Americans generally are familiar with the ins and outs of Social Security retirement benefits. Additionally, U.S. citizens generally realize that Social Security does provide disability benefits in certain situations. What many people do not realize is that there are two different Social Security disability benefits programs:

  • Social Security Disability Insurance
  • Supplemental Security Income

A discussion of the general facts of these programs is presented here for your consideration. In addition, a comparison of the differences between these to Social Security benefit programs is also provided here for your consideration.

Difference Between Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income

There is a primary distinction between Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income:

  • Social Security Disability Insurance, also known as SSDI, is available to workers who have accumulated a sufficient number of work credits. On some level, this accumulation of credits is similar to the way in which workers accumulate work credits to determine what they will be paid in the way of Social Security retirement benefits.
  • Supplemental Security Income, also known as SSI, provides benefits to low-income people who have either never worked or who have yet to earn enough work credits to qualify for payments under SSDI.

Social Security Administration and the Definition of Disability

The Social Security Administration maintains what it calls a “strict definition” of what constitutes a disability for the purposes of benefits. The rules of the Social Security disability program presume that working families have access to some other resources during short periods of disability. These include such resources as workers’ compensation insurance, other types of insurance, savings, and so forth.

When an economically disadvantaged individual seeks assistance for a disability, including a homeless person, the Social Security Administration appreciates that alternate resources do not abound. (The SSI program administered by the Social Security Administration exists for lower-income individuals.) With that said, even in cases involving lower-income individuals, the Social Security Administration maintains a strict definition of what constitutes disability for the purposes of benefits.

For the purposes of an affirmative disability determination, a disability is long-term and renders a person unable to work in any capacity. A person who is disabled for the purposes of Social Security benefits is unable to engage in any “substantial gainful activity” because of a physical or mental medical condition.

In considering an application for benefits, the Social Security Administration applies three primary criteria:

  • A person cannot perform the work that was done before the onset of the medical condition
  • A person cannot do other types of work because of the medical condition
  • A disability has lasted for a continuous period of time (typically of at least 12 months) or is expected ultimately to result in death

Social Security Disability Assistance Application Process

There are three ways in which you can apply for Social Security disability benefits:

  • Telephone: You can call your local Social Security office and apply for benefits over the phone. You have the option of having your interview for benefits done over the phone rather than in person. People familiar with the process recommend calling to apply first thing in the morning to get the quickest service.
  • Office: You can visit your local Social Security office in person to apply for benefits. Some local offices require that you make an appointment, others do not. In some cases, the application process moves more quickly if you apply in person. With that noted, you may nonetheless spend what might prove to be a considerable amount of time waiting in line to obtain assistance.
  • Online: You can apply for benefits online.

How Returning to Work Affects Social Security Disability Benefits

The Social Security Administration does permit a person to receive a set amount of money each month. This technically is known as an allowable amount. The allowable amount is determined in each individual state by what is known as Disability Determination Services. Therefore, if a person is able to undertake some type of intermittent or part-time work that earns an amount of money equal to or less than the allowable amount, that individual can still continue to receive benefit payments provided the disability determination remains in place.

There are attorneys who assist clients with the Social Security disability application process, including an appeal from an initial denial of an application. Attorneys who practice in the area of Social Security disability law don’t charge a fee in advance for services. Rather, they use what is known as a contingency fee agreement. A person doesn’t pay a fee unless a favorable outcome is obtained. A lawyer provides a client a written agreement spelling out the terms and conditions of the fee.

In addition, the Social Security Administration limits the amount of money a lawyer can charge as a fee. The agency approves a fee before a client in this type of situation pays it to a lawyer.