Getting approved for disability benefits isn’t easy, especially if your condition isn’t visibly severe or terminal. But if your disability makes you unable to work, you can apply for benefits through the federal government’s SSDI program. (SSDI stands for Social Security disability insurance, which includes monthly checks as well as Medicare after a mandatory two-year wait.) Learning how the system works and disability secrets for getting your claim approved are essential before you apply.
There are various approval rates for every step in the process which could potentially put your disability claim on hold. While these disability secrets cannot guarantee the Social Security Administration will approve your SSDI claim, they’ll definitely improve your chances!
8 Disability Secrets for Getting Your Claim Approved
Knowing how these disability secrets apply to your own claim can help you avoid any obstacles before filing your application with the SSA.
1. Ideally, you should have already been out of work for five months or more when you apply for SSDI.
If you work up until the day you submit your disability benefits application, the SSA will almost certainly reject it. That’s because you must prove that you cannot work directly as a result of your disability to qualify for benefits. In some cases, you can show that it was difficult to work full-time because of your disability. But for the most part, spending the last five months unemployed because you’re disabled seems to be the sweet spot. The SSA will also ask you:
- Whether your medical condition caused you to cease working at your previous job
- If you had to reduce hours before leaving work altogether
- Whether your employer had to provide special help in order for you to complete your routine job tasks
If you have an especially complicated claim, ask a Social Security attorney to review your application before submitting it. Lawyers often know disability secrets that apply to someone in your specific situation that you wouldn’t find anywhere online.
IMPORTANT: Did you have an unexpected/abrupt accident or illness? If a sudden disability makes working obviously impossible on a short-term basis, you may be exempted from the five-month rule. The SSA will estimate how long your inability to work should last based on your medical diagnosis. If it’s one year or longer, you may still qualify for disability benefits.
2. A doctor must medically diagnose you with a condition expected to last at least 12 months or result in death.
Do not apply for disability benefits until your doctor confirms that your condition meets the SSA’s internal definition of “disabled.” Then, ask how long you can expect to be out of work before your condition improves again, if at all. This is one of the more confusing disability secrets, since some people are disqualified on the projected unemployment timeframe alone. If your doctor says you’ll feel better within 8-12 months, the SSA won’t approve your disability claim.
3. Your disability must specifically make you unable to perform your usual job duties regularly for 40 hours a week.
This is one of the trickier disability secrets, since some jobs are easier to do than others once you’re disabled. But if you can still perform the tasks listed in your job description, you likely won’t qualify for monthly benefits. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, your employer must provide “Reasonable Accommodation” for disabled employees.
One of the biggest disability secrets people ask about is, “How can I prove I’m disabled during my DDS exam?” The answer is simple, actually! If you drop a pencil on the floor and cannot pick it up without help, you’re disabled. And if you can’t walk across a room (or go up or down a few stairs) without assistance, you’re disabled. Finally, if you must alternate sitting and standing throughout the day or cannot lift anything heavier than 5 lbs., then you’re disabled. Of all disability secrets we know, this one may be the most valuable!
4. You must receive routine, doctor-recommended treatments for your disability and submit documents that prove it along with your application.
One way the SSA determines your eligibility for monthly disability benefits hinges on your credibility as an applicant. If you haven’t sought treatment for your condition or discussed symptoms with your doctor, it looks bad to the SSA. If you aren’t treated, the SSA automatically assumes your condition isn’t limiting you as much as you say it is. The more documented evidence from your doctor showing regular treatment appointments and progress notes, the higher your chances for approval. Among all disability secrets, this one’s likely to result in your technical denial if you can’t or won’t follow through. In other words, no physician actively treating your disability = no claim approval for benefits. If you cannot afford to see a doctor, make an in-person appointment at the SSA office for a referral.
5. You must be younger than your full retirement age when you apply in order to qualify for SSDI.
(According to the SSA, that usually means you haven’t turned 65, 66 or 67 yet, depending on your birth year.) If you already reached your full retirement age, you’ll receive regular Social Security benefits for retired individuals instead of SSDI. Here’s one of the little-known disability secrets: You cannot receive SSDI and Social Security retirement checks at the same time. Here’s an official SSA chart to help you find your full retirement age using your birth year and month.
6. You must already have 40 Social Security work credits and paid FICA taxes for 5-10 years before you apply.
Insufficient work history is another one of those disability secrets that confuses many people who receive a technical denial letter. Look at it this way: If you’re disabled and cannot work, you’re technically asking the SSA for early retirement withdrawals. If you’ve only worked four years full-time in the last decade, that’s technically not enough credits to make you eligible. Or maybe you worked full-time for 22 years, but your employer didn’t withhold Social Security taxes from all your paychecks.
Here’s another example: You’re a federal employee whose government pension automatically disqualifies you from receiving Social Security disability insurance checks. Your monthly SSDI check also depends on how long you worked as well as your paychecks (Average Indexed Monthly Earnings). In any given year, you can earn a maximum of four Social Security work credits with full-time employment. Plus, the amount you need to earn one work credit increases each year to keep pace with increasing average wages. In 2019, you’ll get one Social Security work credit for every $1,360 you earn, according to the SSA.
7. If you’re unemployed due to your disability, your non-wage income must still be under $1,220/month for you to be eligible.
Compared to our other disability secrets, this one may seem like a “gotcha!” that unfairly targets certain applicants. This rule is designed to technically exclude any unqualified SSDI applicants with incomes higher than the maximum monthly limit allowed. Non-wage monthly earnings may include the following:
- Alimony checks
- Child support payments
- Your spouse’s paychecks
- Interest or dividends paid on your investments
- Rental property income
The SSA looks closely at all your different income sources before approving your claim. So if you get more than $1,260/month (even while unemployed), the SSA will deny your claim. The SSA does this to ensure only those who truly need financial assistance receive disability benefits.
8. If your spouse is eligible for SSDI, you can apply for those payments — even if you’re divorced or widowed.
Spousal and dependent SSDI benefits aren’t exactly disability secrets, but they aren’t well-publicized, either. So how, exactly, do dependent disability benefits work? Let’s start with still-married couples. Imagine your husband gets monthly SSDI, but prefers that you receive them instead. If your spouse has a progressive disability that causes gradual cognitive decline (like Alzheimer’s), this makes perfect sense. Can you apply to receive his monthly disability check from the SSA? Yes, provided that your spouse is at least 62 or you care for that spouse’s child under age 16.
Here’s an example for divorced couples: Let’s say your ex-spouse qualified for SSDI, but then you split up. As long as your marriage lasted 10 years or longer, you can still apply for your former spouse’s benefits. The same rule applies for divorced co-parents whose children are age 16 or younger.
Now let’s talk about survivor benefits, which can transfer to a beneficiary’s dependents after they pass away. If your spouse dies while getting SSDI, any of the deceased’s dependents may qualify for those benefits going forward. (This includes children and other relatives living in the same household listed as dependents on the former beneficiary’s income taxes.) The SSA typically reduces survivor benefits using a calculation based on the widowed spouse’s and any dependent children’s ages. If you already reached full retirement age, you can likely receive your deceased spouse’s full payment amount. To see how much you may qualify for, scroll down to page 6 in the SSA’s Survivor Benefits brochure.
There are additional disability secrets that specifically pertain to spouses, children and marital status. You can read more about those disability secrets by entering keywords like “family,” “marital” and “children” in the search box shown to the right of this article.
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
Want to know more disability secrets that could help your case? Having a lawyer file your claim makes you 2x more likely to get benefits on your first try. We can match you with a local Social Security attorney that knows disability secrets that can help your case. For example: There may be state-run disability programs you qualify for that pay cash benefits while the SSA reviews your application. Still, talking to a lawyer is the only way to learn which disability secrets may help you win benefits.
All disability attorneys work on contingency, so you’ll pay pay nothing for legal advice by phone. If the SSA won’t approve your claim, you owe $0 for legal assistance. And if you win, then you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee.
Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free online benefits evaluation now!