Social Security Disability Myths Debunked Part 1
Wettermark Keith has one of the largest Social Security disability practices in the southeast, assisting thousands of clients through all levels of the complex claims process. Our attorneys deal with a variety of questions from our clients who suffer from severe medical conditions which render them unable to work on a full-time basis. While each client’s case is unique, there are common statements, which sometimes have no basis in reality, our attorneys hear on a regular basis. This blog will be the first in a series where we address some of the most common myths and misconceptions behind Social Security benefits:
- I can quit my job as soon as I am approved for disability benefits. I have to work because I have bills.
Many of our clients are facing the reality of financial hardship in light of serious medical conditions. Clients are often in the difficult situation of trying to work in order to make ends meet, while having serious mental and/or physical symptoms on a daily basis.
While we understand this struggle, the Social Security Administration, through federal rules, is very clear about who qualifies for disability benefits. The first step in SSA’s evaluation is to ask whether an applicant is working, and if so, how much they are earning. This first step is called “Step 1” of the disability process.
You may still work and receive disability benefits as long as you don’t exceed the SSA’s income limitations. Each situation is unique and it’s important to understand the rules that apply to you in order to successfully navigate the system. SSA uses a term called “substantial gainful activity,” that helps to determine if a person’s ability to earn an income is too high to qualify for benefits. Yet, even this factor is adjusted annually; this means that a person who earned too much in the past may qualify today.
It is essential you talk to your medical care providers to gather and document information about how your medical condition limits your abilities. This usually provides insight into whether you could potentially qualify for SSDI and still work. Ultimately, since each situation is unique, it’s important to seek advice based on your own circumstances. Our attorneys are here to help you navigate these issues.
- My doctor says I am disabled, so I will qualify for disability when I apply.
You may qualify, but having a doctor’s opinion or support does not guarantee you’ll be approved. However, more medical documentation proving your disability, significantly improves your chances for approval. You are guaranteed to be denied if you fail to provide enough medical documentation.
It’s also important to understand that your doctor’s definition of “disabled” is most likely different from SSA’s requirements. For example, your doctor and SSA may agree that you can no longer do your past job as a nursing assistant; however, SSA may say that you are still medically able to do office work or a simple, seated job. In this case, you can be denied benefits because SSA believes you can still do some type of work. Whether you are approved or denied depends upon your physical and mental abilities, your work over the past 15 years, your age, and sometimes your education.
Again, this doesn’t mean that your doctor’s statement is worthless. Social Security must look at the big picture of your treatment record (from all of your doctors’ offices) and decide if any doctor’s opinion is consistent with your treatment records as a whole. It is crucial that you seek medical treatment on a consistent basis to build support for your claim of disability. Contact our office to learn more about what it takes to win your disability case.
- You can’t have money or assets and get Social Security benefits.
This is a common misconception. Simply put, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are different programs. People often refer to SSI as disability and confuse SSI for SSDI. However, both programs require the same medical proof to establish disability, but they have different rules regarding assets. This means regardless of whether someone is eligible for SSDI, SSI, or both, they must be found “disabled” by Social Security to receive monthly benefits.
SSI is a financial needs-based program for those individuals who don’t have any work history in the past 10 years, or they have not paid taxes on that work, and are unable to work. SSDI is a disability program for workers who have paid into payroll tax reductions while working for at least 5 out of the past 10 years and are no longer able to work due to a disabling condition.
Individuals who apply for SSDI are able to do so because their record of work activity has allowed them to become “insured” for SSDI benefits. Since SSDI is this type of benefit, an applicant’s assets do not affect eligibility to draw and collect SSDI. In other words, whether you have $10 or $10,000 in the bank makes no difference to the SSA.
In general, to qualify for SSI, you must have limited income and few assets. Social Security requires SSI recipients to have less than $2,000 in assets, for a single person, and $3,000 for a couple. The income limit is more complicated because Social Security counts income according to special rules. Countable income includes wages, plus money you receive from other sources like unemployment, Social Security retirement, or gifts from friends, and also free food or shelter. In addition, to encourage SSI recipients to work, Social Security excludes part of your income from its calculations.
Again, each case is different and requires specific review and strategies. Call Wettermark Keith today for help with your Social Security disability and/or SSI claim!