SSDI / SSI FAQ
The United States government has enacted two programs aimed at providing assistance to disabled Americans: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Both of these programs are administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). In 2010, SSA awarded a total of 1,740,729 awards to disabled beneficiaries and non-disabled dependents with the average monthly benefit totaling $1,128.90.
In order to qualify for either of these programs, applicants must be deemed totally disabled, as SSA does not pay benefits for partial or short-term disabilities. SSA uses the following criteria to determine whether applicants are totally disabled:
- Applicants must be unable to do the work that they did before
- Social Security has decided that they cannot adjust to other work because of their medical condition(s).
- Applicants have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) that has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year, or to result in death.
According to the SSA, a “Medically Determinable Impairment” is a physical or mental impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities, as evidenced by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. A physical or mental impairment must be established by medical evidence such as signs, symptoms and laboratory findings.
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If you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes during your working years, you are considered "insured." If you are not able to return to work due to physical or mental disabilities, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) pays benefits to you and your dependents if you are insured. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) pays benefits to those who have not worked long enough or not worked at all, based on financial need. Both programs require an extensive application with documentation about your medical condition, treatment records and other information including your work history.
If you are unable to work due to physical or mental incapacity, you can apply to the Social Security Administration (SSA) for benefits. The SSA has field offices nationwide and accepts online applications. Applications may also be submitted in person at field offices, by mail or over the phone. Eligibility for SSDI and SSI is determined by the SSA. People who have a physical or mentally disabling condition and meet the guidelines and medical definitions of disability set out by the SSA may qualify for SSDI/SSI.
Each case presents uniquely individual details, so there is no definite way to determine how long it will take to receive SSDI/SSI payments. In some cases, it can take more than two years from the time an application was submitted to start collecting benefits.
When an application is submitted, the SSA works with local state-run Disability Determination Services (DDS). The DDS collects medical evidence and makes an initial determination whether an applicant, or "claimant," is disabled or blind. Medical evidence may not be readily available, which means the DDS will arrange a consultative exam to get the information needed to make a determination of qualifying disability.
If a person's disability is a qualifying one, the process can take from four months up to a year for the SSA to compute the benefit amount and begin paying benefits. If the application is denied for any reason, the claimant has up to 60 days from the date of the denial letter to request an appeal. From this point on, the amount of time for approval of the application is unpredictable.
Each stage of the process from appeal to reconsideration, hearing before an administrative law judge, appeals council and finally to federal district court relies on several factors. It is best to get your application in as soon as possible because benefits are often retroactively back-dated to the date the application was submitted.
Almost 70 percent of disability claims are denied initially. Claimants with attorneys are more likely to succeed than those without an attorney. The SSA has strict guidelines. You are either disabled or not disabled, there is no in-between. People struggling with disabilities often miss key areas in the application and get caught in the stressful denial process. When you need help with your application for SSDI/SSI, call Four Corners Disability Law Center, for a free telephone consultation with an experienced local social security representative at If you prefer, you may email us at .
Our fees are determined by government statute. We receive 25% of the accrued benefit amount, up to $6,000. We do not impose fees up front and we only get paid if your claim is successful. If your claim is denied, you pay nothing. For most cases we will be requesting medical records on your behalf. At the close of the case, whether win or lose, we do ask for these expenses to be reimbursed.
If possible, seek more frequent medical treatment for your condition(s). Keep a tally of all the physicians you’ve seen over the years and a current list of medications. Give your physicians ample time to complete Residual Function Capacity (RFC) questionnaires on your behalf. Call us whenever there are changes to your medical treatment, or if your condition worsens, so we can request additional medical records.