Understanding Social Security Disability Benefits
Most people are aware that there are Social Security disability benefits, but the possibility of becoming disabled is not something most people want to think about. Unfortunately, the chance of becoming disabled during your working years is greater than you might think. Studies show that young workers have a 30% chance of becoming disabled before they reach retirement age. Fortunately, Social Security can help if you find you can’t work due to a disability or illness.
How can Social Security help if you become disabled?
In general, Social Security Disability Insurance provides benefits to workers who can no longer work due to an illness or disability that is expected to last for more than one year or to result in death. The federal definition of disability is pretty strict; state and other disability programs may not have such strict requirements to qualify for benefits.
If you do find yourself disabled, Social Security can help by providing monthly benefits to you, monthly benefits to your spouse and dependent children, and even helping with medical insurance (Medicare) after you have received disability benefits for 2 years.
Three Types of Social Security Disability Benefits
If you are approved for disability, there are three types of benefits you may receive, including:
• Cash payments,
• Medicare eligibility, and
• Return to work benefits
The first and most important benefit – for most people – is the monthly cash payment. Your disability benefits are based on your average lifetime earnings and are calculated similar to how your retirement benefits are calculated. You can see an estimate of your disability, retirement and family benefits on your annual benefit statement mailed by SSA each year. Your family may also qualify for benefits, depending on their age and other factors. The average disability payment in 2011 is $1,065 per month. Note that your benefit may be reduced if you are receiving other government benefits, such as a government pension or worker’s compensation.
The second benefit is Medicare eligibility. You will automatically qualify for Medicare when you have received disability benefits for two years. This is a huge benefit if you are paying your own medical insurance costs. Your Medicare coverage while you are disabled will be exactly the same as if you were retired.
The final benefit, and the least known, is the return to work benefits provided by Social Security. After you start receiving Social Security disability benefits, you might want to start working again. The SSA wants you return to work, so there are special rules to help you keep your benefits while you determine if you are able to work again. The Trial Work Period program gives disabled workers the ability to return to work for a time period (up to nine months) without losing their disability benefits to determine if they are able to work or not. The Ticket to Work Program is one way in which the SSA helps disabled workers return to work. Under this program, you can get training or other services needed to go back to work at no cost to you. These are just a couple of ways that the SSA helps disabled workers get back into the workforce while they are still receiving Social Security disability benefits.
Please note that SSI and SSDI are not the same. SSI is Supplemental Security Income, a program managed by the SSA, but not funded with Social Security taxes. SSDI is the Social Security Disability Insurance program, which is both managed and funded by Social Security. If you are disabled you should contact your Social Security office to determine if you qualify for SSI or Social Security disability benefits.