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 spending five months unable to work for health reasons before you apply for disability 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 exempt from the five-month rule. (One qualifying example the SSA has for this situation is ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.) 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 with your current limitations. 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 cannot work 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 don’t need routine treatments, 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 approval for SSDI benefits. If you cannot afford to see a doctor, an attorney can pay for you to see one.
5. You must be younger than full retirement age and not currently receiving any Social Security benefits in order to qualify for SSDI.
(According to the SSA, that usually means you haven’t turned 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 payroll 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 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. Your SSDI amount is based on how long you worked as well as your job’s 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 2022, you’ll get one Social Security work credit for every $1,510 you earn, according to the SSA.
7. Your monthly income must be less than $1,350/month for you to qualify for disability.
Compared to our other disability secrets, this one may seem like a “gotcha!” that unfairly targets certain applicants. This technical eligibility rule excludes any unqualified SSDI applicants with incomes higher than the maximum monthly limit. In addition to working and still earning paychecks, monthly earnings that may disqualify you could include the following:
- Alimony checks
- Child support payments
- Trust-fund disbursements
- 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 $1,350/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 qualifies for SSDI, you can apply for spousal benefit 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. If your husband qualifies for SSDI, as his wife, you can get a separate payment totaling up to 50% of his benefit amount. Each of your dependent children can get benefits, too. As a household, you can receive no more than 150% of the eligible family member’s benefit payment each month.
Divorced, but your ex-spouse gets SSDI? If your marriage lasted at least 10 years and you aren’t remarried, then you can apply for spousal SSDI benefits. You must also meet an age requirement to qualify for spousal SSDI after divorce. If you’re disabled, you can get spousal SSDI starting at age 50. Otherwise, you need to be at least 62 years old when you apply unless you have a child no more than 16 years old at home.
Now let’s talk about survivor’s benefits paid after the SSDI beneficiary passes away. If someone dies while getting SSDI, any of the deceased’s dependents may qualify for those benefits going forward. (This includes children and other relatives 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. Already reached your full retirement age? Then you can likely receive your deceased spouse’s full SSDI 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 specifically regarding 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 the SSA nearly 3x more likely to award you benefits. We can match you with a local Social Security attorney that knows disability secrets to help your case win. 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 succeed.
All disability attorneys work on contingency. This means you’ll pay pay nothing for confidential, personalized help by phone. Unless you win a lump-sum cash award, then 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!
Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.