Maybe your disability is a chronic condition that has been plaguing you for years and is just now reaching the point where you find it impossible to keep working. Maybe your disability came on suddenly through a devastating illness or accident.
Either way, you know that you need to file for disability benefits – but you’re confused about the process and terminology. The Social Security Administation (SSA) coordinates benefits under two very different programs: Social Security Disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). How do you know which one you can get? How do you file? Here’s what you should know:
SSD and SSI have different rules for eligibility
SSD works roughly like an insurance policy for disabled workers. To qualify as insured, most people (younger workers being the notable exception) have to have 40 “credits.” You get credits through working and earning a certain amount of taxable income each year, and 20 credits must have been earned in the last 10 years prior to the onset of your disability.
For the majority of people who have been working most of their adult lives, this isn’t a problem. If you have the required number of credits, you can apply for disability benefits without regard to your household’s income or resources.
SSI is a needs-based disability program. You don’t need any credits at all to qualify for SSI if you’re disabled, but you will only be eligible for benefits if your household’s income and resources are very limited.
The application process for SSD and SSI is very similar
The main difference you’ll notice when you apply for SSD or SSI (or both) is that the initial screening process is different. SSA will screen your work history to see if you might qualify for SSD, and they’ll ask question about your finances, living situation and assets to screen you for eligibility for SSI.
Assuming you pass the screening criteria for either benefit (or both), your application will then focus around proving that you have a disability or combination of disabilities that qualify you for benefits.
There’s no doubt that the disability application process is complicated and confusing, and it can be immensely helpful to have legal guidance from the start.