How Long Must You Be Unable To Work Before Applying For Social Security Disability Benefits?

Legs and feet of woman sitting in wheelchairIf I become sick or injured and can no longer work, should I wait at  least 12 months before applying for Social Security Disability benefits? How long must you be unable to work before applying for Social Security Disability benefits? What if you are suddenly and unexpectedly injured or become ill to such an extent that you are unable to work? Many people are under the mistaken belief that you must wait for several months or even a year before applying or collecting Social Security disability benefits. In fact, there are no requirements that you be disabled for a certain amount of time before applying for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or supplemental security insurance (SSI). The important factor is whether you meet what the Social Security Administration calls
the 12 month durational requirement.

What is the 12 month durational requirement?

The 12 month durational requirement states that to be found disabled, Social Security must determine that you are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to your illness or injury and that your impairment or impairments are expected to last for 12 consecutive months or are likely to result in death.Generally speaking, “substantial gainful activity” is monthly earnings of $1 ,090.00 for non-blind individuals. This means that even if you apply for Social Security disability benefits immediately after a disabling injury or illness, you may still be eligible for benefits if the SSA determines that your disabling impairment is expected to last for 12 or more continuous months or is likely to result in death. In determining whether you meet this durational requirement, social security will look at what your doctors say about your condition and how long they think your condition will last. They will review your medical records and look at things such as your symptoms, laboratory findings, and prescribed treatment. They will also review what your treating physicians say about your responses to recommended treatments. In cases where an individual suffers from obvious disabling impairments, for example, a diagnosis of terminal cancer, then social security may grant benefits right away. However, in cases where things are more uncertain – you suffered from broken bones in your leg that are not healing properly and you have to use a walker- then Social Security may want to wait a few months to see if your condition improves.

What if you suffer from multiple unrelated impairments that in combination will last for more than 12 months?

For example, what if you suffered from severe depression and anxiety for ten months and during month eight you were injured in a car accident and suffered from a broken back that kept you hospitalized and/or unable to work for six months. In this case, even though you may have been unabe to perform substantial gainful activity for more than twelve consecutive months, the 12 month durational requirement will not be met because neither unrelated impairment lasted or was expected to last for the continuous 12 month period. In other words, you cannot combine the expected duration of unrelated impairments to meet the duration requirement. However, if a claimant has several severe impairments at the same time and the combination of the effects of these severe impairments can be expected to last for more than 12 consecutive months, then the 12 month durational requirement may be met.

Maintaining regular medical treatment and communicating with your doctors about your conditions are obviously very important.  If you are having problems with your Social Security Disability claim or if you have questions about what benefits you might be entitled to, an experienced attorney may be able to help you.

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