If you lay awake nights in pain from an injury that prevents you from working, you could qualify for social security disability benefits to help cover your costs of living. If this situation sounds familiar, and you haven't yet applied for benefits regarding your recent injury or life-threatening illness, now is the time to act. It typically takes months or even years for such claims to work their way through the system, and the sooner you apply, the sooner you could begin receiving checks. If you're stuck wondering whether you're eligible to collect a monthly payout, familiarize yourself with the two major requirements for social security disability:
1. You Must Meet the Credit Criteria
Before you can begin to collect social security disability benefits, you must prove that you've worked enough and earned enough "credits" throughout your lifetime to qualify. Credits are issued according to the years you've worked and payed into social security throughout your life. The amount of credits you need goes up according to your age. So if you become disabled at a younger age, you need fewer credits to qualify -- as few as six, according to the Social Security Administration -- while someone who becomes disabled at age 62 needs at least 40 credits to qualify for benefits. If you meet the credit criteria, then you've passed the first requirement.
2. Your Illness or Injury Must Meet Strict Requirements
Under social security laws, your illness or injury must meet several tough requirements:
- It prevents you from working your former job and from adjusting to a different job. This requirement is typically difficult to prove. For instance, the examiner working on your case may determine that a back injury that prevents you from returning to your old job in construction isn't severe enough to prevent you from finding a job in an office that allows you to sit at a computer for large parts of your day. When this happens, your claim will be rejected, and it may become necessary to obtain the services of a social security attorney to appeal the decision.
- It will prevent you from working any job for at least one year, or it's expected to result in your death. This requirement may afford you benefits while you heal from your injury enough to return to work or provide for your costs of living if you receive a terminal diagnosis. The Social Security Administration has a list of eligible impairments for every major body system, which helps them decide whether your particular condition qualifies.
If you feel that your illness or injury fits the government's criteria for disability, then you should apply as soon as possible, because it can take up to two years for your claim to be processed, researched and verified. Filling out all your information thoroughly and including all the requested documentation up front can help expedite your claim, but it will still have to make its rounds through the system, which looks something like this:
- It's received by an examiner.
- The examiner contacts the doctors involved to receive documentation.
- The examiner reviews the information and makes the determination.
Any one of these processes can be held up by various factors, including the caseload of the examiner and the expediency of the doctor's office in question.
If you apply, wait, and are denied, don't give up. This is the point where you'll need to contact a social security attorney if you haven't all ready. Having someone who understands the legalese behind disability claims can make it possible to reverse a negative ruling on your behalf. Filing for disability is a long and consuming process, but if you genuinely need it, it's definitely worth pursuing.
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