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Disability benefit applications: know the vocabulary of SSDI

The partial federal government shutdown is finally over. That means, for one thing, that Social Security Administration (SSA) offices are open again, in Southeast Michigan and across the nation.

This seems like an appropriate time, then, to discuss some of the elements of the application process for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI).

Keep in mind, however, that even with SSA offices reopened, the application process can seem laborious at times. There are a lot of cases to get through the system, and the furlough of federal employees during the shutdown could have an effect on the processing times this year.

But for people with disabling conditions, the importance of obtaining benefits they qualify for -- benefits that can help them pay their bills -- is a strong motivation for moving forward with an application.

A key term in SSD law that you will need to become familiar with is "impairment." In fact, this term often comes with a key modifier: "severe."

To be eligible for disability payments, the condition you have must be a severe impairment. This means that it keeps you from doing any substantial work -- either the work you did before the disability or work that you tried to adjust to, after suffering the disability.

In addition, there is a duration requirement. The impairment that is the grounds for your SSD application must be one that is reasonably projected to last a minimum of one year or lead to death.

SSDI also has a work history component. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a separate program that does not have this requirement. For SSDI, however, it is necessary to have a given number of work credits, depending on your age. 

These credits do not necessarily need to be compiled as an employee. The SSA can also factor in self-employment income earned by consultants, contractors and others whose earnings were not accumulated as employees.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Applying for Social Security is a complicated process, but worth it," Elliot Raphaelson, Oct. 15, 2013

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