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Deciding to apply for Social Security Disability is a hard decision for many people. It means coming to grips with the idea that you may not be able to return to work because of health problems. Almost everyone who applies for Social Security Disability has been out of work for some amount of time. If you have applied for Social Security Disability, or you are considering applying, you should know the requirements to be eligible.

Are you still working?
Lots of people with serious injuries or health conditions ask if they should apply for disability while they are still working. Even if you have a serious injury or health condition that may completely prevent you from working in the future, you won’t be eligible if you are still engaged in “substantial gainful activity” (SGA is the phrase Social Security uses for working and earning more than $1,070.00 per month, or $1,800.00 if you are blind. These amounts go up to $1,090 and $1,820 in 2015).

Are you under the age that Social Security calls “full retirement age”? The age to draw full Social Security Retirement benefits is on a sliding scale now, but basically you must be younger than 66. If you have reached full retirement age, and then become disabled, you will get Social Security Retirement, not Social Security Disability.

Have you worked 5 of the last 10 years and paid into the system?
Social Security Disability is a long term disability insurance program, and you must pay into the system to get benefits. If you have not paid into the system, you won’t be eligible, but you may still be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) based on low income.

Do you have a condition that will prevent you from working for at least 12 months?
You don’t need to be out of work twelve months before you apply, but the condition must be one that prevents you from going back to work in less than a year. That issue will depend on what your doctors think about your problem.

Will your impairments keep you from doing any work?
Even if you can’t return to your old job, Social Security will consider your ability to do other work activities based on your current physical and mental limitations. If you can do other work and earn at the level of Substantial Gainful Activity, discussed above, you won’t be eligible.

The Social Security Disability attorneys at Grimes Teich Anderson, LLP, can help you understand the eligibility requirements. If you have applied for Social Security Disability, we can help you get and present the information about your condition, your education, and your work experience to make sure you have the best chance to get the benefits that you may be entitled to. If you believe that you are eligible for Social Security Disability, or if you have been denied Social Security Disability benefits, we may be able to help.

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