Being totally and permanently disabled can be a terrifying thought, especially from a financial perspective. Most people do not have the means to support themselves and their dependents for an indefinite period of time in the event they no longer have a steady source of income. Social Security disability benefits help to offset some of the financial burden by providing monetary assistance. Individuals may qualify for this assistance as long as they meet Social Security’s definition of total and permanent disability. Partial or short-term disabilities do not qualify for benefits.
To be considered permanently disabled, the existing medical condition must interfere with the person’s ability to perform basic work-related activities such as hearing, seeing and speaking; sitting, standing and walking; and the ability to understand, memorize and concentrate at work. In addition, it must be determined that the medical condition is expected to last for at least one year or result in death. Certain medical conditions automatically qualify a person as permanently disabled such as acute leukemia, pancreatic cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), bone cancer, gallbladder cancer, and small cell lung cancer.
Ability to Work
The medical condition must prevent the person from performing the same type of job as before. In addition, based on the person’s prior employment and education, the medical condition must prevent the person from adjusting to a different type of career. Applicants who are capable of transferring into a new line of work are not considered to be permanently disabled. Exceptions may be allowed for certain types of applicants including widows, widowers, children, military service members and blind people.
To receive disability benefits, an applicant must have worked long enough to earn Social Security work credits. People can earn up to four work credits a year based on the amount of income they earned. The number of credits and length of work history needed to qualify for disability benefits varies depending on the age that the disability occurred. For example, a person who became disabled at age 35 must have earned at least 20 credits in the 10 years prior to becoming disabled, while someone at age 27 must have earned at least 12 credits in the past 6 years.
Applicants who are approved for disability benefits are required to inform Social Security of certain changes in their medical condition, financial situation or work status. For example, any income earned from a job must be reported. As of 2010, a person who earns more than $1,000 per month is generally not considered to be disabled. Other circumstances that may disqualify a person from receiving benefits include having an outstanding warrant for arrest, being convicted of a crime, leaving the United States and changing citizenship. In addition, benefit recipients may no longer be considered disabled if their medical condition significantly improves.