There’s a lot of information floating around out there about the Social Security disability program. Most people know at least one friend, family member, or co-worker who has received disability benefits or at least has heard about someone receiving it through the grapevine. The problem with information obtained through such methods is that it is often inaccurate, exaggerated, or misleading. It also gives rise to persistent myths that are at least partially untrue, which can discourage people who need benefits from applying for the program. The best place to obtain accurate information and dispel myths about the Social Security disability program is from a Baltimore Social Security disability lawyer.
1. You Have to Work for a Long Time Before You Can Be Eligible for Benefits
The Social Security disability program is available to all workers, not just well-seasoned ones. Eligibility for the program is based on the number of work credits the applicant has obtained over the course of his or her career, and the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a sliding scale based on the applicant’s age. Generally, the older the worker, the more work credits he or she needs to qualify. In most cases, a worker will need to have worked the following number of years to meet the duration of work test:
- Before age 28: 1.5 years
- Age 30: 2 years
- Age 34: 3 years
- Age 38: 4 years
- Age 42: 5 years
- Age 44: 5.5 years
- Age 46: 6 years
- Age 48: 6.5 years
- Age 50: 7 years
- Age 52: 7.5 years
- Age 54: 8 years
- Age 56: 8.5 years
- Age 58: 9 years
- Age 60: 9.5 years
Keep in mind, however, that applicants must also meet the recent work test, which also varies by age. Contact a Baltimore Social Security disability lawyer for more information about these eligibility tests.
2. Social Security Disability Benefits Are Available Only for Physical Conditions
Social Security disability benefits are available for any disability that prevents the claimant from working for at least 12 months or is expected to result in death. That includes disabilities that are the result of mental health conditions. While those types of claims are generally harder to pursue than physical disability claims, the lack of a physical condition in itself does not doom a Social Security disability claim. Some common mental health conditions that are covered by the program include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, and eating disorders.
3. You Will Lose Your Benefits If You Work At All
Benefits under the Social Security disability program generally are intended for individuals who cannot work in the same capacity they did before they became disabled. However, that does not mean that recipients cannot ever work again. Social Security disability benefits are available for individuals who can no longer engage in “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) which generally refers to significant work activity for pay. SGA varies by claimant, but Social Security disability benefit recipients are allowed to work and continue to receive their benefits so long as their work activities do not rise above the SGA threshold. Please contact a Baltimore Social Security disability lawyer for more information about the interplay between disability benefits and employment.
4. Many Recipients Aren’t Actually Disabled
One of the most common myths about Social Security disability is that unscrupulous applicants taking advantage of the system to receive benefits to which they are not entitled are widespread. While a certain amount of fraud occurs in most government programs, Social Security disability fraud is rare for three main reasons: First, the SSA defines “disabled” extremely narrowly — much narrower than the common meaning. The SSA considers an individual disabled only if they cannot do the work they did before and they cannot adjust to any other type of work. Such a narrow definition filters out most individuals who would be tempted to game the system. Second, the SSA rejects the majority of initial claims. Some estimates put the rejection rate as high as 64%. That means that most recipients have to go through additional screening procedures, such as appeals before they start receiving benefits. Third, the data show that improper SSA payouts are quite rare. According to recent SSA data, the rate of overpayment for Social Security programs was only 1%, and only a portion of that amount was due to fraud.
5. You Can’t Get Benefits Until You’ve Been Disabled for One Year
This myth likely arises out of confusion over the working of the SSA’s eligibility requirements. Individuals may qualify for disability benefits if their disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year. Under current program guidelines, applicants may qualify for benefits even if they have not been disabled for a year so long as their disability is expected to last at least a year.
6. You Can’t Get Benefits if You Have Substance Abuse Issues
A history of drug or alcohol abuse can complicate a Social Security disability claim, but it is not fatal to it. Generally, the SSA will approve a disability claim so long as the applicant’s drug or alcohol addiction is not “material” to his or her claim (i.e., the addiction is not a contributing factor to the disability and does not make the disability worse). Thus, substance abuse in and of itself is not a disqualifying factor. It is only disqualifying if the substance abuse has caused or exacerbated the disability. It should be noted as well that alcoholism and drug addiction are not considered disabilities for the purposes of Social Security benefits.
7. It’s Easier to Get Disability Benefits if Your Disability is Really Bad
While it may seem logical that more severe disabilities would result in a smoother application process, that generally is not the case. All applicants must undergo the same procedures and are subject to the same eligibility requirements. In very rare cases, the SSA may expedite the processing of claims that it considers to be “critical.”
Contact a Baltimore Social Security Disability Lawyer for More Information
If you are curious about whether you might qualify for Social Security disability benefits, please contact Baltimore Social Security disability lawyer Emmett B. Irwin by calling 443-839-0818 or using our online contact form.