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Q: I have been out of work for three months-do I have to wait until I've been disabled for 12 months before I apply for Social Security disability benefits?

A:  No. Applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) or Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits can be a lengthy process. After you file your initial application, it is not uncommon for it to take three to four months (or more) to receive an initial decision on your application. If your initial application is denied, you must file a request for a hearing (“an appeal”) – this is your request to have an appeal hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Depending on where your hearing will be held, you may wait 18-24 months for your hearing before the ALJ.
 

Because it can take months to receive an initial decision and possibly several more months for an appeal hearing, individuals applying for SSDI or SSI benefits may be without an income during this time and often struggle to pay bills or find it difficult to survive. Therefore, if you believe that you are unable to work and that you will continue to be disabled for at least 12 months – you should file an application for SSDI or SSI benefits as soon as possible.
 

I am often asked if an individual should wait until his/her medical condition “becomes worse” before applying for benefits. While every case is different, given the long wait for an appeal hearing, I do not often suggest waiting to file your initial application. If your initial application is denied and your medical condition becomes worse or you are diagnosed with a new medical condition(s) - you will be able to submit the additional evidence before your hearing. Waiting until your condition “gets bad” delays the application process and can increase your financial problems.
 

While you may be able to file an application for benefits the same day after you become disabled, your income must be below SGA level ($1,170.00 per month for a non-blind individual in 2017) for you to be eligible for benefits. This means you are no longer doing “substantial work.”
 

Does this mean everyone should apply for disability benefits as soon as possible? No. Each case is different – if you have only a minor illness or a medical condition that you believe will not last for at least 12 consecutive months, it may not be the time to file for benefits. However, if you suffer from a severe mental health or physical illness (or both) that is expected to keep you out of work for 12 months or more, you should not delay in filing your application for SSDI or SSI benefits.

Andy Norfleet
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Andy focuses on Social Security and Disability Law

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