What is Social Security Disability?

Disability benefits are designed to provide security to individuals who are unable to work because of a debilitating physical or mental condition. Applying for benefits can be complex and time-consuming. We represent clients throughout the entire application process and have the knowledge and skills to get the maximum possible benefits for our clients.

  • SSD benefits
  • SSI benefits
  • Initial applications
  • Appeals

The term “social security” describes a number of related government programs that are designed to provide security to individuals in regard to retirement, death of a wage earner, or unemployment due to sickness or accident. To protect people from these events, the government spreads the risk among all members of society.

The Social Security Act was enacted in 1935 and is administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Unlike welfare programs, social security benefits are paid to individuals or their families based on that person’s employment record and prior contributions to the system. Financial hardship generally is not a requirement for social security benefits.

Social Security Disability (SSD or SSDI) insurance is a social insurance program funded through payroll tax known as FICA. The program is designed to provide income for individuals who are unable to work because of a disabling condition.

The term “disability” is defined by the SSA as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” There are a wide variety of debilitating conditions that may fall under this definition including: neck problems, back problems, cancer, arthritis, asthma, obesity, depression, diabetes, headaches, digestive problems, heart problems, breathing problems, mental illness, PTSD, panic attacks, bipolar disorder, and many others.

To determine whether an individual is considered disabled, the SSA typically uses a five-step process involving five basic questions:

  • Is the person working?
  • Is the person’s condition “severe” (i.e. does it interfere with basic work-related activities)?
  • Is the person’s condition found in the SSA list of disabling conditions?
  • Can the person do the work he or she did previously?
  • Can the person do any other type of work?

Anyone can file for disability benefits. However, most applicants are denied benefits when they first apply and statistics indicate that less than 50% of people who apply on their own are ultimately approved for benefits. On the other hand, individuals represented by an attorney have a much higher approval rate. The average timeframe for the approval process can take anywhere from six months to three years.

Most applicants are eligible to apply for disability benefits the day after they stop working or the day after their earnings drop below $1,040 per month (the threshold for “Substantial Gainful Activity” or “SGA”), assuming the individual’s condition is expected to last at least one year. In most cases, you should apply for benefits as soon as possible. For some borderline cases, however, it may be prudent to wait until you have not worked for several months before applying for benefits.

If you are unable to work because of a physical or mental condition, you may be entitled to receive disability benefits. Contact us today at (248) 457-6000 to discuss your options with one of our attorneys.


Social Security Act