDI determination.
HOW DO I APPLY FOR SSDI?
If you prefer filling out a paper application, you can request one from your local SSA office. Fill out the forms and provide medical evidence of your disability with your claim. Return all documents and the application to your local SSA office when finished or send them by mail.
The SSA also offers phone applications, which is a good option for people who need assistance filling out their claims. The phone representative will ask all necessary questions and input your answers to send to the DDS to process your claim.
Alternatively, you may apply for SSDI online if you are 18 or older and haven’t been denied benefits within the past 60 days. First, print the Adult Disability Checklist, which will help you learn what you’ll need to provide for the application. Then, set up a mySocialSecurity account, which will give you all the digital documents you need to fill out to apply.
CAN SSDI BE USED FOR A SHORT-TERM DISABILITY?
No, Social Security disability benefits are only for people with a disability that’s expected to last one year or longer. This is known as a long-term disability.
Similarly, SSDI will not pay for a partial disability. Instead, any medical condition must meet the SSA’s definition of a qualifying disability to make an applicant become an SSDI beneficiary.
With that said, you can receive short-term disability insurance through your employer or health insurance company and still qualify later for SSDI should your condition worsen to the point of becoming a long-term disability.
If you’re unsure of what you might qualify for or how one type of disability benefit affects another, you should consider consulting with a disability lawyer to help you.
HOW LONG DO I HAVE TO WAIT FOR A DECISION?
In most cases, you may need to wait 3-5 months for a disability determination from the SSA. This waiting period is just for the application review process in which the Disability Determination Service reviews your claim and medical evidence to help the SSA make a decision.
After you’re approved, you’ll need to wait another five months before you can begin receiving payments. The SSA has this five-month waiting period in place for most claimants, allowing their payments to begin on the sixth full month of disability.
For instance, let’s say you applied on November 1st, 2021, and the SSA approved your claim on March 1st, 2022. Your first payment will be for August 2022 because that will be your sixth full month of disability. Because the SSA pays for a month the following month, you’d receive your first payment in September 2022.
WHAT ARE COMPASSIONATE ALLOWANCES?
Compassionate allowances (CAL) are a form of disability compensation given to people with special medical circumstances. A compassionate allowance lets a disability claimant receive funds quicker through a speedier approval process based on their condition. This process is usually reserved for people with conditions that the SSA can quickly verify, such as certain types of cancers or brain disorders.
When a person files for Social Security disability benefits, the DDS determines whether that person qualifies for compassionate allowance based on their condition. Usually, this is done through digital screenings that flag certain conditions that may qualify for a compassionate allowance. If so, the usual waiting times to begin receiving benefits won’t apply. Still, the person must meet the same rules as non-CAL claimants when the DDS decides whether their disability qualifies as a disability for compensation.
WHAT ARE QUICK DISABILITY DETERMINATIONS?
Quick disability determinations (QDD) are similar to compassionate allowances in that they can speed up the process of deciding whether someone qualifies for Social Security disability pay. Using modern technology, the SSA can screen applications to find specific wording and conditions that indicate whether someone could be eligible for benefits. Those applications then move through the QDD system to get approved quicker.
This could reduce the amount of time you need to wait to get approval or denial. Even if your claim ends in denial, you can use that decision to begin the appeals process. In most cases, you could receive a decision in just a few days or weeks rather than the 3-5-month wait time SSI benefits claims typically take to process.
HOW MUCH DOES SSDI PAY?
SSDI pay differs between recipients, depending on how much they’ve earned from employment or self-employment up to the time they became disabled. In 2019, the SSA paid an average of $1,234 to disabled workers every month. However, those benefits can increase or decrease based on your average lifetime earnings. Generally, the more you earn throughout your life, the higher your benefit will be.
Fortunately, your disability has no bearing on how much you make from SSDI benefits. In other words, more severe disabilities do not pay more than less severe disabilities.
You may need to wait several months after applying for SSDI benefits to receive your first month’s compensation. However, some people may also begin receiving SSDI back pay if they qualify for disability benefits several months before being approved.
IS SSI THE SAME AS SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY?
No. SSI stands for Supplemental Security Income. SSI does not require people to have Social Security credits from working, but it does require people to have a qualifying disability and limited income. Adults and children with disabilities may qualify for SSI.
WHICH PAYS MORE, SSI OR SSDI?
SSI is an income-based program, so the amount your household earns can affect how much you get each month. In contrast, SSDI is based on how much you’ve earned throughout your lifetime, so these benefits typically pay more than SSI benefits.
In 2022, the average SSI payout for individuals is $841 a month, while SSDI pays, on average, $1,358 per month.
CAN I WORK WHILE GETTING SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY BENEFITS?
Yes. To an extent, individuals qualifying for Social Security disability benefits may work. However, the SSA caps the amount that people can earn before they’re considered able to maintain substantially gainful activity. In 2022, that amount is $1,350 for most people and $2,260 for blind people. You can have a job while applying for benefits or after you begin receiving benefits.
The SSA also may help you get back to work in a way that won’t interrupt your benefits. Some beneficiaries can qualify for a work trial period to determine whether they’re able to participate in SGA.
WHAT IS AN EXTENDED PERIOD OF ELIGIBILITY?
Suppose an SSDI beneficiary decides they’d like to try to return to work and do so with the help of the SSA’s work trial period. In that case, they may qualify for an extended period of eligibility (EPE) for 36 months after their work trial ends.
The EPE protects SSDI benefits when a person returns to work. During this time, the beneficiary must track and report their earnings to the SSA. A beneficiary gets a three-month grace period of payments when the SSA first determines that their income extends into substantial gainful activity. For the rest of the EPE, you’ll get an SSDI check only for the months in which the SSA determines you qualify for one based on your SGA income.
ARE SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY BENEFITS TAXABLE?
Social Security disability benefits usually are not taxable on their own. However, recipients who earn other income or have other household members may need to pay taxes. Usually, this happens if they earn over a specific threshold for the year.
Tax filing statuses play a role in whether your benefits are taxable, too. Single and head of household filers may have a portion of their benefits taxed if their income and one-half of their SSDI benefits exceed $25,000 a year. Married and filing jointly filers may have their benefits taxed if one-half of their benefits plus their other income exceeds $32,000 a year.
The best way to determine whether your Social Security disability income will get taxed is to use the IRS calculator.
CAN I RECEIVE SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY BENEFITS AND RETIREMENT BENEFITS AT THE SAME TIME?
No, beneficiaries do not receive Social Security disability benefits and retirement benefits simultaneously. This is because Social Security disability benefits change into retirement benefits automatically once a person reaches retirement age.
The only exception to this is when a person files for early retirement before reaching full retirement age and later becomes approved for SSDI. In this case, the person could receive SSDI and retirement benefits until they reach full retirement age.
However, some people do receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and retirement benefits at the same time if their unearned income from retirement does not make them go over the income threshold for SSI. As of January 2022, the average retirement benefit from the SSA was $1,614 per month.
HOW LONG DO SSDI BENEFITS LAST?
In most cases, SSDI benefits last until a person reaches the full retirement age of 65, which is when retirement benefits begin, or until they are no longer disabled. The SSA may mark some cases in which medical conditions are expected to improve as needing continuing reviews. These cases will require beneficiaries to answer questions and provide medical evidence that their disability is still a qualifying condition for benefits.
If the SSA determines a person is no longer disabled based on its criteria, they can terminate benefits. Beneficiaries may file an appeal to reverse the decision and continue receiving benefits, but this is not guaranteed.
Beneficiaries who have conditions that are not expected to improve may still need to complete reviews every 5-7 years.
WHAT IS SSDI BACK PAY?
Some people who qualify for monthly payments through SSDI may have had to wait several months to over a year to get approved. If the SSA determines that a person was disabled for that whole waiting time, that person could receive SSDI back pay. This pays for the months during which the person was disabled minus the five-month waiting period for benefits to start.
You applied for benefits on May 1st, 2020.
The SSA approved your claim on May 1st, 2021, but considered you disabled since May 1st, 2020.
As a result, you’re eligible for the 11 months you waited for approval, minus the five-month required waiting period.
Therefore, you could get six months of back pay from the SSA.
In many cases, the SSA pays back pay within 60 days of claim approval. Your disability lawyer fees, if you have one, will likely come out of this lump sum, too.
CAN I GET SSI AND SSDI AT THE SAME TIME?
Yes, some individuals may qualify for and receive SSI and SSDI at the same time. These two forms of Social Security disability can pay simultaneously when someone is eligible for both programs.
However, receiving Social Security Disability Insurance will decrease the amount Supplemental Security Income pays. In many cases, the amount someone is eligible to receive via SSDI will decrease SSI payments to a very low amount or nothing.
WHAT IS A DISABILITY UPDATE REPORT?
A Disability Update Report is a required part of the SSA review process that federal law enacts. The report asks questions and may require medical information to help the SSA determine whether you still qualify for benefits.
The SSA will notify you when you’re required to complete your report for review. You can mail your completed report to your local Social Security office or submit it online.
WHAT HAPPENS IF MY SSDI CLAIM IS DENIED?
When a Social Security Disability Insurance claim gets denied, you have the option to appeal the decision. The SSA’s denial letter will explain the steps you can take to appeal your decision.
Sometimes, all that’s necessary is sending in more medical evidence that supports your claim. However, beneficiaries can also choose a reconsideration, which asks the SSA to review your claim again.
You may also ask for an appeal, which sends your case to an administrative law judge and court hearing. You can hire a disability lawyer to represent and assist you at any step of the appeals process.
DO I NEED A DISABILITY LAWYER?
A disability attorney isn’t necessary for anyone filing a Social Security disability claim. However, having a lawyer can be very beneficial for your case.
Disability lawyers can assist you with completing your application, gathering medical evidence, submitting any extra documentation, and filing an appeal, if necessary. They can also be a source of support as you navigate the system to help you better understand each step of the process.
UNDERSTANDING SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY BENEFITS
SSDI and SSI are two programs offered by the Social Security Administration for people with disabilities. Adults and children can be eligible for SSI, but only people with enough work credits can qualify for SSDI. Each program is designed to help people with disabilities afford housing, clothing, food, and other daily necessities.
The SSA’s application for disability benefits covers both SSI and SSDI. Therefore, you only need to complete one application to apply for both. The SSA uses that information to automatically determine whether you qualify for both benefits based on your disability, income, work credits, and other information.
Consider hiring a disability lawyer if you feel overwhelmed by the process or believe your case could be challenging to get approved. In many cases, you won’t need to pay an attorney until the SSA begins paying you benefits.
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If you are currently disabled and in need of financial assistance, you may qualify for a monthly benefit from the Social Security Administration (SSA). The two most common disability programs are Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Of the two, SSDI typically pays out more to its beneficiaries per month. SSDI benefits provide cash payments to over 10 million Americans, including payments to spouses and children. If you are over the age of 18, are unable to work due to your disability, and expect your disability to last longer than 12 months or end in death, you can apply for SSDI. You will need to provide personal information, income and financial information, medical documentation about your long-term disability, and complete a medical release form.
The entire process can be completed online, but getting approval for Social Security benefits can take several months from the date of application. Some applicants may find it takes over a year to secure benefits, especially if you’ve appealed a decision and have had to meet with an administrative law judge to have your claim reviewed.
The lengthy time frame leaves many in a state of limbo waiting for their request to be approved. Because of this, the SSA has implemented SSDI Back Pay which can make up for this lag time between applying and gaining approval.
In short, the back pay program accounts for any disability claim that takes longer than normal to complete. The SSA provides reimbursement to cover the months that are eligible for coverage. However, the program doesn’t automatically award money for any amount of time spent waiting. It’s important to understand the specifics about who can receive back pay, how much you can expect, and under what circumstances you will get it.
SSDI BACK PAY FAQS
AM I ELIGIBLE FOR SSDI BACK PAY?
It’s common for an SSDI application to take several months to be processed. However, just because you have to wait to start collecting a benefit does not automatically mean you are eligible for backpay. There is a five-month waiting period built into the application process that’s mandatory for anyone who is approved, meaning you won’t start getting payments until the sixth month after you applied. This is known as your established onset date (EOD). If your application takes longer than five months to process, then you will be eligible to start receiving benefits (or be owed benefits) through the back pay program.
This precaution was implemented to ensure only those with true long-term disabilities are accessing the program. In the eyes of the SSA, your EOD is the date your disability is assumed to have begun and unless you appeal to have it changed, they will use the date that you first applied as your EOD. If your actual disability onset date occurred before your application date, you can hire a disability lawyer to ask the SSA to revise your EOD. You might be eligible for a retroactive payment to cover the time between your actual EOD and the date you applied for SSDI.
HOW IS SSDI BACK PAY CALCULATED?
All SSDI back pay payments are determined using your EOD, which is why it may benefit you to establish an earlier date if you’ve been disabled long before filing a claim. The SSA will then use the date your claim was approved to calculate any back pay you are due. For example, if you applied on June 1, 2021, but your claim wasn’t approved until February 1, 2022, there would be nine months between your EOD and the date you are approved. You would then take this number and subtract the standard five-month waiting period (9 – 5 = 4), and you would be owed four months back pay.
WHEN DO I START EARNING BACK PAY?
Back pay starts accumulating after you’ve passed the five-month waiting period after your application was received. Keep in mind that the SSA considers your application date the same as your EOD unless you petition to have it changed.
HOW MUCH BACK PAY WILL I GET?
The actual dollar amount of back pay will vary from person to person and will depend upon how much your monthly benefit is. Once you are approved, the SSA will send you an award letter telling you how much your monthly payment will be after they’ve looked at your current resources and the severity of your disability. The average SSDI benefit is $1,358 a month, but payments can range from $100 to $3,345. The vast majority of recipients received less than $2,000 a month. Once the SSA has calculated your monthly benefit, they will use this number to reimburse you for your back pay. Certain factors like income you are already receiving or workers’ compensation will affect your total SSD benefit.
The other factor that could affect your back pay disability payment is whether you used a personal advocate or attorney to represent your claim. The SSA has mandated caps on how much an advocate or Social Security disability lawyer can charge for their services and this is usually $6,000 or 25% of your backpay. The SSA will pay your representative directly from your back pay and then you will be awarded the remaining amount.
DO I HAVE TO PAY TAXES ON SSDI BACK PAY?
There are tax considerations to take into account when receiving back pay. The SSA typically sends back pay as one lump sum payment, so if you are owed several months of back pay you may be looking at a check of several thousand or even tens of thousands of dollars to cover past-due benefits.
Many recipients are rightly concerned that getting such a large windfall in one year will require them to pay extra taxes that they weren’t expecting. To address this, the SSA allows you to allocate these payments to the year that you would have received them had your claim been approved earlier in a process called “lump-sum election.” They will also provide a form for you (SSA-1099) that will state how much of your past-due benefit should belong in each tax year and this can help spread out the tax burden.
It’s worth noting that many people who rely on disability payments do not have an additional substantial source of income and will therefore not be required to pay taxes on much of their money anyway. For example, an individual who earns less than $25,000 a year in disability and income does not have to pay any taxes on the backpay.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO RECEIVE SSDI BACK PAY?
The length of time it takes to get retroactive pay for SSDI benefits varies, but most recipients receive their first check within two months after being approved for compensation. In some cases, the SSA may request an additional review of a claimant’s income and assets to ensure that they’re still eligible, and this process can slow down payments.
In general, if you are only owed a small amount of back pay, you can expect to get your payment sooner. Larger amounts may take more time since there is more red tape involved. In some cases, you can contact the SSA and explain why you need your back pay faster than they have scheduled it, though they will only allow this in special circumstances and you will need to provide ample evidence to support your request.
Additionally, if you’ve omitted any information for your application or if the SSA needs more evidence to either confirm your disability or your EOD, this could delay your SSDI payment. The best way to prevent this is by ensuring your application is complete from the beginning. The SSA provides a checklist on their application website you can use before you submit your claim to make sure you are not missing anything. Because most back pay payments are made through direct deposit, it’s a good idea to set up a bank account ahead of time so you don’t run into any obstacles after you’ve been approved.
HOW DO I TRACK MY SSDI BACK PAY?
If you have yet to receive a response in the mail, you can always track the status of your application online through your “my Social Security” account or by calling 1-800-772-1213. Online tracking is the most efficient way to monitor each stage of the application and back pay process, but note that the login process requires two-factor identification. This means that you will need access to a cell phone or email address during the login process to verify your identity.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET DISABILITY RETROACTIVE PAY FROM SOCIAL SECURITY?
The length of time it takes to get retroactive pay for SSDI benefits varies, but most recipients receive their first check within two months after being approved for compensation. In some cases, the SSA may request an additional review of a claimant’s income and assets to ensure that they’re still eligible, and this process can slow down payments.
If you receive any requests for information from the SSA while awaiting your retroactive payments for SSDI, respond as quickly as possible with up-to-date information to speed up the process.
IS BACK PAY THE SAME AS RETROACTIVE PAY?
SSDI back pay is not the same thing as retroactive pay, though the two are commonly mistaken for each other. During the process of applying for Social Security disability, you might hear two terms that sound similar: back pay and retroactive pay. Both types of pay give recipients money owed to them from before they began receiving their compensation. However, they’re used for different purposes.
Social Security disability back pay is only given to recipients dated back to the date they first applied for benefits or the date they became eligible for benefits after applying. This payment compensates recipients for the usually long processing time for Social Security disability claims.
In contrast, retroactive pay is for recipients who may have been eligible for disability benefits even before they applied. Social Security will pay recipients retroactive pay for up to one year prior to the date they applied if the Social Security Administration finds that they were eligible to receive benefits at that time. These retroactive benefits can be helpful to those who have been unable to work for a long period due to their disability.
To receive retroactive pay, a recipient would need to be considered disabled for 17 months prior to applying for Social Security disability benefits, as the SSA requires applicants to wait five months from the onset of their disability before it will begin paying benefits.
There are minimal exemptions to this rule. One is that people who are on SSDI again after previously receiving the benefits may not need to complete the five-month waiting period as part of their retroactive pay. Additionally, children of a disabled person who is eligible for SSDI benefits are exempt from the waiting period.
SSDI recipients who would have otherwise been eligible for retroactive benefits may not receive compensation if they have offsets or withholdings from their benefits.
Since retroactive pay usually covers a longer period than back pay, the payments are typically made in three installments. Like back pay, you won’t start receiving your retroactive payments until after the mandatory five-month waiting period after your SSDI claim was approved. It is worth noting that retroactive payments only apply to SSDI, not SSI.
It’s possible to receive both back pay and retroactive benefits, but they will be separate payments.
Retroactive pay is intended to help those who did not or could not apply for Social Security disability benefits when they first became disabled. These disability benefits can cover up to one year from the onset of your disability to the time you applied for SSDI.
CAN I GET BACK PAY AND RETROACTIVE PAY AT THE SAME TIME?
Yes, some recipients may be eligible for SSDI back pay and retroactive pay at the same time, but they will be separate payments. Both payments are made by the SSA to cover a period before your application is approved, but they are calculated differently. Back pay covers the time between your application date and your approval date, while retroactive pay covers the time between your disability onset date and your application date. This typically happens when the approval process for SSDI takes a long time, possibly because an individual is having a difficult time gathering enough evidence to prove their disability or the date the disability began.
Here is an example:
Let’s say that you began feeling ill on April 1st. The illness became severe enough over the next couple of weeks that you were unable to work beginning on April 15th. However, after several doctor’s visits, exams, and tests, you finally receive a diagnosis on December 15th. This whole time, you were unable to work.
On December 30th, you apply for SSDI benefits. The SSA reviews your claim and determines that your alleged onset date (AOD) is April 15th, since that was the date you became unable to work. The five-month waiting period makes you eligible for SSDI benefits on October 15th. You’ll also become eligible for retroactive pay from October 15th through December 30th, the date you applied.
Suppose the SSA does not approve your claim until May 1st of the following year after you applied. Once found eligible, the SSA will pay you retroactive payments and the back pay you were eligible for from December 30th to May 1st.
HOW DO I RECEIVE MY BACK PAY?
You will need a bank account to receive back pay, so this should be set up after you apply for benefits to ensure there’s no delay. Back pay is usually only paid by direct deposit, though you may be able to get a check.
You may also elect to have a representative payee handle your disability benefit payment. This is commonly a family member or a caregiver, but it can also be an organization that the SSA assigns to someone determined to be unable to handle their own SSDI benefits. The representative will then be responsible for using these funds for your needs and is required to keep receipts and records of their spending and submit an annual report to the SSA to ensure the funds are being spent correctly.
DOES THE SSA OWE YOU DISABILITY BACK PAY?
Social Security insurance provides an invaluable safety net to disabled Americans across the country who are no longer able to work and earn income. The sheer volume of applications the SSA must process can often mean that people are waiting several months or over a year to receive their approval. This issue is exacerbated when you factor in those who choose to appeal a denial and schedule a disability hearing.
Even though you may have to wait a long time to start receiving disability benefits, it can relieve some of the stress knowing you may be eligible for back pay. Back pay covers any additional time it takes to process your application – minus the mandatory five-month waiting period – and pays you for those months you should have been receiving a payment.
Invisible disabilities are a type of disability that limits a person’s ability to perform the essential duties of their day but does not produce symptoms that those around them can see. Many conditions have disabling symptoms that are unseen.
8 TYPES OF INVISIBLE DISABILITIES
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
You may interact with many people who suffer from these invisible disabilities without even knowing it; however, that doesn’t make the conditions any less disabling for those who suffer from them.
WHAT ARE INVISIBLE DISABILITIES?
Invisible disabilities are medical conditions that cause symptoms that are not visible to the naked eye. They can also be called hidden disabilities or non-visible disabilities (NVD). Disabling medical conditions can be physical, mental, or neurological. When someone requires a wheelchair, it is easy to see that they are disabled. But you may not be able to look at someone and know that they are in crippling back pain.
You cannot easily tell if someone has chronic pain, severe diarrhea, or fatigue. But these symptoms are genuine and limiting. Some people live in fear of the next panic attack or an allergic reaction. Living with these hidden disabilities can pose a real challenge for many.
Individuals with hidden disabilities are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a law that makes disability discrimination illegal. Disabled workers qualify for reasonable accommodations to be made by their employer to make the work environment accessible.
A few examples of workplace accommodations are:
Flexible schedules or work from home options
Access to refrigeration for insulin
Privacy place and time allotted for self-testing blood sugar levels
Standing desk or ergonomic chairs as needed to alleviate pain/pressure
In addition to coping with chronic symptoms, those with invisible disabilities often find themselves in situations where they are unfairly judged. Some people may think they are “faking it” or lazy. An unkind passerby may yell at someone for parking in a handicapped spot because the person appears to be well. You can see why people with hidden disabilities often feel isolated and misunderstood.
The Invisible Disabilities Association (IDA) is a nonprofit organization with a mission to educate, encourage, and connect people touched by invisible illnesses. The group provides several resources such as podcasts and an online support community, and works to help pass legislation that would allow voluntary disability disclosure on government identification. The IDA is working to improve the quality of life for invisible illness sufferers and their loved ones.
9 EXAMPLES OF HIDDEN DISABILITIES
Hidden disabilities can result from several types of illnesses: physical disease, mental illness, neurological conditions, or an injury. While there’s no complete list of invisible disabilities, there are some common, less visible illnesses.
Diabetes is a disease that prevents the body’s ability to process glucose and distribute it from the blood to other cells in the body to be used for fuel. There are two main types of diabetes, and both involve an inability to use insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, to process glucose effectively.
A few of the complications from diabetes that affect everyday activities are:
Increased risk of infection
Inability to concentrate
Fainting or seizures
Persons with diabetes may need accommodations to follow a prescriptive diet and monitor blood sugar levels when needed throughout the day.
2. DIGESTIVE ILLNESSES
Trying to get through a typical day when you’ve got a digestive illness can be extremely difficult. Many medical conditions cause severe abdominal pain, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and nausea. A few of those conditions are:
Irritable bowel syndrome
Inflammatory bowel disease
There are many secondary symptoms, too. Excessive vomiting or diarrhea can lead to dehydration or malnourishment. Fatigue, headaches, and joint pain are common also. The fear of a flare-up while away from home can lead to anxiety and depression.
Some disabilities, like anxiety and depression, are caused by mental illnesses rather than physical ones. These conditions can lead to various physical symptoms like headaches, body pain, weakness, and nausea.
A few mental health conditions that can result in disability are:
Generalized anxiety disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
These illnesses are the perfect example of a hidden disability. You can’t look at a person and see that they have anxiety or depression, but the symptoms of mental illness can be rather debilitating.
4. AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES
When the immune system mistakenly attacks the body, autoimmune disease is present. There are many forms of these diseases, and they range in intensity with widespread symptoms throughout the body. People with autoimmune diseases may experience limited mobility, stability, and mental cognition, yet they may not produce visible signs in the early stages.
A few autoimmune diseases are:
Multiple sclerosis (MS)
As the disease progresses, the patient often needs a mobility aid such as a cane or wheelchair, but movement can still be severely limited even before it gets to that point. Inflammation and chronic pain make getting around nearly impossible.
5. CHRONIC PAIN
Many conditions can lead to chronic pain. Pain is chronic when it lasts day after day for longer than a typical length of healing time. It can vary in intensity from dull to debilitating. As you can imagine, chronic pain can be a significant limiting factor in successfully performing normal daily activities.
One illness marked by chronic pain is fibromyalgia, a condition believed to intensify the way the body experiences pain. Along with chronic, often whole-body pain, fibromyalgia causes fatigue, sleep loss, headaches, anxiety, and depression. Symptoms can be affected by stress, activity, time of day, and weather.
6. BRAIN INJURY
A brain injury is a type of head trauma that can result from vehicle accidents, sports injuries, or blunt force. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be deadly and should immediately be evaluated by medical professionals. Many people recover from TBI within days or months, but some experience symptoms for years.
Some of the significant long-term effects of TBI are difficulties sleeping, poor concentration, impaired thinking and decision making, dizziness, and blurred vision. There are treatments available such as medication and rehabilitation, and activities may need to be limited or modified.
Both attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit with hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affect a person’s ability to concentrate. The conditions can cause impulsiveness, difficulty staying on task, or sitting still. In children, the condition can go undiagnosed and confused with being a very active child. Adults can also have ADD/ADHD, with symptoms of poor time management skills, inability to complete tasks, or restlessness.
Treatment of ADD/ADHD includes medication, behavior therapy, and counseling. The use of sensory devices, commonly known as “fidget spinners” can also help reduce stress and increase focus.
8. LYME DISEASE
Lyme disease is passed to humans through a bite from an infected tick. If treated early, a person can recover quickly with mild symptoms. But often, people are unaware of the tick bite. The long-term symptoms of Lyme disease include:
Brain and spinal cord inflammation
Pain, numbness, or tingling in hands and feet
Muscle and joint pain
Lyme disease is diagnosed with a blood test. It can be treated with antibiotics and often clears in 2-4 months. In some cases, symptoms can persist for six months or more.
9. CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) causes extreme fatigue, poor concentration, and muscle pain. Doctors do not know what causes CFS. The disorder is complex and can affect each person differently. Common symptoms include:
Muscle or joint pain
Painful lymph nodes
Always feeling tired
Changes in appetite and weight
Since it is difficult to pinpoint the cause of chronic fatigue, it is also challenging to treat the illness. Some patients respond to antidepressants, supplements, dietary changes, and specialized exercise. Symptoms can also be managed through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
CAN YOU RECEIVE SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY FOR HIDDEN DISABILITIES?
If you have a hidden disability that prevents you from working, you might be eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits. You can apply on the Social Security Administration (SSA) website or your local benefits office.
The SSA offers two different disability benefits programs. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is available for those who have worked the required number of years and within a recent time frame for those who can’t work due to a chronic illness. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) pays disability benefits to eligible low-income adults and children who are disabled, blind, or over age 65.
To apply for Social Security disability, you must fill out the application and include medical paperwork from doctors about your condition. You will also need to have information about your work history with names and addresses of past employers and dates of employment. You must also include a copy of your birth certificate, W2s, pay stubs, and military or citizenship paperwork, if necessary.
After you submit your application, it will take about 3 to 5 months to get a decision. If approved, you will be paid disability back pay, covering the time from the day you applied to the day they approved your claim. If your claim is denied, you can appeal the decision within 60 days of receiving the denial letter.
Invisible or hidden disabilities refer to a set of illnesses that cause unseen symptoms that limit a person’s ability to perform essential daily tasks. While these symptoms can’t be seen, they are no less severe than a visible disability.
Chronic pain, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, and diabetes are just a few illnesses that cause hidden disabilities. Individuals with these conditions go through their day with headaches, fatigue, joint pain, and more. Though people with invisible disabilities are protected in the workplace under the ADA, they often don’t ask for accommodations or know what accommodations are possible.
People with invisible disabilities often deal with public scrutiny in addition to the symptoms of their illnesses. From being challenged over an accessible parking spot to questioning the validity of medical conditions, those with hidden disabilities can often feel misunderstood and judged.
You can receive SSA disability benefits for your hidden disability. Apply for social security benefits online or in person, attaching any relevant medical documentation. You can enlist the help of a disability lawyer to help you file your disability claim to make the process smoother. An attorney is also helpful should your claim be denied and you need to file an appeal.
Applicants for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits may find it helpful to partner with a trained and qualified representative who can advocate on their behalf throughout the disability claims process.
A disability advocate can help navigate the claims process, provide essential insight and advice and also manage some of the details, deadlines, and documentation requirements that can serve as a source of stress to disability claimants. Since disability advocates are trained to understand the disability claim process, their assistance can be invaluable in making sure your claim is approved as early in the review process as possible.
IMPORTANT FACTS ABOUT DISABILITY ADVOCATES
What Is a Disability Advocate?
Disability Advocate Roles and Duties
How Much Does a Disability Advocate Get Paid?
Disability Advocate vs Disability Lawyer
How To Find a Disability Advocate
How To Become an SSA Disability Advocate
If you decide to apply for SSDI benefits, it’s important to set yourself up for success. Working with an outside partner who can advise you on the process and provide essential support can make your experience with the claims process much smoother and increase the chances of your claim being approved as early in the process as possible.
The Social Security Administration will work with a disability advocate just as they would work with you during the claim consideration process. The SSA also will allow you to name multiple disability advocates if that is your choice.
Many people reach out to a disability advocate after their initial disability claim has been denied by the SSA – but keep in mind that you are allowed to work with a disability advocate at any stage of the process. You may find it helpful to work with a disability advocate from the very beginning to smooth the process and increase your chances of approval.
There are several key facts you should understand about disability advocates. We’ve outlined many of them below.
WHAT IS A DISABILITY ADVOCATE?
A disability advocate is someone you select to assist you throughout the SSDI claim consideration process. According to the Social Security Administration, a disability advocate may be an attorney or someone else you have chosen to represent your best interests as your disability claim is being considered. Disability advocates are trained and certified through the SSA, and they must regularly complete continuing education requirements to make sure they stay up-to-date on the latest disability laws and regulations that could affect your claim.
Many SSA disability advocates come from fields like health and human services or civil rights, and some also may have previous experience with agencies serving the disability community. Disability advocates may represent organizations that promote independent living, assist disabled people with housing or other needs, or campaign for disability justice. In some cases, a disability advocate may have some legal training, but they do not have to be an attorney to assist you with your claim.
While you may be fairly confident that you can be approved for disability benefits because of your medical condition, keep in mind that as many as 60% of Social Security Disability Insurance claims are denied upon first review. Working with a disability advocate can help you more objectively evaluate the strength of your claim, increase your chances of being approved, and prepare to navigate the appeals process in case that becomes necessary.
DISABILITY ADVOCATE ROLES AND DUTIES
Once you have named a disability advocate, they may undertake several duties on your behalf. Your disability advocate may, for example, engage with the Social Security Administration and to collect information for you that is housed within your SSA file. In addition, your disability advocate may help you collect appropriate medical evidence to support your disability claim, and they may accompany you to any hearing, appointment, or meeting you have with the SSA regarding your claim.
Your disability advocate may help you to prepare for an administrative hearing about your disability claim, and your advocate can appeal a denial on your behalf – including requesting a reconsideration, a hearing, or an Appeals Council review. Your disability advocate also will be included in notifications of any decision related to your claim.
HOW MUCH DOES A DISABILITY ADVOCATE GET PAID?
Disability advocates typically are paid directly by the SSA, and they receive a percentage – no more than 25% of your back pay, or $6,000 – whichever dollar amount is lower.
A disability advocate must receive special approval from the SSA in order to charge for services. In addition, the SSA will approve the amount that your disability advocate will be able to charge you – your advocate cannot charge more than the amount set by the SSA. If your disability advocate accepts any money from you in advance of your claim being submitted, the funds must be held in escrow until the full claims process is complete.
DISABILITY ADVOCATE VS DISABILITY LAWYER
A disability advocate needs to be certified but does not need to be an attorney. However, many disability advocates are lawyers. An advocate may have some legal knowledge, but primarily assists applicants with the details and process associated with submitting a claim for disability benefits. Disability advocates are required to complete appropriate training and certification to make sure that they are fully qualified to help applicants navigate the disability claims process.
Disability advocates must pass a comprehensive exam on Social Security regulations and disability rules, as well as a background check. Disability advocates must also complete continuing education requirements on a regular basis to maintain certification.
A disability attorney undergoes education and training that is both more rigorous and more specialized than that of the disability advocate. A disability lawyer must hold a bachelor’s degree, plus an advanced law degree and have passed the bar exam for the state in which they practice. In order to represent you throughout your disability claim process, a disability lawyer also must be in good standing with their state bar association.
Like disability advocates, disability lawyers must complete continuing education requirements on a regular basis – in general, a disability lawyer’s continuing education requirements will be more stringent than those of the disability advocate.
One other distinguishing characteristic is accountability. A disability lawyer is professionally bound by attorney-client privilege to keep your information confidential, whereas a disability advocate is not. Lawyers who are bar-certified are held accountable to the highest standard of ethics and obligations.
HOW TO BECOME AN SSA DISABILITY ADVOCATE
If you already have a bachelor’s degree and/or appropriate work experience, you can begin the process of becoming a certified SSA disability advocate.
You will need to complete training and pass your certification test. You can find many accredited programs online that will take you through a self-paced training course, and you can then complete a test and become certified through organizations like the American Association of People with Disabilities.
HOW TO FIND A DISABILITY ADVOCATE
It’s important to find a disability advocate that you can trust to represent your best interests. If you aren’t sure how to choose a disability advocate, the Social Security Administration can assist you. The SSA maintains a list of organizations that may be able to help you choose an appropriate disability advocate. Some disability advocates also work as independent contractors and may market their services. A quick online search may reveal appropriate candidates in your area.
Before making a decision, interview several candidates and ask for referrals from friends or family whenever appropriate. Look for an advocate that is in good standing with the Better Business Bureau if possible, and ask for references, along with examples of cases similar to yours that the advocate has assisted with. Examine the advocate’s success rate, amount of experience, and style of communication. The SSDI claims process can be lengthy and frustrating, so make sure you’re partnering with someone you can trust along the way.
Working with a knowledgeable and qualified advocate can make a huge difference in how quickly and easily your disability claim is approved by the Social Security Administration. Try to find a trusted partner before you begin the disability claim process. Doing so can help you strengthen your claim and increase your chances of success.
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You could qualify for up to
in Social Security disability benefits
You could qualify for up to
in Social Security disability benefits