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Qualifying for Social Security Benefits in New England

To qualify for SSDI benefits, you have to have worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes, and you must be “disabled.” Once you file a benefits application, the SSA will first take a look at your work history to see whether you qualify (more on that below). If you do, then the SSA moves to the separate question of whether you’re disabled.

To qualify for SSI benefits, you must have “limited” income (discussed further below) and be disabled.

First, let’s take a look at what it means to be “disabled,” since you must be disabled to get either SSDI or SSI benefits.

At Jackson & MacNichol, we’ll review your situation, and help you understand your eligibility for benefits. Jackson & MacNichol serves clients with Social Security claims throughout New England, including Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Boston, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Let our experienced Social Security attorneys and staff assist you – we offer representation at all stages of the claim process. Call us today at (800) 524-3339 or use our online contact form.

Am I Disabled?

Under the Social Security rules, you won’t be eligible for disability benefits just because, for example, your doctor says that you’re disabled. Instead, the SSA has its own definition of disability. Under that definition, you are “disabled” if (1) you cannot do work that you did before; (2) your medical condition means that you cannot change jobs and do a new type of work; and (3) your disability has lasted, or is expected to last, for at least one year, or it’s expected to result in your death.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) asks five questions when it considers whether you are “disabled” for purposes of receiving SSDI or SSI benefits:

  1. The SSA first asks whether you’re working right now. If you are working and your earnings average more than about $1,000 per month, then you probably won’t be considered disabled.
  2. The SSA next asks if your condition is “severe.” If your medical condition interferes with basic work-related activities, then it is “severe” and your claim can be considered. If it doesn’t, then you won’t qualify as “disabled.”
  3. If you have a condition that interferes with basic work-related activities, the SSA will look to see whether your condition is included on a master list of disabling conditions, each of which is so serious that you are automatically disabled if you suffer from one of them. If your condition isn’t listed, then the SSA will decide whether your condition might be just as serious as one of the listed conditions. If it is, then you will qualify as disabled.The SSA also offers “fast track” processing for many very serious conditions, such as acute leukemia. Those types of conditions are eligible for “compassionate allowances,” which is the SSA’s way of quickly identifying medical conditions that are so bad that the applicant almost always will qualify for disability benefits as soon as the diagnosis is confirmed. The SSA recently expanded its compassionate allowance conditions, effective March 1, 2010, to include 38 new conditions.
    In addition, the SSA uses computers to pick out cases that are very likely to qualify for benefits, and in those cases a fast determination of disability can happen.
  4. If you have a severe condition, meaning one which interferes with your basic work-related activities, but it’s not on the master list or as serious as one of the conditions on the list, then the SSA will need to decide if your condition actually does interfere with your ability to do your previous job. If it doesn’t, you won’t be entitled to benefits on the basis of the disability.
  5. Finally, if you can’t do the work you used to do, the SSA will decide if you can do other work. If it appears that you can do other work, then you won’t be entitled to benefits.

Our attorneys help New England disability applicants every day, so we understand the factors that the SSA will consider when it determines whether you are disabled. With our knowledge and experience, we can help assemble a benefits application that will give you the best chance of a favorable disability decision, based on your unique situation.

If you have already filed, we are here to help. We’ll review what you submitted and suggest what else you can do. Of course, we’re also here to help if your claim has been denied. Contact us today so we can get started.

Now that we’ve looked at what it means to be “disabled,” let’s look at what else you must show to qualify for either SSDI or SSI benefits.

Qualifying for SSDI

To be eligible for SSDI benefits, you must have worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes on your wages. This makes you an “insured” person under the Social Security system.

The SSA applies a couple of different tests which look at your earnings and how long you’ve worked. These are the “recent work test” and the “duration of work test.” Under the recent work test, for instance, if you are 31 or older, you must have worked for at least five years out of the ten years before you became disabled. And the duration of work test would require, as an example, that someone 50 years old have worked at least seven years in their lifetime.

For many people, these tests are not difficult to meet, but you’ll need to provide information about your work history as part of your benefits application. The professionals at Jackson & MacNichol can help you assemble your proof of work history to ensure that the SSA has all the information it needs to determine that you have worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes in order to qualify for SSDI benefits.

Qualifying for SSI

Your eligibility for SSI benefits depends on your income and your resources. You must have “limited” income in order to qualify.

To determine your income, the SSA looks at information about your wages, any pension benefits, and other income that you receive, as well as other assistance that you might get, such as food and shelter. The SSA does not include certain income when deciding whether you qualify for SSI, however, and the determination is very specific to each person who applies. Also, the amount of income that you can get and still qualify for SSI benefits can vary from state to state. We can help advise you regarding the limits on income that apply to people who live in Maine.

Your resources include things such as real estate, money that you have in bank accounts, and any investments like stocks and bonds. It doesn’t include your home, and for most people it also doesn’t include certain other items, like your car.

Please contact us at Jackson & MacNichol so we can discuss whether you are eligible for SSI benefits. If so, we can help with your benefits application, too. We believe it’s important that all New England residents who qualify for SSI get the income assistance they need.

Jackson & MacNichol serves clients with SSI claims throughout New England, including New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Boston, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Call us today at (800) 524-3339 or use our online contact form.

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