By Brian Hewitt
Disability is something most people do not like to think about. But the unfortunate reality is this: The chances that you will become disabled are probably far greater than you realize. Studies show that a 20-year-old worker has a 3 in 10 chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement age.
Social Security pays benefits to people with disabilities through the Social Security disability insurance program, which is covered by Social Security taxes. If you qualify, you can receive a monthly disability benefit from Social Security for as long as your disability keeps you from working. The amount of your benefit is based on your average lifetime earnings. After a period of time, usually after receiving cash benefits for 24 months, you can also receive Medicare coverage.
When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn credits. The number of credits you need to qualify for disability benefits depends on your age, and some of the work must be recent. For example, if you become disabled after age 31, you need to have worked at least 10 years and five of the past 10 years. But if you become disabled before age 24, you need only one and a half years of work in the past three years.
If you have a disability that makes you unable to work, the time to get started with your application is now. That’s because it can take time to determine whether you qualify for benefits. It usually takes about three to five months for a medical decision from the state agency that evaluates your condition. Then, if your application is approved, your first Social Security disability payment will be made for the sixth full month after the date we determine that your disability began. Medicare coverage generally begins 24 months, or two years, after you begin receiving Social Security disability benefits.
Given the time it can take, it’s in your best interest to do everything you can to speed up the process. The best first step is for you to read our online publication, Disability Benefits, at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10029.html. It will tell you all about the process, including what information you will need to apply for benefits.
Then, take advantage of our online disability starter kits. You’ll find them on our disability Web site at www.socialsecurity.gov/disability. There is one kit for children and one for adults. Each kit is available in both English and Spanish. The starter kits help you begin the process by providing information about the specific documents and the information that we will request from you. We will ask for more details during your interview or when you complete the online disability report.
Take a look at the disability starter kit now at www.socialsecurity.gov/disability, or call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and ask that a kit be mailed to you.
Once you complete the online disability starter kit and you’re ready to apply, the most convenient way to do that is online, too, at the same site.