About Social Security Disability



The Sea of Disability Acronyms:

Are you Qualified for Social Security Disability (SSDI)? Supplemental Security Income (SSI)? Both?

You are not alone if you are confused by the sea of disability acronyms. Most people who contact me are not familiar with the vast ocean that is the generally unknown world of Disability Programs and their many acronyms.

I only handle cases involving Social Security Disability Programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI); Supplemental Security Income (SSI); Childhood Disability (SSI); and Disabled Adult Child (DAC).

I do not handle cases involving Social Security Retirement Benefits; Social Security Card/Number issues; or Disability Discrimination (ADA) cases.

Both SSDI and SSI are Disability Programs that fall under the umbrella of the Social Security Administration. Both SSDI and SSI have the same legal/medical standards of disability one must meet to qualify for either program.

But before you even get to the question of whether you meet the medical standards of either program, you must meet the non-medical qualifications for one or both programs.

Non-Medical Qualifications for SSI/SSDI programs


The SSI and SSDI Programs have different non-medical requirements. To non-medically qualify for the SSDI program, you must have worked long enough, recently enough and also paid Social Security taxes. The formula is based on calendar quarters worked.

The best way to determine whether you non-medically qualify for SSDI is to call the toll free number 1-800-772-1213 and ask.  You can also call or go to a local field office.

Additionally, every year, SSA will mail you a white form with green borders entitled, “Your Social Security Statement.” Inside there is a calculation titled “Your Estimated Benefits.” If you qualify for SSDI, under the “Disability” portion, the form will state: “You have earned enough credits to qualify for benefits” and will give an amount under the heading of: “If you become disabled right now….” If you have not earned enough credits to non-medically qualify for the SSDI program, it will state how many “quarters of credit” you need to qualify.

To non-medically qualify for the SSI program, you must have limited income and resources. 
The maximum amount of resources a person can have changes from year to year. This includes, but is not limited to, any money you have in a bank account, cash, land, vehicles, personal property, life insurance and/or 401K. For an individual/child the maximum is $2000. For a married couple the maximum is $3000.

SSA will not count the following as resources: the home/land you live in; household goods/personal effects; wedding rings/engagement rings; burial spaces/funds for you/immediate family; life insurance policies with a combined value of $1500/less; one vehicle if used for transport for you or member of household; retroactive SSI or SSDI benefits for up to 9 months after you receive them; grants, scholarships, fellowships, or gifts set aside to pay educational expenses for 9 months after receipt.

Please note that there are a number of exceptions and conditions to these rules and you should contact me to discuss your options regarding your non-medical qualifications for either or both of these programs.

Medical Qualifications for SSI/SSDI


Unfortunately, if someone does not meet the “non-medical” qualifications for SSI/SSDI, there is not much an attorney can do, other than to correct an error in an earnings record or an error in calculating resources.

However, once SSA has determined that you meet the “non-medical” requirements for SSI/SSDI, a good, experienced lawyer can make all the difference in successfully proving to SSA that you are indeed “Disabled” under their definitions. This is where I come in.

The SSA definition of “Disabled”: You have a severe impairment, that has lasted or is expected to last for at least a full 12 months or result in death, that prevents you from doing any kind of substantial work activity.

There are misconceptions I encounter frequently regarding SSA Disability.  Here are a few SSA truths:

  • SSA does not provide part-time/short term disability.

  • Your inability to perform your past work is relevant to the determination of SSA disability, but it is not definitive of disability under SSA standardsThe issue is whether there is any work, in either the regional or national economy, that you can perform given your limitations. This provision makes SSA disability programs more difficult to qualify for than other disability programs.

  • Just because your disabling condition has not yet lasted 12 months and you are trying/hoping/planning to return to work within the year, you should still consider applying for SSI/SSDI. You never know what the future holds. Disability cases can take years to win and as previously discussed, filing dates (PFD) are very important when determining retroactive benefit amounts. Your condition may not improve and you will have lost months of retroactive benefits you could have collected. Also, SSA has provisions for “Trial Work Periods.” That is, if you attempt work activity after you apply, but are unable to sustain work activity as a result of your disability, SSA will not count that time against you and your application can continue to be processed.

  • SSI/SSDI claims and their relationship to Workers’ Compensation (WC); Long Term Disability (LTD); State Disability Insurance (SDI); CalPERS? and Veterans’ Disability Benefits?


    Although I do not handle Workers’ Compensation (WC), Long Term Disability (LTD), State Disability Insurance (SDI) claims, CalPERS or Veterans’ Disability Benefits claims, I have many clients who have either or both Social Security Disability and/or Supplemental Security Income claims pending while simultaneously applying for, currently receiving or were previously receiving one or more of the aforementioned disability programs.

    That means, you can have a WC, LTD, SDI or other disability claim pending and you can also file a SSDI/SSDI claim.

    SSDI/SSI claims are separate from other claims. That is, if you have a claim filed for one or more of the other Disability Programs, you are not automatically filing for Federal Disability (SSI/SSDI). Also, if you qualify for one or more of these other disability programs, that does NOT mean you automatically qualify for SSI/SSDI.

    Unfortunately, I have spoken to many people who believed that if they have, for example, qualified for and are receiving State Disability (SDI), they will receive SSI/SSDI when the SDI runs out, if they are still disabled after one year. That is not true.

    You need to file separately for SSI/SSDI. SSA standards of disability are different from other Disability Programs and they can take two years or more to win. You should file for SSI/SSDI at the same time you file for SDI if you believe you are going to be disabled for 12 months or more.

    It is possible to receive payments from multiple disability program sources at the same time. SSA will offset moneys received in Workers’ Compensation; State Disability Claims and CalPERS using various formulas that often change from year to year. The offset is different in SSI v. SSDI cases. Please contact my office to discuss your options.


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