The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers two programs for those who are disabled and unable to work.
The first program is SSDI. Social Security Disability Insurance is a program for those who have worked in the past and earned "credit" through Social Security. Through SSDI, Social Security will pay benefits to individuals and families if the wage earner meets the criteria to be insured.
The second program is SSI. Supplemental Security Income pays a monthly stipend to those who pass a financial means requirement and do not have a work history qualifying for SSDI.
There are several decision levels at SSA giving claimants opportunities to make their claim. The first stage, known as the initial application, usually takes around 6 months. If the decision is unfavorable, the claimant can request a “reconsideration”. The reconsideration phase is a bit quicker. Next, the claimant can request a hearing in front of an ALJ (Administrative Law Judge). This gives the claimant the opportunity to explain his or her case. Claimants can appeal the ALJ decision and then file a claim in federal court if the decision is still unfavorable.
Both programs have the following requirements: 1) the individual not be working, 2) the individual has an impairment that is severe, 3) and that the impairment be listed as a diagnosis with SSA, 4) the individual not be able to return to any previous work, and 5) the individual cannot perform any other type of work.
1. Are you working? To be eligible for Social Security Disability or SSI you need to be out of work for a year or more or be expected to be out of work for a year or more. The year
2. Is your medical condition(s) "severe" under Social Security Rules. An impairment, or combination of impairments, is judged severe if it significantly limits ones physical or mental abilities to do basic work activities.
3. Third, SSA will determine if your condition or diagnosis is listed in the SSA “bluebook”. The bluebook is a listing of impairments and the requirements to meet those listed impairments.
4. Next, Social Security will use the aid of vocational experts to determine if you can return to any past work. They make this determination by using the claimant’s RFC. Residual function capacity is the maximum a Social Security Claimant can perform with the diagnosed impairments.
Social Security explains the definition of Residual Function Capacity as "A medical assessment of what an individual can do in a work setting in spite of the functional limitations and environmental restrictions imposed by all of his or her medically determinable impairment(s)." SSR 83-10
5. Lastly, Social Security will determine if there is any other work you can do. This is the largest hurdle to overcome.