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Where can I find disability benefit information?

Get information on receiving disability benefits.

Disability benefits are for those who cannot work due to an impairment. [©Jupiter Images, 2010]
©Jupiter Images, 2010
Disability benefits are for those who cannot work due to an impairment.

If you’re injured and can’t work, certain government programs can give you temporary funds to pay for expenses such as food and housing. Some U.S. states (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island) provide temporary or permanent disability benefits funded by state income taxes. If you live in one of these states, call your local government employment department to find out more information on disability benefits.

Who qualifies for disability benefits?

U.S. veterans who have been injured in military service also have access to disability benefits. The Web site for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides an online application for a benefits program that can pay from $117 to more than $3,000 per month, depending on the severity of injury and your number of dependents. However, individuals who were dishonorably discharged are not eligible for the program.

The most common source of disability benefits is Social Security, but the application process is quite rigorous. The Social Security Web site states that only those who “cannot work because they have a medical condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death” qualify for disability insurance, with no exceptions.

The Application Process

The application starts with a “recent work test,” through which you must prove you’ve earned money over a certain length of time before becoming disabled. For example, if you’re 24 years old or younger, you need to prove you worked at least one and a half out of the previous three years. If you’re over 31, you need to have worked five out of the last 10. Similarly, if you’re between 24 and 31, you need to prove you worked half of the time between the age of 21 until your injury. You also have to pass a “duration of work” test, which verifies that you’ve earned enough work credits throughout your life to qualify for benefits.

In reviewing if you’re sufficiently injured to qualify for benefits, the Social Security Administration will consult your doctors to find out exactly what’s keeping you from working. Ultimately, they base their decision on the answers to five factors: if you’re working, severity of the injury, if you can do the work you were previously doing despite the injury, if you can do any other work and if your injury is on the list of impairments. The list of impairments is a group of afflictions, such as chronic heart disease and schizophrenia, which automatically qualify you for disability benefits. After the decision is made, the department will inform you in a letter. If you disagree with the decision, you have the right to appeal it through a series of hearings and additional applications.

Disability insurance claims submitted through Social Security can take a long time to process. In 2006, the Social Security Administration released reports of the average wait time for processing various disability benefits applications. They found the average wait for the initial application to be around 88 days, but the time needed to process a hearing for an appeal after a denial can be much longer at about 483 days.

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