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What I Learned About Social Security Disability

What I Learned About Social Security Disability

I had my claim for Social Security disability approved the other day. This came as quite a surprise to me. A pleasant surprise because it means income, but a surprise nonetheless.

I never intended to apply for Social Security disability benefits. While this is a national program, reviews and determinations are done locally1 and Texas has a horrible reputation for denying disability claims. I was basically told that I would have to show up at the Social Security office on a hospital gurney with an IV in my arm and a clergyman administering last rites to even be considered. Other anecdotal information indicates that getting disability approved for RA when you’re not bed-ridden or in a wheel chair is equally as challenging.

All that being said, when I left full-time employment last November I was covered by disability insurance through my employer, for which I did apply, and related to that process I was required to apply for Social Security Disability benefits. I learned several things during that process.

Be prepared. I applied online at which is amazingly easy, but you have to be prepared. (You can also apply on the phone or in person.) Because I was already involved in a private disability claim, I had most of the information in front of me and it only took about an hour to go through the process. Be aware that you need all of your doctors’ contact information as well as your monthly earnings information. In addition, you need to provide what medical records you already have. Social Security will contact your doctors for the information, but the process is quicker if you have them already. You can send them in or drop them by your local Social Security office.

The benefit is for long-term or permanent disability. The primary litmus test2 for disability approval is that you have a condition that will prevent you from substantial gainful activity (SGA)3 for at least a year or is expected to result in your death. For 2016, SGA is defined as $1,130 per month. You will not be approved for benefits, for example, for being out of work for six months due to illness or injury. Your doctors (and perhaps the government’s physician) will need to certify this.

No benefits are paid for the first six months. According to my notification letter, you do not receive any benefits for the first six months of disability, so you need to plan for living expenses during this time. In my case, they determined I was disabled from the time I left work in mid-November and started paying benefits six months later in June. If you are 62 or older, you can apply for Social Security retirement benefits at the same time you apply for disability, so at least you can draw some income while your disability claim is being reviewed.

It can take a while for approval. I’m not sure why, but my claim was approved in only about three months, which, according to the Social Security Administration, is normal4. You need to realize that it’s estimated to take three to four months once they receive all the information. If it takes several months just to receive your medical records or other information, then that expands the time needed for a determination.

Your benefits are equal to your full retirement amount. Social Security disability benefits are basically the amount you would be due, based on your current earnings record, at full retirement age. Like retirement, the longer you work, the more you pay in and the greater the amount you will receive. When you reach full retirement age your disability benefits automatically convert to retirement benefits. Full retirement age is 66 if you were born between 1943 and 1954 or age 67 if you were born in 1955 or later5.

Note that most disability claims are denied at first. Fellow contributor, Mariah Leach has written an excellent article on the appeals process that you can read here.

On one hand, since I can no longer work full time, I’m really glad that I have disability benefits coming in every month. On the other hand, it’s a sad realization that RA has brought me to the point that I have officially earned the “disabled” badge. If you’re considering applying for these benefits, I hope you found this information helpful.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.



  • Rvq38
    6 months ago

    Contact Allsup first and go through them, they collect 1/3 of the original backpay but worth it if you are approved. They have lawyers to fight against denials and they will win. If you mention that I referred you you will get a discount. Good luck Richard Quintana.

  • bagglady
    7 months ago

    The information about full retirement age is incorrect. I was born in 1955 and my full retirement age is 66 2 months. Two months is added for each year.

  • Carla Kienast author
    7 months ago

    Excellent catch! I was looking at the wrong information when I drafted this. The table showing your retirement age by the year you were born is here: Thanks for setting this straight!

  • LindaZee
    8 months ago

    After fighting RA for my whole life, I applied for NYS disability when I was 50. After battling all my life to get an education and have a successful career and positive life, I had to go to an interview and tell the them everything I couldn’t do. Focus on every ?!:!/^& negative thing about RA. I was very angry and defeated after that interview, but I got over it. After that, applying for SSD was a breeze, and I was accepted the first time.

  • mylady13
    1 year ago

    This was an awesome article. I have been paying Social Security and taxes since 1996 (20 years old) without a gap and am now 42 years old. I feared that going on disability will leave me homeless, but after reading your article I see that I may not struggle as much as I thought. I also have a permanent long term disability insurance that kicks in after a 90 day waiting period. My question to you, when you started receiving Social Security Disability Benefits, did the job’s disability checks stop? I am very confused. I have read another article where it stated that once the SS Disability checks began the jobs long term disability checks stopped or decreased. I hope you can help me get clarity or guide me in that way. Thank you and Happy New Year.

  • deb856
    1 year ago

    You’re so lucky you got approved! I got turned down 3 times, the judge actually wrote things in her report that were not correct and made it look as tho my condition has not gotten worse and I was fine, which I have Dr reports showing how it’s getting much worse. I’m now on my last appeal and it’s filing a civil suit against social security. How did you get approved so easily?

  • kimmy
    2 years ago

    My mom was diagnosed with RA at 60. Applied for disability at 61. She received her disability the with the first application. So here I am 46 awaiting my first rheumatologist appointment. I hope I am able to work many more years. Prayers for all trying to get their disability.

  • sg
    2 years ago

    Very good article, I wish the best for all applying for SSDI. I feel I was very fortunate. After working 45 years I was forced to retire due to my back and RA . At that time I applied for SSI and also for SSDI. I applied on line and had many of my doctors records, work history and education records ready at the time of application. I was approved for SSDI in about four months and began to collect after the six month waiting period. Because I had collected on my SSI for those first six months my SSDI payment was reduced by the amount I had collected. I was very thankful for the approval in such a short period of time. The final amount between my SSI payment and the SSDI payment was about $200 per month. I have now reached the point when my SSDI has been switched back to SSI because I have met my full retirement age of 66. But the payment amount remains the same—an extra $200 per month. 🙂

  • Billi98
    2 years ago

    Thank you for the information. I am on my first leave of absents due to my RA flares and infections. I was diagnosed over 11 years ago and have tried many different medications and have reacted to many. Recently I had the flu which caused a major flare in my RA so my doctor put me on leave for 10 weeks. I do carry short and long term disability from my work and am currently waiting for my claim to be approved. It is scary not knowing about income and how this disease robs us from any savings we may have.

  • Carla Kienast author
    2 years ago

    The financial impact is, to many, as much of a struggle as the disease itself. If your doctor has put you on leave, then your short-term disability should be approved with no problem. Hopefully this will put you back on track. Take care of yourself.

  • Foximimi
    2 years ago

    This was my experience exactly, down to how long it took to get approved. The best part is I had someone who schooled me (along with other scleroderma warriors) on what I needed. I now tell others how to at least try to get approved right away.

  • sstatlin
    2 years ago

    I had read this article and heard from so many people, so many horror stories. I was prepared for a wait of many months/years and the need for a lawyer. I was so pleasantly surprised when the first thing to happen was money in our account for three months retro- the letter arrived 5 days later. All in all from filing to approval was 1 week over 3 months. The hardest part is mental, I think. While I have pain, fatigue and all the other ‘fun’ RA symptoms, I don’t think of myself as disabled – that takes some getting used to. Being prepared and taking the time for solid documentation is key!

  • NormaJean
    2 years ago

    I took me 3 years, 3 doctors approvals, tons of documentation and going before a judge who was NOT a very nice man- before I was finally approved. And that is with an attorney. I don’t know what I would have done if I’d not bought my own disability policy years ago.

  • Teresa Turner
    3 years ago

    2i agree that you must have all contact info for doctors. I know of 2 folks that were denied simply because they left out important info. That includes all medical issues and which doctor is treating that condition. I received my approval in about 3 months. I had waited filing until I had all info on my conditions. Mine was a great process.

  • Teresa
    3 years ago

    I can attest as to how important it is to be prepared with documentation and filling out forms correctly. I applied for SSDI several years ago because I could no longer hold down a job due to pain, inflamed joints and swelling from RA. I keep all medical receipts for IRS taxes and at the time there was no online filing, plus I had heard most times you get rejected when you apply over-the-phone. So they mailed me forms and I filled them out in “detail”, copied medical receipts that had a diagnosis on them for as far back as when I had symptoms even prior to an official diagnosis of RA, printed a list of my medications from my prescription website. I was approved in 6 weeks, then received my lump sum check in another 6 weeks and I can’t remember how long it was until the first monthly benefit, but it wasn’t very long. I was extremely surprised I got it in the first place and on the first try. So if this is any help, I hope you can use it.

  • JS Stephens
    3 years ago

    Thank you for this important information! I was finally approved a few days ago while gearing up for my hearing in front of the judge. He approved me after reading the legal brief my attorney was required to submit 10 days before the hearing! So, the hearing was canceled. I was so Relieved & Grateful! It has been a 2 year ordeal. Now my question is, how long does it take to receive ‘the letter’ from SS explaining how much I will receive & when does the monthly income start?

  • charlene19
    3 years ago

    Mine came within the week but if you have an account online you can see how much ch you will receive

  • Carla Kienast author
    3 years ago

    Congratulations on getting a ruling in your favor! I am actually of an age where I was able to take “early” Social Security retirement so I was receiving those benefit checks while I waging the war for disability. Once they granted me disability, it was a matter of a month to six weeks before I got the “letter” and the adjustment for full benefits. Good luck!

  • Gayla McCann
    3 years ago

    Well, you are definitely lucky. I have been trying for 3 years here in Ohio, with an attorney. Was denied 3 times, last time in front of a judge, despite having 3 separate doctors says I could not sustain gainful employment.

    I am single, have been existing solely on charity and handouts for 3 years, always 1 step away from homelessness. That, as we all know, does not help RA.

    I had worked since 1979, had to quit 3 years ago when I was taking too much time off from side effects, appointments and illness.

    It’s beyond frustrating. If anyone from SSI would actually think I’d rather take a huge pay cut just to stay home, they are idiots.

  • dink
    2 years ago

    It’s been 7 years for me. I’m on a walker, wearing braces on both arms and both legs, and Tennessee still denies me. I have a list of complications that seems to never end including several surgeries.

  • Kelly Dabel moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Gayla, sorry to hear that you’ve been trying for 3 years without success. It is frustrating to say the least. Unfortunately, many in our community can relate to what you’re going through. In addition to speaking with your doctor, this article may be helpful to you:
    Keep us posted and in the mean time, let us know any questions you may have, we’re here to support you. Thank you for being part of our community. Kelly, Team Member

  • stormlight
    3 years ago

    Hi Carla,

    Thank you for the article. It all sounds worryingly familiar. I can’t claim Employment Support Allowance either because of “The System” and our savings (this is in the UK), but I know others who do, for a variety of reasons, and it is absolutely *ludicrous* over here. I have a very good friend who was run into on his bicycle eight years ago by a drunk driver who hadn’t switched his headlights on; the poor guy is now Eplileptic, has OA in his pelvis where it was shattered, has had broken ribs puncture one lung and score the lining of his heart: he also now has PTSD, not to mention chronic varicose ulcers which also stem from the accident. There is no way in Heaven or Earth he could work; he can’t even walk. Yet the government morons have been trying to take his ESA from him ever since he got it — and it was awarded to him by a High Court judge. Small wonder, given that, that I refuse to even apply: the disease itself causes plenty of stress without some bureaucrat causing more because he or she is *paid* – no word of a lie – to get people off “the sick” and back into the workforce, whether or not they’re capable of actually doing a job.

    The ESA system had to be reviewed a couple of years ago after it caused some *genuinely* unwell people – if memory serves, one had a potentially deadly heart defect and another had severe Fibromyalgia – to commit suicide. It sounds like the Social Security organisations on both sides of the Pond need to learn to tell the difference between the genuinely ill and the lead-swingers.

  • Bamalady2318
    3 years ago

    I was laughed at when I inquired about applying because they ask what my family income was and I told them.

    I worked 25 years and paid into disability but because I had moved and did not have a job at the time I applied, they denied me based on my husband’s income. Didn’t bother to try again.

  • Lv2cre8
    3 years ago

    Bamalady, it’s possible that you applied for SSI (Supplementary Security Income), in which eligibility is based on income. Both SSI and SSDI (Social Security Disability Income) are Social Security programs for disabled persons. I hope this helps clarify why you might have been denied benefits. Good luck if you decide to reapply for SSDI instead of SSI.

  • Richard Faust moderator
    3 years ago

    Sorry to hear about your experience with Social Security Disability Bamalady. For your benefit, we can not offer legal advice over the internet, but Mariah Z. Leach, one of our contributors put together a series of articles:

    Looking at the application process:

    Understanding a denial:

    How to appeal a denial:

    You may want to speak to an attorney that specializes in disability claims. If you decide to try to reapply please let us know how it goes. Wishing you the best, Richard ( Team)

  • Carla Kienast author
    3 years ago

    I’m sorry this happened. It’s never too late to try again, particularly if you’re still unable to work. Thanks for sharing.

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