Myths and Facts: What You Don’t Know About Social Security Disability Could Hurt You.

May 17, 2018

It’s a fact: Qualifying for the Social Security disability benefits you have rightfully earned can be difficult, time-consuming, and stressful. The process becomes even more difficult if you are misled by common myths and misconceptions about Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Here are four Social Security disability myths and one important fact you will want to know.

1. Myth: Getting Social Security disability benefits is nearly impossible, so why even try?
The disability process can be frustrating and disheartening, especially when you are in real need of the benefits you may be entitled to–benefits you paid for with your Social Security taxes. More than 60% of applicants who are denied SSDI or SSI benefits the first time they apply simply give up in frustration. Regardless how deserving of benefits you may be, a December 2017 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirms that the road to obtaining Social Security disability benefits is long and difficult to navigate. The GAO study also cited various factors that improved a claimant’s chances of receiving Social Security benefits. Significantly, if a claimant had a representative, such as an attorney, they were three times more likely to be allowed benefits than someone who had no representation at all.

“In my experience, most people are denied Social Security disability benefits on their initial application,” Disability Attorney Tom Nash points out. “However, if you’re denied the first time around, you can appeal. Our advice is: Don’t give up, and hire an experienced, local attorney.”

2. Myth: If my doctor tells me that I am disabled, then I should have no trouble qualifying for benefits.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. The word “disabled” can mean different things to different people and even to different parts of the government. Webster’s dictionary defines “disabled” as “incapacitated by illness or injury; also: physically or mentally impaired in a way that substantially limits activity especially in relation to employment or education.” Your doctor may have a somewhat different definition.

To Social Security, “disabled” means that you cannot sustain any job in the national economy given your age, education, and work experience. For that reason, Social Security’s rules state that disability is a matter for the government to decide—not your doctor. Social Security has its own rules and its own procedures. Social Security even has its own doctors who will review your case and come to their own conclusions.

An important disability secret is that, in the end, labels such as “disabled” are not very important, and your doctor doesn’t decide if you receive disability insurance—the decision is determined by the Social Security Administration.

Having a Social Security disability attorney can help get the right information from your doctor that will be useful in your particular case. We can ask your doctor the right questions so that, if professionally comfortable, he or she can explain your limitations to Social Security so that the government has the best understanding of your situation.

3. Myth: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) can replace my work income.
The Social Security Administration says, “For those who can no longer work due to a disability, our disability program is there to replace some of their lost income.” The key here is that disability income will not necessarily cover all of your lost income. “Social security disability payments are modest,” Tom Nash says. “For 2018 the average disability payment is $1,197 per month, but this is an average; your actual benefits may be a little more or a little less.”

4. Myth: Once I qualify for disability benefits, they will continue for life.
Once you are approved for Social Security disability, your benefit payments will last until one of three things happen:

  • You reach retirement age.
  • Your medical condition improves and you are able to return to work.
  • You start working and earn too much money.

Retirement Age
For both SSDI and SSI, once you reach your retirement age, your disability benefits automatically convert to retirement benefits. With SSDI benefits, the amount usually remains the same. If you were receiving SSI, the amount may be the same or may increase depending on your past work history and financial circumstances.

Your Medical Condition Improves.
If your medical situation improves to the extent that you are no longer disabled, your Social Security disability payments will end. Social Security periodically assesses SSDI and SSI beneficiaries with what is known as a Continuing Disability Review (CDR) to determine whether a recipient still qualifies for disability benefits. Typically, a CDR will be scheduled every three to seven years, but it can depend on how likely the Agency finds that your medical condition will improve. (Due to the backlogs at the Social Security Administration (SSA), a CDR may be delayed beyond the scheduled review time.)

Earning Too Much Money.
SSA says that if you are working (even part-time) and your work results in “Substantial Gainful Activity” (SGA) you may no longer be eligible for disability benefits. For 2018, if you earn more than $1,180 per month, you will be considered to be engaged in “Substantial Gainful Activity.” However, SSA does allow you to test your ability to work, so another myth is that returning to work automatically means that your benefits will end. An experienced attorney can best explain how work can affect your eligibility for benefits.

There are many more myths and misconceptions surrounding Social Security disability, but here is the one fact that is most important for you to know.

Fact: Help is available if you are considering applying for Social Security disability payments or you have applied and been denied.
You can also learn a lot about the ins and outs of Social Security disability by visiting our website. There, you will find an extensive collection of informative articles, and a special web section which details how the Social Security Administration evaluates specific qualifying impairments for disability benefits. All of this information is free for you to explore and read, whether you are a client of ours or not. We can also give you a free evaluation of your specific situation. Just email us from our website or give us a call at 312.219.9414.