Most of us understand that Social Security retirement benefits are not based on your needs—they’re based on how much income you earned during your working life. The Social Security Administration (SSA) keeps a record of these earnings and pays benefits based on the average amount earned over your lifetime, provided a minimum number of work hours have been accumulated. Basically, you’re paying into the system throughout your working life to reap the rewards upon retirement. But how does this work when filing for disability? Are the rules and regulations the same?
Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits
The Social Security Administration (SSA) views disability benefits in two buckets, only one of which is related to your work history. For Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), they will look at how much you have worked in recent years. For Supplemental Security Income (SSI), they review evidence that you have a financial need regardless of work history. So while the SSA does require that you have worked, earned income, and paid taxes to qualify for SSDI, filing for benefits without a strong work history is still possible.
Of course, regardless of your work history, you will still need to meet the medical requirements to qualify for Social Security disability benefits. This requires that the condition you’re experiencing meets the qualifications listed in the SSA’s Blue Book, a guide that lists specific criteria under which claimants who suffer from a disability can qualify for benefits.
How Work History Affects Your Disability Application
To begin receiving Social Security disability, the SSA states that you must meet two different earnings tests:
A recent work test. Depending on your age, you will need to have worked at least 50% of a given period of time prior to when you became disabled. For example, if you’re under the age of 24, you need to have worked at least 1.5 years out of the last 3 before becoming disabled. At 31 and up, you need 5 years of work out of the last 10.
A duration of work test. This is a total time worked requirement that ranges from 1.5 years of total time worked at age 28 or less to a maximum of 9.5 years of total time worked at age 60.
The SSA’s book on Disability Benefits details a complete chart of the age and duration of work requirements. You’ll see that the work requirement is basically a sliding scale, meaning that those who are younger or older will have an easier time qualifying with less work history than those who are in their 30s and 40s.
The main requirement is that you have worked at least ¼ quarters each year for the past ten years. This requirement is lessened somewhat when it comes to workers who are not yet old enough to have worked ten years or individuals nearing retirement age who are considered incapable of adjusting to a different type of employment.
While most wage earners will have little trouble receiving at least one quarter of coverage per year, it’s worth noting that you don’t necessarily need to have worked an entire quarter to receive benefits; in fact, you can receive four quarters of coverage (the maximum in a single year) if you earned enough money in a single day! It’s based upon the amount of income (and taxes paid).
Finding Your Work History
Each year the SSA provides a Social Security Earnings Report via mail to workers age 60 and over who aren’t receiving Social Security benefits. This report is a breakdown of your earnings for the previous year along with a detailed report of your earnings history. If you haven’t received a report or you’re under 60 and need one now, you can sign up to view it online or call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or visit your local Social Security office.need one right away, you can request it online or by phone.
When you get your earnings report, you will see the years you worked, how much you made each year, the amount you paid into SSDI, and the amount of money you would receive if you were to become disabled based on your earnings history through the last complete year of data. It’s never a bad idea to check the report occasionally to be sure it’s accurate.
Completing a Work History Form
When applying for SSDI, the SSA will require you to complete a work history report. When filling this out, consider each job you’ve performed in the past and why you feel you would be now be unable to do that type of work. Questions to think about include:
Some questions that you will want to consider are:
- Did I work at these jobs within the last 15 years?
- Did I work at these jobs long enough to learn the necessary skills?
- If I worked a job less than six months, did I leave due to physical or mental aptitudes I no longer have?
- Did any of these jobs require overtime that I was unable to handle due to my condition?
- What was the maximum requirement expected of me? (i.e., just because you worked a register, you may have also been required to carry heavy boxes from time to time)
- Did I work to the same capacity as others, or were special considerations made for me due to my condition?
- It’s important to be honest about your limitations and your past work history. You also want to demonstrate that you are a hard-worker, but are just not able to perform your job like you once were.
Benefits Denied Even With Significant Work History
Unfortunately, even if you find your disability or illness listed within the Blue Book and have enough work history to your name, you may still be denied disability benefits. In fact, the SSA reports that 72% of applications are initially denied. When this happens, the SSA will evaluate what abilities you do have, known as your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). This is a form that is filled out by your doctor, documenting your ability—or inability—to perform work-related tasks, and find and maintain employment. As a matter of fact, this form is informally known as the “Ability to Do Work Related Activity” form. To be awarded Social Security Disability, you need to prove that not only are you medically disabled, but that your condition prohibits you from working your most recent job, a job that you’ve performed in the last 15 years, or any job in which you are qualified for. Then, a medical-vocational analysis will identify what type of work, if any, that you are capable of performing. They will consider heavy work, medium work, light work, sedentary work, or less than sedentary work. If it has been decided that you can only do less than sedentary work, you will likely qualify for benefits. However, if you have been assigned any of the other levels of work, the SSA will then decide what type of work you can still perform.
Need Help With Your Disability Claim?
If you are unable to work due to your current condition and are applying for disability for the first time, or filing an appeal, Disability Experts of Florida can help. We understand the requirements of past-relevant work, and can help complete your work history form, along with organizing your medical documents, completing federally-required paperwork, presenting your case, and preparing for an appeal if necessary. We can also talk to you about filing for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if you don’t meet the qualifications for SSDI. And, it won’t cost you a thing; we only get paid unless you do. Contact us today for help in getting the benefits you deserve.