Some Important Truths About the Social Security Disability Program

Published on: January 13, 2017

knowledge is key when applying for Social Security disability benefits.The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program is a key support for many disabled American workers who can no longer do the work they used to rely on to provide for themselves and their families.

However, there are many things about this program that many people simply don’t know. Knowing as much as possible about the Social Security Disability program before applying for benefits is can help you prepare for your own SSDI application.

With this in mind, here are a few facts & truths about the Social Security Disability program:

1: SSDI Isn’t the Only Program That Helps Disabled Workers

A lot of people focus on the SSDI program because it’s very well-known. However, SSDI isn’t the only Social Security program that can help disabled workers. There is another program administered by Social Security that can help disabled workers who cannot qualify for SSDI benefits because of a lack of work history: Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

According to statistics from the Social Security Administration (SSA), “about 8.3 million people received federally administered payments in December 2014” under the SSI program. As noted in that same report, 86 percent of those 8.3 million SSI recipients were eligible for SSI on the basis of a disability. That’s over 7 million disabled workers receiving benefits through SSI.

2: Collecting SSDI Doesn’t Mean Having to Skip Out on Other Benefits

Another interesting point from the 2014 SSI Annual Statistical Report is that “thirty-three percent of SSI recipients also received Social Security benefits.” This includes SSDI benefits. In other words, over a third of the people collecting SSI were also getting payments under other Social Security programs.

While receiving payments from other state or federal programs can affect your SSDI payments, it’s often worthwhile to file for other forms of income support. Some programs, like SSI, actually require you to apply for other kinds of benefits first.

3: In 2015, the Largest Category of Diagnoses Leading to Benefits Payments Was Diseases of the Musculoskeletal System and Connective Tissue

Disorders of the musculoskeletal system were the highest-ranked cause of approved disability applications in 2015.According to the SSA’s Annual Statistical Report on the Social Security Disability Insurance Program, 2015—which was released in October 2016—the largest category of disabling conditions “was diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue (31.7%).”

There could be a number of reasons why this is the largest category of diagnosed disabling conditions, including:

  • Many labor-intensive jobs can cause long-term musculoskeletal system damage that precludes workers from continuing to work.
  • Workers who are injured in this way and cannot continue manual labor jobs may not have the skills and experience necessary to transfer to more sedentary work.
  • Permanent damage to the musculoskeletal system may be easier to medically document and prove than certain other long-term disabling conditions.

So, it’s important to note that while a large number of SSDI beneficiaries qualified with a musculoskeletal system disease, that isn’t a guarantee of acceptance.

4: The SSA Can and Will Discontinue Disability Benefits for Some, But Most Reach Full Retirement Age First

The SSA’s annual report for 2015 highlighted a key statistic about the SSDI program—the fact that “benefits were terminated for 802,501 disabled workers” in that year.

The leading cause of disability benefit termination? The fact that the worker reached full retirement age (460,720 workers reached FRA in 2015 according to the SSA). The second most common reason for termination was “death of beneficiary” (255,152).

Only a small fraction of beneficiaries had their benefits terminated because their condition no longer met medical requirements (82,125). This number includes those who were able to work above the “substantial gainful activity” level (39,652). Also, as noted by the SSA, 6,607 beneficiaries had their benefits terminated for noncompliance with the SSA.

So, it’s important to remember that simply being on disability doesn’t guarantee that you’ll receive benefits forever, and that you need to cooperate with the SSA as much as possible.

5: You CAN Collect Back Pay on SSDI Benefits, But Only to a Certain Point

The SSA can take a long time to process a disability benefits application. In recognition of this fact, the SSA often provides back pay to applicants based on the date they became disabled.

For many, this isn’t a problem so long as they apply for disability within a certain time frame from when they became disabled. However, there is a limitation to the back pay that the SSA will provide.

If there’s a significant delay between when you become disabled and when you apply for benefits, the SSA will typically only provide back pay for up to 12 months before you make your application.

So, if you became disabled in January 2013, but first applied for disability in January 2015, the SSA would only provide back pay dating to January 2014—you will have forfeited pay you could have earned between January 2013-December 2013—not counting the waiting period.

For those applying for SSI, the back payments only go back to the month after the initial application, and the pay is almost always made in installments.

Learning some important truths about the Social Security Disability program before applying for benefits can be very helpful. Learn more about SSDI and SSI from an experienced disability advocate today!


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