Many claimants wonder when is the best time to file for Social Security disability benefits. If you think your medical condition(s) prevent you from being able to work, it is likely the right time to file for disability benefits.
Sometimes claimants have a clear health event that creates a barrier to work. For instance, a claimant may have an injury, heart attack, stroke, or a new illness diagnosis that makes going back to work impossible. Other times, it may be less clear and while no specific event occurred, perhaps the claimant’s condition worsened or it can no longer be effectively managed with medication or treatment.
You don’t have to prove that you’re bedridden or in a wheelchair to seek disability benefits and your disabilities don’t have to be visible. Generally speaking, you will have to be able to prove that you can’t do any of your prior jobs or any other type of full-time work in a competitive work environment. If you feel like that’s the case for you, then it’s likely an appropriate time to apply for disability benefits.
Technical issues regarding work
In order to seek benefits, a claimant must have either stopped working completely or their ability to work must be so reduced that it is less than what the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers substantial gainful activity. Generally speaking, if an individual is engaging in substantial gainful activity, then they will not be found disabled.
The SSA uses a monetary scale to determine whether a person has engaged in substantial gainful activity. The amount of money that constitutes substantial gainful activity typically goes up slightly each year and can be found on SSA’s website. For instance, in 2016, if an individual earns $1,130 pre-taxes in a month, then that person will be found to be engaging in substantial gainful activity and likely will not be found disabled. Therefore, in order to seek benefits, an individual must have either stopped working completely or at least have earnings below substantial gainful activity.
12 month durational issue
A claimant must be able to prove that they cannot engage in substantial gainful activity as a result of a health condition(s) that has lasted at least 12 months, or is expected to last at least 12 months. Therefore, it’s possible for someone to get denied benefits if they apply immediately after getting a diagnosis if it’s not clear that their condition will meet the durational requirements.
However, the disability process can be lengthy, and many people need to go through the process from Application to Reconsideration to the Hearing level, which will most likely take over a year. Therefore, a claimant can either seek benefits right away and develop evidence as their case progresses through the different levels of the process, or they can develop their evidence over a few months (2-6 months) and then apply for benefits with stronger evidence to show that they meet the durational requirement at the start of their claim.
Evidence regarding how your work ended
Illness or an injury can happen at any time. Sometimes a claimant is working when they get sick and as a result, the claimant is no longer able to keep their job. This could be immediate or gradual. If your last job ended as a result of your disability, then consider whether you can get documentation to show the difficulties you had while working. This could be important evidence for your case.
Consider whether you have a prior colleague or supervisor that observed your struggles on the job. Perhaps that individual could write a letter on your behalf to support your claim. If you were missing a lot of work or were written up due to poor performance that relates to your medical condition, then this documentation from your Human Resources office could prove helpful to your case.
Sometimes this evidence is easier to get around the same time or soon after your job ended because you may still be in touch with those people that could help you. A Tacoma disability attorney can advise you further regarding what type of evidence will help you depending on the specifics of your case.
Common fears associated with filing for disability benefits
Many people struggle to seek disability benefits because they don’t want to ask for help. It’s natural for a person to struggle with accepting their limitations or to be prideful about seeking benefits. However, we all need help sometimes and the disability programs are in place for a reason.
If you think your health prevents you from being able to work, contact a Tacoma Social Security disability attorney to see if you might qualify for benefits.