Filing for SSA disability – file now or wait?

Q:  A severely ill friend recently stopped working but still gets salary from earned vacation time. Should he file for Social Security disability now or wait until his paychecks end? He also will receive disability insurance soon. Does that matter?

A: Along with work requirements, Social Security disability is based on inability to work. If your friend expects to be unable to work due to health for at least a year, even if still receiving paychecks from previous work, he should definitely consider filing for SSA disability now. No purpose is served by waiting until his current employment income ends. Other income is not a factor for Social Security disability. Income is a primary factor for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a very different program also administered by Social Security.

Social Security uses a strict disability definition. Benefits are approved only for total, not partial or short-term disability. In general terms, a person will be considered disabled if they cannot do work done before, cannot be expected to adjust to other work, and has a disability that has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death. Work requirements also must be met.

Be aware that there is a waiting period of five full months before Social Security disability benefits can be paid, based on when a person is first considered disabled and not the application date. For example, if a disability due to illness or injury was established as beginning on December 14, the waiting period would be January through May. SSA disability would be payable effective with June, and received during July.

The SSA disability planner section at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/dibplan/ has details about benefit requirements, the application process and information needed to complete the application. Sources of medical records are requested but applicants are not asked to provide medical information. The entire SSA disability application can be completed online at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability/ or with a SSA representative. If not filing online, call the SSA national number, 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778), or your local office for an appointment.

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