By Cheryl Coon
The information provided in this article is intended to give a general overview of the topic and is not intended as legal advice. For information specific to your situation, please talk with your Social Security/Disability professional.
Article #6, Is it Time to Apply for Social Security Disability?
I often get calls from folks who are still working but who believe that they cannot continue, or who have just stopped working, or who soon will be unable to continue working, because of their severe mental or physical health problems. They all ask me how to decide the right time to apply for Social Security disability benefits. I’d like to share here how I answer this question. We ask the following:
First Question: Are you currently earning $1090 or more gross per month?
If so, under Social Security’s rules, your application for disability benefits may not even be accepted and if it is, it is likely to be denied. Social Security’s rules state: To be eligible for disability benefits, a person must be unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA). A person who is earning more than a certain monthly amount is ordinarily considered to be engaging in SGA. That amount in 2015 is $1090 gross.
Once your earnings drop below this amount you can consider applying but be aware that any work is likely to be viewed by Social Security as evidence that you are still capable of working.
Second Question: Did you stop working recently?
For folks who are eligible for Title II SSD benefits (benefits available for folks with a recent and consistent work history), we look at when you last worked to determine how to maximize your potential benefits. We consider the five-month waiting period for SSD benefits and the rule that the most retroactive SSD benefits that Social Security will pay begin twelve months prior to the date of your application.
For folks who are eligible for Title XVI SSI benefits (benefits available for folks who lack a consistent work history or did not pay into the system and who now have very little income or resources), we generally advise applying right away because the earliest disability payment you can receive is back to the date of your application.
Third Question: Have you been receiving medical care for your mental and/or physical illnesses?
Medical evidence is at the heart of a successful disability application. If you haven’t been diagnosed or treated, we often recommend establishing care first and waiting at least a few months before applying. If you have been receiving treatment for physical illnesses but a significant reason why you can no longer work is mental health, it is usually not sufficient to have received treatment for physical illness alone. You need to establish care with a mental health specialist, both because it’s better for you in the long run and because without that, a judge is not likely to take seriously your mental health issues.
Fourth Question: Are you currently using illegal drugs or alcohol?
Federal law allows a Social Security decisionmaker to deny your application if it is believed that your drug or alcohol abuse materially contributes to your problem. The strongest position to be in is to be clean and sober. Remember, because this is a federal system, marijuana is considered an illegal drug.
While every case is different, it’s important to understand these basic rules that can affect how your application is viewed. Your goal is to be approved as soon as possible; for that reason, make sure your application is as strong as it can be before you apply.
Cheryl Coon previously led the social security disability section of Swanson Thomas Coon & Newton of Portland, Oregon, where she represented disabled individuals seeking benefits, at all stages of the process from application to federal court appeals.
In June 2016, Cheryl Coon founded RDBO. Refugee Disability Benefits of Oregon. RDBO takes a unique approach, in which attorney Cheryl Coon, works closely with health care providers, case managers and counselors, as well as the refugees they serve, to ensure that refugees’ cases are presented competently and compassionately. We handle cases at every step of the disability process, from initial application to hearing to federal court.
The social security disability process can be frustrating. We believe it is important for potential applicants to be realistic about their chances for approval. We carefully evaluate the merits of each person’s case and suggest alternatives when we do not believe their case is strong. These alternatives may range from vocational assistance to waiting until a stronger medical record has been established.