Legal Guide

What to Know about Social Security Disability Benefits

There are generally two types of disability benefits: short-term and long-term. While some states provide short term disability benefits to people with limited or temporary disabilities, the Federal government, through benefits administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) do not.

If you happen to live in one of the states that provide short term disability benefits (sometimes called temporary disability insurance) and have a qualifying medical condition, you may either qualify for one or both types of disability benefits. If you do not live in a state that offers short term disability benefits, but need financial assistance as a result of an injury occured while working, you may also be entitled to workers’ compensation.

Depending on state law, a short-term disability policy has a waiting period of 7-14 days followed by a 3-6 month benefit period. Conventionally, short-term disability claims can be used to support disabled individuals who are waiting for long-term disability claims to be decided.

Simply put, short-term disability insurance coverage pays your bills for a shorter duration and safeguards you from economic hardship while experiencing temporary injuries or illness. Only long-term disability benefits can help you make up for the damages incurred in a major accident or a severe case of disability.

The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs provide financial and other assistance to people with disabilities. The SSDI program pays benefits to disabled individuals and certain family members if they have sufficient qualifying work history.

This means they must have worked long enough and recently enough while paying into the  Social Security program through payroll deductions. The SSI program pays benefits to adults and children with disabilities who have limited income and resources. People interested in obtaining disability benefits should apply as soon as they become disabled.

SSDI benefits have a five month waiting period, meaning that benefit payments do not begin before the sixth full month of disability. The SSDI waiting period begins the first full month after the date SSA decides your disability began. For certain critical conditions that progress quickly, like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), there is no waiting period (if your disability benefits are approved on or after July 23, 2020). The SSA pays SSI disability benefits for the first full month after the date you filed your claim, or, if later, the date you become eligible for SSI. Because of the waiting period, people who live in states that offer short-term disability benefits may want to apply for both state and federal programs.

Pointers on disability benefit programs

As discussed, the SSA administers two disability benefits programs. The first is SSDI, which benefits a person with disabilities. In some cases disability benefits can be paid for spouses and certain other family members if the insured person paid Social Security taxes while working. The second program to know about is the SSI program, which is designed to deliver benefits based on financial need and is funded by general tax revenues rather than the Social Security fund.

Upon approval of a disability application, one can start to receive Social Security disability benefits on the sixth full month after the date of the disability began. Eligible family members for Social Security disability benefits may include the spouse who is at least 62 years or older, a spouse of any age who is caring for a child age 16 years or younger or disabled, an unmarried child that also includes an adopted child 18 years or younger, and an unmarried child who is 18 years or older but has a certain disability that started before they became 22 years old.

A widow who is 50 years old may also be able to receive benefits for disability over 50 based on their spouse's record, but only if they meet the disability criteria for payment. 

If you do not qualify based on your own earnings history, you may not be eligible for disability benefits based on a spouse's record; however, if your spouse was collecting a Social Security retirement or disability benefit and you are 62 or older, you may be eligible for a spousal benefit based on their record.

In the event of your spouse's death, you could apply for a survivor benefit as a disabled widow or widower as early as age 50. The SSA instituted this policy as a way to help spouses who are too old to get back to work and have relied on their wife or husband's Social Security disability benefits for most of their lives.

Documents needed to apply

When you apply for disabled widow benefits, you will need:

  • Birth certificates
  • Proof of citizenship
  • Your marriage certificate or divorce decree for proof of relationship
  • Your spouse's death certificate
  • S. military discharge paper(s) if you or your spouse had military service before 1968
  • Proper forms for disability benefits
  • W-2 forms(s) and/or self-employment tax returns for last year
  • Final divorce decree, if applying as a surviving divorced spouse

After submission of your application, your case is transferred to the state Disability Determination Services (DDS) for further evaluation. It typically takes several months for the state to reach a decision on your claim. If approved, your case will be transferred back to Social Security and sent to a regional payment center for payment. It can take 30 to 60 days at the payment center before one starts receiving payments.

Please note that if a spouse is eligible for retirement benefits on their record, that amount is always paid first. If, however, the spousal benefit that is payable on your record is a higher amount, the spouse will be entitled to receive the greater of the two benefits.

Another notable point is that if you receive a pension from a government job but did not pay Social Security taxes while you had the job, the SSA will reduce your Social Security spouse, widow, or widower benefits by two-thirds of the amount of your government pension. This offset is known as the Government Pension Offset, or GPO.

While people may become disabled in many different ways and for many different reasons, benefits are typically paid to those who need financial support and are unable to perform work due to their disability. Those seeking disability compensation benefits must follow the application process thoroughly to be approved. Once disability benefits have been granted, the person may receive monthly payments from the SSA.

Spouses can collect a certain percentage of a disabled individual's monthly allowance, but the amount may depend on several factors. After their spouse's death, widows may be entitled to some financial support from the Social Security Administration. The amount widowers and family members may be entitled to can be adjusted depending on the circumstances. To know more, contact a social security disability lawyer to guide you throughout the process and improve your chances of being approved for benefits the first time.

We at Chermol & Fishman, LLC have qualified and experienced disability lawyers who have been serving clients with care, compassion, and professionalism for many years.

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