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Social Security Disability – The Basics

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I get a lot of questions about Social Security disability. The most common question we get is whether there's any way to speed up the process. The truth is that, if you're denied at the initial application stage -- and 70 percent of people are denied at the start -- you are going to wait close to a year in most of the country to get a hearing, and in some parts of the country, you will have to seek reconsideration first. The system is terribly back-logged. In some cases, a Senator or Congressman's inquiry about the status of your case may help break a logjam, but other than that, we know of no way to speed up the process.

Hopefully, though, even if we can't speed things up, we can help you understand the system a little better.

There are two forms of Social Security disability -- Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), for which you have to have earned a total of 40 work credits (typically, 43-month quarters, or a total of 10 years) with 20 of those occurring in the most recent 10 years; and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which you can get even if you've never worked, but only if you have little or no income. There are people -- for example, women who haven't worked in years because they chose to raise kids full-time, but who have more than poverty level income -- who do not qualify for either, even if they are otherwise disabled. Usually, if you are denied SSDI because you don't have enough work credits, or if you are denied SSI because you have too much income, the only reason to appeal would be if you believe Social Security got the facts wrong. Most people, though, are denied because Social Security doesn't agree that their illness is disabling.

The disability determination is pretty much the same for both types of assistance, SSDI and SSI. You have to be unable to perform any job in the economy -- think the most light duty, sedentary job you can imagine. It's not enough that you are unable to keep working at the job you had when you became disabled; you have to be unable to perform any job.

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