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Law Office of Jennifer Zorrilla
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Understanding eligibility for SSDI benefits

A number of studies have demonstrated that a 20-year-old worker has a 1-in-4 chance of becoming totally disabled before reaching full retirement age. That percentage is likely to grow as Congress increases the full retirement age from 65 to 67 and beyond. Total disability can be a financial disaster because it almost always causes a large drop in a person's earning capacity. Fortunately for disability victims, the Social Security Administration administers a program that provides significant financial support for permanently disabled persons: the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program.

The eligibility requirements for these benefits can be simply stated. First, the applicant must suffer from an injury or illness that is permanent or is likely to result in death in 12 months. Second, the injury or illness must prevent the person from engaging in substantial gainful activity, which is defined as the ability to earn more than $1220 per month. Third, the applicant must have made sufficient "contributions" to the Social Security Trust fund while working.

Most workers easily clear this threshold, but the level of required contributions should be verified. Finally, the disabled person must not have reached full retirement age. Whether a particular injury or illness is a qualifying disability will be decided by a review of the applicant's medical and employment records.

While the requirements seem relatively simple, the applications process can be complex and frustrating. Most SSDI applications are initially denied, and the applicant must either reapply or appeal from the original ruling. The assistance of an attorney who is knowledgeable about the SSDI applications and appellate processes can mean the difference between approval and denial. An experienced SSD lawyer will be able to identify the important facts to present to the decision makers, whether at the initial level or to a reviewing tribunal.

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