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The Basics of Social Security Disability

The Social Security Administration offers two programs that assist with disability benefits: Disability Insurance Benefits, and Supplemental Security Income.

Disability Insurance Benefits provide benefits for disabled workers who have worked five out of the last 10 years. To see if you qualify for Disability Insurance Benefits and to see how much you are eligible for, go to

Supplemental Security Income is a needs based public assistance program. Individuals with disabilities can apply and are eligible if they meet the financial criteria.

The Social Security Act defines disability as the inability to perform substantial gainful activity for at least 12 continuous months by reason of physical and/or mental impairment. Consequently, your impairment must have kept you out of work for a year OR will keep you out of work for at least a year.

The Social Security Administration provides for disabilities including musculoskeletal impairments; speech, vision or hearing impairments; chronic breathing problems; chronic heart disease, liver disease, blood disorders, neurological disorders, obesity, mental disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, immune system disorders, and other severe medical conditions. Social Security will determine whether your physical and/or psychological issues interfere with your ability to work eight hours a day, five days a week on a consistent basis.

Your Social Security Disability claim will be examined at three different stages:

Stage 1 - Initial application. The medical information will be reviewed by a doctor at the state agency. This review normally takes three to six months to reach a decision.

Stage 2 - Reconsideration. Again, your claim will be reviewed by a doctor at the State Agency. This review can take up to three months

Stage 3 - Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. The Judge will entertain arguments by your attorney considering medical evidence and doctor opinions.

Should you be denied at the Hearing level, you can appeal to the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council can either send your claim back to the Administrative Law Judge to correct errors and reconsider your claim, OR deny your appeal. If you are denied, the next step is to file a legal claim in Federal District Court.