When Can you Claim Social Security?

When Can you Claim Social Security?

Claiming Social Security can be a long process, but it’s one that can leave you with life-saving benefits that let you live with dignity even after suffering an injury or developing a condition that leaves you unable to work. Social Security Disability Benefits can be difficult to get, and it’s common for applicants to be rejected the first time around. 

Whether you’ve already tried to apply or are preparing for your very first application, there’s one question you’ll need to have a solid answer to. When can you claim Social Security? Find out what lets you qualify, and discover exactly how the Social Security Administration determines disability status and the benefits to provide.

Qualifying Positions

Far too often, disabled people aren’t sure whether or not they even qualify for benefits. That uncertainty can stop them from applying in the first place. In other cases, the first denial can stop applicants dead in their tracks and make them abandon the endeavor entirely, simply accepting that they don’t actually qualify. It’s important to remember that the SSA isn’t perfect. Their people can make mistakes, and you could be entitled to benefits by their own standards even if they deny your claim at first. Don’t let the initial denial discourage you from continuing to pursue benefits 

To begin, you’ll need to understand exactly what qualifies one for Social Security Disability benefits. The first step is working in jobs that are covered by Social Security. Fortunately, this includes the vast majority of jobs on the market. Specifically, more than 90% of workers in the country work jobs that are covered, but it’s important to recognize the exceptions. Some government municipal employees, for example, aren’t covered by Social Security and are instead covered by pension plans maintained by their state. Additionally, government employees that were hired before the year 1984 are covered by a pension as well.

There is one industry that uniquely isn’t covered by Social Security, the rail industry. Railroad employees have their own unique pension system that operates outside of the Social Security Administration. This strange exception has been in place since the 30s and the Social Security law has never been amended to account for them. Additionally, foreign nationals that work in the US for the government of their home country or any international organization aren’t covered. If you’re a US citizen who works in a foreign embassy in the US, however, you are covered by Social Security.

Definition of Disability

The second major aspect to qualification is meeting the specific definition of disabled according to the SSA. This is a five-step process evaluated by the SSA staff to determine whether or not an applicant qualifies as legally disabled. Only after completing this process can you qualify for disability benefits. Keep in mind that during this portion of the process many claims are denied. This is often due to a lack of supporting evidence. A disabled person who doesn’t adequately demonstrate their disability will not be legally considered disabled.

Step One

The first step to the process is determining whether or not the applicant is working. If you’re able to work and make more than a certain amount each month, you’re not considered legally disabled. Rest assured that the amount in question is generally enough to live comfortably rendering disability benefits useless in the first place. Additionally, this amount changes each year, so you’ll want to check the latest annual update to see the exact amount. If you’re not working or don’t reach the specified amount in income, the process moves on to step two.


Step Two

The second step’s goal is to determine whether or not your condition is actually severe. Severity is determined by judging your ability to do basic work activities. While every job has different activities, the general abilities being measured at this level are the ability to lift objects, stand, walk, sit for long periods of time, remembering and recalling information, and other basics. Additionally, if your disability prevents you from performing these basic activities, you must establish that it has for at least 12 months, starting from the onset of the disability.

Step Three

Should your condition be considered severe, the SSA will move to the third step. This is the portion of the evaluation where your condition is compared to the list of impairments. If you have any of the impairments on the list, you’ll automatically move to the fourth stage of the process. There are quite a few impairments and conditions on the list that the SSA considers to inherently render a person unable to do gainful activity regardless of their age, education, or experience working. Within the list of impairments, you’ll also find the necessary requirements to demonstrate each condition. 

If you don’t have any of the impairments on the SSA’s list, don’t worry. That doesn’t automatically mean that you’re disqualified from benefits. When you don’t have any of the listed conditions, you’ll have to demonstrate that your condition is medically equivalent to one of the listed conditions. Medical equivalency, in this case, means that your condition is as severe with a similar duration to one of the listed impairments. While there’s obviously no standard for the exact evidence you’d need to prove that, a Social Security disability lawyer can help you gather what is required. 

Step Four

Step four questions whether or not you can do the work you did prior to the onset of your disability. This question is fairly basic as it simply determines whether there’s any reason you should stop working the job you already have. If you can still do your old job, the SSA will render you disqualified at this step. Should your old job no longer be within your capabilities, you’ll move on to the fifth and final step.

Step Five

The last step of the evaluation determines whether or not you could do any other work. For example, your disability may prevent you from doing a physically demanding job, but you may still be able to do a desk job that you’re qualified for. If there are no alternatives and you’re simply unable to work, the SSA will consider you to be disabled and eligible for benefits. Think about the answers they may come to if they investigate your case. Is there any other work you may be able to do? If not, don’t hesitate to file an application for disability. Remember, the list of impairments isn’t strictly limited to physical disabilities. Many neurological and mental disorders are included.

Work Credits

When it comes to applying for disability, you’ll also need to have the appropriate work credits. Work credits are obtained by working a certain number of hours. The exact number required changes by year, however, so you’ll need to see what the exact requirement is based on the SSA’s latest update. For example, you’ll earn a singular credit in the year 2020 by earning $1,410 in wages or self-employment income. Keep in mind that only four credits can be earned each year, so reaching $5,640 in income in 2020 means you’ve already reached the maximum four credits for the year.

The amount of credits needed to qualify for disability depends on how old you are and whether or not you’ve been working continuously. To take an extreme example, a person who became disabled on the job before the age of 28 typically only needs 1.5 years worth of work credits to qualify. Someone becoming disabled at age 50, however, will need seven years worth of work credits to qualify. While developing a disability that prevents you from working can entitle you to benefits, you’ll still need a continuous history of work to get future payments in many cases.

Special Qualifications

While the vast majority of disability cases involve disabled people meeting the standard requirements, there are some special qualifications that could indicate that it’s time for you to apply for benefits. Blind people or people with low vision are exempt from most of the more rigorous requirements making it relatively easy to get benefits. Similarly, workers with disabled children often have an easier time getting benefits than the average disabled worker.

In addition to the visually impaired and those with disabled children, widows and widowers and veterans have special circumstances. Veterans are entitled to a vast array of benefits, especially if they were wounded during their service. Widows and widowers can also be entitled to benefits that their deceased disabled spouse was receiving or could have received. 

After a Denial

If your claim has been denied, don’t give up. You can still claim Social Security benefits by making an appeal. In fact, there’s quite a long process to go through. Moving forward with the appeal is quite simple. All you have to do is go through the relevant process on the SSA website. Keep in mind, however, that the average person won’t be adept at navigating the process, so it’s best to have a lawyer by your side if you don’t already.


The first step to making an appeal is requesting a reconsideration. There are essentially two kinds of reconsiderations you can file, a medical reconsideration and a non-medical reconsideration. As the name suggests, a medical reconsideration is a demand for reconsideration based on denial for not qualifying as disabled. During a non-medical reconsideration, someone who didn’t take part in the first determination will look through the evidence again to see if you medically qualify as disabled. Additionally, you can submit new evidence to help your case at this stage in the process.

A non-medical determination is one in which you were denied for another reason. In this case, you may qualify as disabled, but your income, resources, and living arrangements could render you unqualified. The actual process of this kind of reconsideration is the same as it would be for a medical consideration. The only difference is that the reviewer will be looking at different kinds of evidence. 

Administrative Law Judge Hearing

If the reconsideration doesn’t go your way, you can request a hearing in front of an administrative law judge. This hearing typically goes by fairly fast, often taking no more than an hour in total, and it’s typically located within 75 miles of your home, but often closer. It’s best to have a lawyer with you at this point if you don’t already. While these hearings are far more informal than a typical court hearing, a lawyer will still know the process inside, what evidence to present, and how best to present it.

Review by the Appeals Council

Should the administrative law judge not rule in your favor, you can request a review by the Appeals Council. Note that they will not validate your claim. This step is solely to determine whether or not the administrative law judge’s ruling was valid. Should they determine that it was valid, your case will still be denied. Should they determine that the ruling was invalid, they will return it to a different administrative law judge to try step three again.

Federal Court

Even after going through the Appeals Council, you can still claim Social Security by filing a civil suit in a federal district court. This is the last and final step before having to start the process over. Given the formal nature of a federal court, you will need to have a lawyer by your side. This is a civil action, so you’ll have to deal with a filing fee as well. This is the last stage of appeal, so if you don’t get approved at this level, you’ll need to reevaluate your application and submit a new one. 

File Your Disability Claim

When it’s time to file a Disability Claim, don’t move forward without help from a lawyer. At Joel Thrift Law, you can enjoy committed representation and years of expertise to help you throughout the entire process and get you the compensation you deserve. Contact us today for a free consultation whether you want detailed assistance or just need to ask a simple question. 

How to apply for Social Security

How to apply for Social Security

Social Security Disability benefits ensure that workers who sustain injuries or develop conditions that prevent them from working are still financially covered. Disabilities can come in many different forms, as both physical and mental conditions can qualify. If a person with a disability is approved for benefits they will receive regular payments from the U.S. Social Security Administration, an agency of the federal government. If you’ve suffered a disability that’s preventing you from working and getting the income you’re used to, you may qualify.

To get the disability benefits you deserve, you’ll first have to apply for Social Security. This can be a relatively long process, but the coverage more than makes up for the wait, especially since back pay is included. Learn how to apply for Social Security Disability benefits and discover the steps you must take to ensure your application is approved as soon as possible.

Gather the Necessary Documents

Applying for Social Security requires a lot of documents. For any successful application, all your paperwork needs to be in order, so it’s best to gather everything you need before you start the process. First, you’ll need to have your Social Security card and either your original birth certificate or a certified copy of it. Then, you’ll need proof of U.S. citizenship. If you were born in the U.S., a birth certificate may be enough, but it’s possible that you’ll need another form of proof.

Supplemental documents are required as well. For example, if you served in the military before 1968, you’ll need to provide military service papers. You’ll also need W2 forms or any relevant tax return forms. Plus, you’ll need all marriage, divorce and death certificates. Finally, you’ll need to provide your banking information to receive deposits from the Social Security Administration. If you’re applying for spousal benefits, your spouse will need to provide all this information as well.

If you’re missing any of the necessary documents, you can still submit your application. This step is just to make the entire process faster. The SSA will accept documents that are submitted late, and they can help you locate any missing documents. The Social Security office often works with the Bureau of Vital Statistics in your state to verify all your information, and it won’t cost you a thing. Keep in mind that your benefits are more dependent on the date you submit your application than the date you submit the supporting documents, so it’s always best to submit in time to get the benefits you’re owed.

Decide Where to Apply

When you’re ready to apply for Social Security, you’ll have several options. The first and most straightforward is the online application, but it can be quite time-consuming. Applying for disability benefits can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Keep in mind, however, that you don’t have to complete the application in a single sitting. You’re free to take a break whenever you like and resume your application later on. Be sure to choose the right application, however. Retirement/Medicare benefits and disability benefits use different forms, but both are available on the Social Security Administration’s website.

Alternatively, you can apply over the phone by calling 1-800-772-1213. This option is an automated service in which you’ll respond to a series of pre-recorded questions that will enable the SSA to start processing your application, but you can request to speak to a representative if you prefer. Keep in mind that representatives are only available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., but the automated system is available 24/7.

Finally, you can apply for benefits at your local Social Security office. This will involve a meeting with a Social Security employee to fill out a physical form in person and submit all the necessary accompanying documents. While you aren’t required to make an appointment, the wait time for walk-ins can be long. It’s best to call your local office in advance and schedule an appointment to cut down on the time it takes. Anyone living outside of the United States will have to apply at their respective country’s Federal Benefits Unit.

Complete Your Application

No matter which option you choose to apply for Social Security benefits, the process itself is largely the same. You’ll have to answer a variety of questions, most of which are straightforward. It will begin with basic information about you, such as your name, your contact info, your doctor’s information and your employment history. The doctor’s information is especially important when applying for disability benefits. 

In addition to the basic information, you’ll need to specify more detailed information. For example, if you have any unmarried children under the age of 18, children who are 18 to 19 years old or who are disabled and younger than 22, you’ll need to detail that information. Additionally, you’ll have to answer some questions about whether you’ve had a different Social Security number or have applied for benefits in the past. 

After submitting your basic information, you’ll have to provide information about your finances. That includes the name and address of all of your employers over the past year. You’ll also include how much money you’ve earned over that same time period. Keep in mind that you’ll have to provide an estimate of how much money you expect to make the following year if you’re submitting your application anytime from September to December. If your disability is bad enough, the future estimates of income may simply be zero, but a disability that still allows you to work some won’t necessarily bar you from getting benefits.

Finally, you’ll need to provide a Social Security Statement, which is a record of your earnings and is essential to receive benefits. If you don’t have an official statement, you can view one online by creating an account on the Social Security Administration website. If you don’t have your statement ready by the time you want to apply, send the application and submit this statement at a later date. Alternatively, you can work with the SSA to record your earnings in a review.

Solidify Your Case

When applying for disability benefits, you’ll need to submit all the necessary information along with your application to demonstrate your need for benefits. Disability benefits claims are often rejected initially, so it’s important to have all your documentation in order, with the ironclad evidence that shows the extent of your disability. Keep in mind, however, that this only applies to individuals who are unable to work because of any illnesses, conditions or injuries sustained within the past 14 months and who are not retirement age. If you are retirement age and applying for SSI, you’ll need to include this information to help the SSA determine what kind of specific benefits apply to your disability.

Disability benefits call for extensive medical records detailing the extent of your disability and financial records to demonstrate the cost of the disability. You’ll need to submit the dates of your doctor visits, any relevant caseworkers, all medical test results and the medications and precise dosage that you take for your disability. Make sure you keep this information updated regularly. Don’t hesitate to keep sending supplementary medical information to the SSA. After all, they’ll need evidence of an ongoing disability to determine what benefits you’re entitled to. Typically, medical evidence isn’t even finalized until enough time has passed to medically determine the long-term effects of your disability.

After you’ve submitted all the necessary information, your case will be reviewed to see if you qualify for disability benefits. The determination process is extensive, going through a total of five steps. The ultimate goal is to be able to pass every step of the analysis, as each step is designed to determine whether or not you qualify. First, they’ll take a look at how much you make a month if you’re working. If it’s more than a certain amount, you won’t qualify. If you can’t work at all, they’ll skip that step. The second step is evaluating your medical condition and how it limits your ability to perform basic work activities. If your condition is significantly disabling, they’ll move on to step three. 

Step three is determining whether your condition meets the qualifying impairments. Keep in mind that you can still qualify if you don’t have any of the listed impairments, provided that your condition is just as severe. If you don’t meet the severity of the listed impairments, you’ll move on to step four, in which they will look at whether you can still perform the work you did in the past with the same ability. If you can’t, they’ll move on to the last step and determine whether you can perform any other type of work that may be suitable for your condition. Only after passing that rigorous process will you be able to qualify for disability.

Submit and Wait for Approval

After you submit your application, it will typically take several months before you get approved and receive benefits, as the SSA receives many applications to process. During this time, they will evaluate all your medical records and your work history to see how much you’re specifically eligible for. The exact amount can vary quite a bit and depends on how much your medical treatment costs as well as the wages you’re missing out on due to your inability to work.

In most cases, it takes about three to five months for the SSA to reach a decision. Assuming that decision is an approval, you’ll be waiting a few months before seeing benefits even in the best-case scenario. Keep in mind, however, that a lot of applications are often initially denied, and appeals can add more months to the time it takes to get benefits. Keeping up with your appointments and having a lawyer by your side is the best way to ensure the process goes as fast as possible. Back pay covering the months in between the onset of your disability and the approval of your application is also included in most cases.

Be sure to monitor the progress of your claim. The SSA may request additional information such as more medical evidence or paperwork. Tracking the status of your claim online ensures that you don’t miss any of these requests and can get the necessary information to them as fast as possible. Of course, an attorney is always the best option if you want to make sure your claim has all the necessary information upon submission.

Appealing a Denial

If your Social Security claim is denied, don’t worry. There are still ways to work through the system and get the benefits you’re owed. If you’re denied, you can file for a reconsideration up to 60 days after you receive your notice of denial. This is just the first level, however, as there are four total levels to go through until you have to start the process over. 

Denials that happen at the reconsideration stage can go through another appeals process to be put before an administrative law judge. At this point, you’ll have a much better chance of getting approved. Failing that, you can take your claim to the Appeals Council. Finally, if your appeal is denied, you can opt for a Federal Court review. Most cases never make it to the last step, as they often meet approvals when submitted to the administrative law judge. Nothing is assured, however, so it’s always best to have a Social Security attorney by your side to make your case as strong as possible and get the benefits you deserve.

If you’re looking for a Social Security Disability attorney, Joel Thrift Law is here to help. Our team is prepared to help you every step of the way, whether you’re just getting started or you have already been denied the benefits you’re owed. Your concerns matter to us, so you can always count on your calls being returned as soon as possible no matter what you need. Contact us today for a free consultation!