What is Social Security disability?

Chicago residents receive answers to disability questions

If you live in Chicago, Social Security disability answers can be hard to find.  Here is a straightforward description of the program.

1. What is Social Security disability?  It is a benefit program designed to provide financial assistance to workers who have not yet reached retirement age but who are no longer able to work.  It uses a restrictive definition of disability that at times defies common sense.  It also employs an illogical and complicated evaluation process that rejects many applicants at the initial stage but later approves them after a hearing.

2. Can I work and receive Social Security disability?  If you work, you will need to keep your income below the “substantial gainful activity amount,” which is roughly $1,000/month.  That probably means you are limited to part-time employment.  If you work part-time, the judge will look closely at your ability to perform work activities.  So long as the type of work is consistent with your claim and does not generate too much income, you should be able work part-time.

3. Who is likely to qualify?  The strongest cases have a severe, long-lasting, and recognizable impairment or illness (1) evidenced by medical records and (2) which prevents them from working.   However, people under the age of 65 who are unable to work at most jobs should consider asking a knowledgeable disability attorney about eligibility for disability benefits.

4. My application has been denied; should I appeal?  You are ineligible and should not appeal if:

  • Your impairment is not severe or will not last 12 months, or
  • Drugs or alcohol are a material reason why you cannot work, or
  • You are working full-time or capable of working full time.

On the other hand, you are likely eligible and should definitely appeal your denial if:

  • You are under age 50 and cannot (a) do your past jobs or (b) work full time at any regular job, or
  • You are over  50 and have a severe impairment that keeps you from working all but the easiest jobs, or
  • You are over 44 and cannot do any job you held in the last 15 years.

5. How long does it take?  Nationally, from application to initial determination takes 120 days and 35% of applications are granted.  To reconsideration takes another 90 days and 15% of applicants succeed at this level.  Another 530 days are required nationally to get to a hearing, and there 55% succeed.

6. How much does it cost?  If you are awarded benefits upon initial application, you pay nothing.  If you are denied at the initial application level and must proceed to the hearing level, you will want to employ an experienced disability attorney to present your case to the judge.  That attorney’s fees are restricted by the Social Security Administration to 25% of the back benefits awarded.

7. What is the difference between SSDI and SSI?  SSDI, or Social Security Disability Insurance, provides benefits to disabled workers, dependents, and surviving spouses.  SSI, or Supplemental Security Income, provides benefits to disabled individuals whose income and assets fall below a specified level.  The definition of disability is the same under both programs.

If you live in Chicago, Social Security disability is something you are considering, and you have questions, we encourage you to complete the claim evaluation form on this page to obtain answers.