In 1935, the Social Security Act was passed while the country was still struggling during the Great Depression, one of the worst economic periods of all time in the U.S.  The Act was originally intended to provide who had low incomes with a kind of safety net.  In its original form, the Social Security Act was not meant to support disabled persons.  As time went on and the country healed from the Great Depression, the Act began to reshape, and in 1956, it was amended to include a provision to support persons with disabilities.

Still fresh from the economic worries of the Great Depression, but before inclusion of disabled persons in the Act, a

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debate grew around the costs of the program and how exactly the government would provide support for them: would it be in the form of medical rehabilitation or a simple check weekly, monthly, annually?  This discussion shaped the amendment, and it was concluded that certain qualifications would be required.  The amendment created the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, which would be limited to those persons over the age of 50 who are no longer able to work due to their disability.

Since the 1956 amendment to the Social Security Act, changes have continued to shape the Act generally and the SSDI program specifically. In the 1980s, legislators were concerned about the rising number of enrollees and the costs attributed to it.  In 1984, the Social Security Disability Benefits Reform Act was passed.  Though the intent initially was to reduce enrollees, the numbers actually increased.  Legislators continue to discuss potential changes to the Acts so that they can reduce costs.  With the number of changes made historically and the continued discussions on more changes to come, there are a number of misunderstood things about Social Security Disability Insurance that should be cleared up. Below are just 10 of these misunderstandings.

  1. SSDI and SSI are the same thing.

The acronyms are similar, but they are not the same by any means. SSDI, as above-mentioned, is social security disability insurance while SSI is supplementary security income. SSI is intended to help low-income populations, and supports people 65 years or older or persons younger than 65 but who have medical or psychological problems.  SSDI is a federal program meant to support only persons who are disabled and cannot support themselves.

  1. Any disabled person can receive SSDI.

Many assume that because they have a social security card and are or become disabled, that they have a right to collect a check for disability from the SSDI program even if they have never worked.  Unfortunately, the SSDI program does not work that way.  In order to collect benefits from SSDI, a disabled person must have worked at a job, any job, and paid into the Social Security system for a minimum of 5 years out of the ten years just before he or she became disabled.

  1. Can doctors determine if a person receives SSDI?

Doctors certainly can tell you if you are disabled permanently or temporarily, but they cannot tell you if you qualify for SSDI benefits, only the Social Security Administration provides the answer to that.  Indeed, the decision if you qualify for SSDI benefits is not even a medical decision so much as it is a legal decision.

  1. Your social security disability insurance replaces your employment check.
  1. SSDI has become too difficult to get, but once you have it, you have it for life.

It’s true, the qualifications are strict (you must meet each qualification in order to be approved for benefits), and the overall process is rigorous (there’s a lot of paperwork and support documentation needed in order to be approved), but if you have worked the minimum amount of time and do become truly disabled and, as a result, unable to continue working, then you will be approved.  Further, if you are rejected the first time, you can appeal.  In fact, most do not get it the first time (only 33% are approved upon the initial application), but they do get it if they appeal.  In the end, if you worked the minimum amount of time and are truly disabled, SSDI benefits are not too difficult to get.

It is not true, however, that once you get SSDI benefits, you have it for life.  As the saying goes, nothing in life lasts forever, and that is the same here.  That said, you could indeed receive benefits for the remainder of your life, but it is not a given.  The Social Security Administration will review your medical condition from time to time, and based on that review, you will continue to receive benefits, or the benefits will end.  Upon your initial approval for SSDI benefits, if your condition or disability was anticipated to improve over time, then the first medical review will occur within 6 to 18 months.  If your condition could improve, but it is unpredictable when that might happen, if at all, medical reviews generally occur regularly at three-year intervals.  If there is no indication that your condition or disability will improve, then a medical review typically occurs every seven years.

What leads people to think that SSDI benefits are forever is the design of the program.  You can only qualify if the disability is expected to be long-term (12 months or longer), or if the disability is so severe that it is terminal.  As such, many who receive SSDI benefits do indeed receive them for life.

What you should take away from this:

  • SSDI is a system meant for persons who once worked but can no longer due to a disability.
  • SSA is the only agency that determines your qualifications for the SSDI program, not your doctor.
  • In order to be approved for SSDI benefits, you must meet strict qualifications, but if you meet those qualifications, SSDI will pay you benefits that are designed to support you long-term, but only for your basic needs.

The SSDI program can be confusing, and misconceptions can be deceiving, but in the end, if you qualify, the program is helpful and provides a means to help support oneself.



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