How Do I Know If I Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits?

Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits are also called Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). This is because it truly is an insurance program. You pay premiums when taxes are withheld from your paycheck. If you become disabled and can’t work, this insurance should protect you.

However, you are not automatically entitled to receive SSD benefits. Instead, you must qualify by meeting certain medical and non-medical requirements. At Hardison & Cochran, we believe it’s important for you to understand what these requirements are.

Please review the following and contact us if you have any additional questions or need help with your disability benefits claim. We’re always available to provide a free review of your case. Our offices serve clients throughout North Carolina.

Non-Medical / Work Requirements for SSD Benefits

If you haven’t compiled enough “work credits,” you can’t collect SSD benefits. Work credits are based on your earnings. You have to earn a certain amount of money – and it’s a minimal amount – to earn a work credit. For example, in 2013, you could earn one work credit for every $1,160 you earned. The most work credits you can earn in a single year are four.

These work credits are used to determine if you meet two separate earnings tests:

  • Recent work test – Generally, you must have worked five out of the 10 years before your disability, or earned 20 work credits. If you are younger, you can meet this test and qualify for SSD benefits with fewer than 20 credits.
  • Duration of work test – You must have worked a certain number of years and paid into the SSDI system to meet this test. It depends on how old you are at the time of your disability. For instance, if you are under age 28, you only need to have worked 1.5 years, or earned six work credits. If you are older than age 50, you need to have worked seven years, or earned 28 credits.

If you fail to meet these tests, you may still be eligible to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). A disability lawyer at Hardison & Cochran can review your case and explore other options available to you.

Medical / Disability Requirements for SSD Benefits

In addition to the earnings tests, you must meet the Social Security Administration’s strict definition of “disability.” In other words, do you suffer from a medical condition that has prevented you from working and is expected to last for at least one year or result in death?

Your disability determination will be made by the North Carolina Disability Determination Services (DDS) office. A two-person team consisting of a claims examiner and a medical examiner will review your case. They will go through a five-step process to decide if you are disabled. These steps are:

  1. Are You Engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity?
    You must be earning no income at all or earning income that falls below a “threshold” amount that changes each year. For instance, in 2013, if you earned more than $1,040 per month, you would have passed the threshold amount and could not qualify for SSD benefits.
  2. Do You Suffer from a “Severe” Condition?
    Has your physical or mental condition kept you from being able to work? The answer may depend on the type of work you do. In other words, can you no longer walk, stand or lift objects? Can you no longer concentrate on certain tasks?
  3. Is Your Medical Condition Found on the SSA’s List of Impairments?
    The SSA keeps a list of mental and physical impairments that are considered so severe that, by law, you are considered to be “disabled” if you suffer from one of those impairments. The list is kept in the SSA’s “Blue Book,” which describes what medical evidence is needed to show that you suffer from the impairment. If your impairment is not listed, you must show that it is equal in severity to a listed condition.
  4. Can You Return to Your Previous Work?
    If your impairment is not listed or equal in severity to an impairment listed in the SSA’s Blue Book, you can still qualify for SSD benefits. You would need to show that your condition keeps you from doing the work you were doing at the time your disability arose.
  5. Can You Do Any Other Type of Work?
    If you can no longer do your previous work, you must show that you can do no other type of work. For instance, you would need to show that you lack the skills or training to do another job. (Ultimately, if you do get training, you can go back to work and discontinue your benefits.)

Other Ways to Qualify for SSD Benefits

You may be eligible to collect SSD benefits if you are related to a qualifying worker. This applies if you are:

  • A spouse age 62 or older
  • A spouse of any age who cares for a child who is under age 16 or disabled
  • An unmarried child who is under age 18 (or age 19 as long as you are in school)
  • An unmarried child who is age 18 or older with a disability that started before you turned age 22.

Contact a North Carolina Social Security Disability Benefits Lawyer

The process of applying for and receiving SSD benefits can be complex. If you need assistance with your application, or if your application is denied, Hardison & Cochran can assist you. We know what it takes for a person to establish that he or she qualifies for SSD benefits. We’ll aggressively protect your rights through every stage of the process. Contact us today.