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Social Security Disability

If you suffer from an injury, illness or other disability that prevents you from working or otherwise functioning as a healthy person, you may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits from the Social Security Administration. But how should you know if you qualify, and if you do, how long will they last? Here are the answers to those questions.

How do I know if I am eligible for Social Security Disability benefits?

The fastest way to find out is to go to your local Social Security Administration office and apply for the benefits. A person who qualifies must be a US citizen or permanent resident, be 65 or older, blind, or disabled, and for SSI benefits, be able to show proof of limited income and resources. The Social Security Administration uses the term substantial gainful activity to measure whether a person is eligible for disability benefits. In 2017, the amount of income that is considered substantial gainful activity is 1170 dollars per month.

How long does it take Social Security to determine if I am eligible for disability benefits?

That can vary with the workload of the Administration in your region, but a reasonable estimate is three to four months. If your disability is severe and your need is substantial, the Administration may consider it a Compassionate Allowances condition, which allows your application to be handled more quickly.

How does the Social Security Administration determine whether or not I am disabled or blind?

Your local office sends your claim to Disability Determination Services, a state agency that specializes in determining whether or not you are disabled as defined by the Social Security Administration. The DDS may contact anyone from doctors, schools, relatives or psychologists to decide whether you have a qualifying disability. If the DDS can not obtain sufficient information through contacts, they will arrange for you to see a medical professional that can provide them with enough information to make an informed decision.

What is the difference between Social Security disability insurance benefits and SSI benefits?

The primary difference is the way that they are financed. Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits are financed by employment taxes, while SSI benefits are financed by general taxes. That is why SSI benefits have strict income requirements needed to prove limited income and resources.

Can I return to work while receiving benefits?

If you are receiving Social Security disability payments, you can and are encouraged to return to work and you will still receive benefits if certain conditions are met. If you are receiving disability benefits, you will no longer receive the benefits once you are deemed capable of substantial gainful activity. The exception to that is if you are participating in a vocational rehabilitation or another support program.

In either case, if your condition improves and you are capable of returning to work, you should contact the Social Security Administration and report the changes in your condition and, if applicable, your income.

I have returned to work and am earning at the substantial gainful activity level. When will my SSI or SSDI benefits stop?

When you return to work at the SGA level, or when a doctor declares your condition to have improved to a sufficient level, the Administration considers your disability to have “ceased.” Once that decision is made, both SSI and SSDI benefits continue for two more months if you still fall within the income requirements. The exception to this is if you participate in a work incentive program or the Ticket to Work program, which can enable you to receive benefits for a longer period after your disability has ceased.

What is the Ticket to Work program?

In the Ticket to Work program, the recipient of benefits works with employment network or state vocational rehabilitation agency to develop an employment plan. The person must enter an academic institution where he is capable of earning a degree or certificate and complete the required amount of study each year and be employed for a certain amount of time during the year, which increases the longer he is in the Ticket to Work program. The ultimate goal is to establish a career that will enable sufficient earnings. Depending on the type of degree or certificate being pursued, the Ticket to Work program can extend the receipt of benefits for up to six years.