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Understanding the Similarities and Differences Between SSDI and SSI

You may have heard of disability benefits, though you may have questions regarding the regulatory maze that disabled individuals must work through to obtain them. A major area of confusion is the distinction between Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplementary Security Income (SSI). Both programs are administered through the Social Security Administration and have different criteria and requirements. This blog is meant to help demystify these two important federal programs and help you understand whether you or a loved one qualify.

Image Source (CC BY 2.0) by Aric Riley via flickr

Image Source (CC BY 2.0) by Aric Riley via flickr

Similar Medical Criteria for SSDI and SSI

SSDI and SSI are similar in the area of medical eligibility. For both programs, there must be some evidence of a disability. Additionally, the disability must be diagnosed by a licensed medical treatment professional, must have lasted or be expected to last at least one year, and must be defined by the Social Security Administration as being disabling.

To keep it simple, if you are considered disabled under the SSDI program, there is a very good chance you will be deemed medically eligible for SSI benefits.

Financial Eligibility

The biggest distinction between the two programs is the financial requirements to obtain SSI benefits. Generally, SSI is meant to be accessed by senior citizens 65 or older, the disabled, or the blind whose income is below the federal benefit limit. SSI is provided for the disabled when they do not qualify for SSDI, or the amount of benefits they receive through SSDI and any other income they might have is not enough to place them above the government’s financial standard.

Source of Benefits

Another key distinction is where the benefits come from. SSDI funds are taken from pooled contributions you make throughout your working life. Basically, you pay into the SSDI program through taxes. You essentially insure yourself to protect you in case of a disability. This is why the Social Security Administration requires SSDI applicants to have worked a minimum period of time prior to qualifying for benefits. Conversely, SSI benefits are funded by general tax revenues and do not require you to have worked for a specific period of time to qualify.

Can I Apply for Both SSDI and SSI Benefits?

It is possible to be eligible and apply for both SSDI and SSI. To obtain benefits through both programs, you must suffer from a medical condition listed as disabling by the Social Security Administration under both programs. That is key to ensure you qualify for SSDI benefits since those who can work generally would not qualify for SSDI.

To obtain SSI benefits, your monthly income must be below the SSI federal benefit rate. In 2015, that rate was $733 per month. In addition, to obtain SSI benefits, you must have total assets worth less than $2,000 if you are single,or $3,000 if you are married.

If you meet the criteria set forth above, there is a good chance you can get benefits through both SSDI and SSI.

Speak to an Experienced Social Security Disability Lawyer Today

As you can see, social security law is complex and requires a level of understanding to navigate the federal benefit system. At Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti, we are here to help you and your loved ones. We offer free, confidential consultations so that you can understand your rights under both federal programs. There are no fees for representation before the Social Security Administration in disability claims unless we win your case.

Social Security Disability Versus Veterans Disability Benefits

If you served our country and suffered a serious injury during combat, or developed a debilitating injury or condition after being discharged, you may be tempted to pursue both Social Security and veterans’ disability benefits. It is quite common for veterans to have claims going on simultaneously. You can receive VA disability benefits and Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits at the same time. This is because VA disability benefits are not tethered to income, unlike SSDI insurance claims.

Image Source (CC BY 2.0) by Port of San Diego via flickr

Image Source (CC BY 2.0) by Port of San Diego via flickr

Understanding the Differences Between Social Security and Veterans Disability Benefits

A major difference is that the process of qualifying for VA benefits is less stringent when compared to qualifying for SSDI benefits. To qualify for veterans’ disability benefits, you do not need to be totally disabled in order to be eligible. SSDI benefits, on the other hand, are not accessible for a mere partial loss of employment. For SSDI, you must be totally disabled to get compensation.

Another difference is the “treating physician rule.” For SSDI claims, your physician is considered your “treating physician” and their opinion is given deference. Conversely, for VA disability benefits, your treating doctor’s opinion is not given deference. The VA has broader authority and can determine that your physician’s opinion is biased. This means the VA could require you to undergo an independent examination.

Pursuing Both Benefits Can Actually Work Synergistically

If you are eligible, it makes sense to pursue both VA and SSDI benefits. Why? Because if you are approved for VA disability benefits, it can help you qualify for SSDI benefits. This is due to the fact that another federal government agency has determined you are either incapable of working or you are disabled to the point where full-time employment would be difficult for you to maintain.  In fact, many federal courts have held that the VA’s assessment of your disability, and the associated disability rating, are entitled to “great weight” in the determination of whether you are actually disabled (and would therefore qualify for SSDI benefits). So this means that the Social Security Administration will likely place major weight on the VA’s determination of whether you receive disability benefits.

On the other hand, the VA does not place much weight on an SSDI benefit award. Why? Because the VA’s assessment of whether you qualify for benefits under their program depends largely on your service record and when you developed your disability. This means it is not necessarily the fact that you are disabled, but whether it is service-related. Nevertheless, the VA should be given your entire SSDI file and decision since this information could provide evidence to support your VA claim. In fact, the VA is required to consider your SSDI records.

Contact an Experienced SSDI Benefit Lawyer Today

As you can see, qualifying for SSDI benefits can be quite complex and there are numerous hurdles you must overcome. We are here to help. The experienced SSDI lawyers at Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti, PA offer free consultations to determine whether you qualify for disability benefits.

Vocational Experts at Social Security Hearings

It is unusual to have a social security hearing without a vocational expert present to offer testimony. Very often, the vocational expert makes or breaks your social security claim.

The vocational expert, hired by Social Security, assists the Administrative Law Judge by analyzing your residual functional capacity (advising the Judge what activities you are able to do despite your disabilities and limitations) and determines whether jobs exist in the national economy that you can still perform given your limitations.

The Judge will ask the vocational expert a hypothetical question incorporating your physical and mental limitations and ask the vocational expert whether and how many jobs exist that you can still perform. If the vocational expert can identify jobs within your residual functional capacity, most often you will be found to be “not disabled” because there is work available, even if you can’t find it.

Image Source (CC BY 2.0) by truthrevealed via flickr

Image Source (CC BY 2.0) by truthrevealed via flickr

In order to give valid opinions, vocational experts must have training and experience in vocational counseling or placement, an up-to-date knowledge of job requirements, occupational characteristics and working conditions, and a familiarity with the personal attributes and skills necessary to function in various jobs. If the vocational expert testifies that there are jobs in the economy that you (the hypothetical person in the Judge’s question) can perform, it is your lawyer’s job to show the Judge through cross-examination that the expert is not qualified, or that the expert’s opinion as to the existence of or the number of jobs you can perform is not accurate or reliable, that the opinion is not supported by the limitations reflected in the record, and/or to add additional limitations or restrictions to the hypothetical that the Judge presented that were omitted and may result in a different opinion.

For example, the Judge may have neglected to include your difficulties in concentration due to mental impairments in the hypothetical question.  While an extreme example, if the vocational expert has thus testified that you can work as an air traffic controller, an experienced social security attorney will be able to exploit this omission to get you disability benefits. As another example, if the vocational expert testifies you can be a cashier when the hypothetical question failed to include the fact that you have diabetic neuropathy and resulting numbness in your fingers, a lawyer will be able to demonstrate to the Judge that this is not a job his or her client can actually perform.

In my practice, we ordinarily send questionnaires to the treating doctors to disclose the claimant’s (applicant’s) limitations in sitting, standing, stooping, reaching, fingering, walking, concentrating, maintaining pace, memory etc. These additional limitations usually will appear in the medical record portion of your file as well. When cross-examining the vocational expert, we will add these limitations to the hypothetical question asked by the Judge and often will elicit an opinion that with the additional limitations presented, the claimant is not employable.

Successful cross-examination of the vocational expert is often the key to winning your case.  As such, it is important to hire an experienced social security attorney like myself, Martin Hoffman of Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti, P.A. to get you a favorable result at hearing.  Call us today to get a free, no obligation consultation.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

Social Security Disability Fund May Be Exhausted in the Near Future

A‌fter running through five consecutive years of deficits, many experts anticipate that the Social Security Disability ‌Insurance (SSDI) Trust Fund is about to run dry in roughly two years. If Congress fails to take necessary action before 2016, there may be a 19 percent cut to SSDI benefits across the board. For the ordinary citizen depending on this financial lifeline, this would mean a $218 reduction in monthly benefits — from $1,146 to $928, thereby lowering the average benefit below the federal poverty level.

Image Source (CC BY 2.0) by afge via flickr

Image Source (CC BY 2.0) by afge via flickr

According to official reports, nearly 60 million people receive SSDI benefits, including 42 million retired workers and dependents, 11 million disabled workers and 6 million survivors of deceased workers. A sudden reduction of benefits by 19 percent will likely be crippling for many recipients.

From a legal point of view, what can be the possible outcomes of such a cut? Experts and Social Security advocates are of the opinion that if the current trend continues, in all probabilities, this will likely result in a few reforms, making it even more difficult for new applicants to qualify for benefits. On that note, let us take a quick look on what should you ensure to claim your rightful SSDI benefits as of now:

  • Have sufficient “working credits” – In order to fit the bill for Social Security disability benefits, ensure that you have worked for a considerable period of time in the past. The older you are and the more you have worked as of late, the better probability you have of getting affirmed.
  • Make just enough money – As of 2015, your monthly income should not exceed $1,090 ($1,820 a month in case you are visually impaired) so as to be eligible for SSD benefits.
  • Be “disabled” as per the Social Security Administration laws – SSA requires your disability to have lasted for no less than 12 months, or be sufficiently critical that it is required to result in your demise. Additionally, your condition must be on the SSA’s listing of impairments.
  • Be unable to able to earn in any kind of related jobs – In case you are still ready to do some kind of work, regardless of the possibility that it is not the same work you did before, your application will be dismissed.
  • Ensure that all the relevant documents are correctly submitted – Make sure you have submitted all required documentation and evidences about your salary, work history, medical reports etc. and have not knowingly tried to mislead the officials with false, fabricated or erroneous documents.

Additional details are available in the excellent articles here and here.

Speak to an Experienced Social Security Disability Lawyer Today

Social Security disability law is complex and will likely only get more complex as Congress attempts to reform the system and may decide to narrow the scope of who qualifies for benefits. At Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti, P.A., we offer a free consultation so that you can learn your rights. There are no fees for representation before the Social Security Administration in disability claims, unless we win. We have offices in Dade, Broward and Monroe Counties for your convenience.

Common Reasons Why a Social Security Disability Claim is Rejected

Social Security Disability Insurance (commonly referred to as SSDI) is a federal program run by the Social Security Administration that provides monthly disability benefits to people who become disabled before their age of retirement and cannot earn enough money to support themselves. However, as per the latest statistics, almost one-third of the SSDI applications received each year are flat out rejected. Read on to learn the most common mistakes people commit while filing for SSDI and how best to avoid them.

Image Source (CC BY 2.0) by smemon via flickr

Image Source (CC BY 2.0) by smemon via flickr

Insufficient “working credits” to qualify

In order to fit the bill for Social Security disability benefits, you need to have worked for a sufficient period of time in the past. The SSA requires a work history of at least 1.5 years of work if you get disabled before 28 for example. Basically, the older you are and the more you have worked as of late, the better probability you have of getting your benefits.

Making more money than you are eligible for

As of 2015, your monthly income should not exceed $1,090 ($1,820 a month in case you are visually impaired) so as to be eligible for SSDI. Drawing income from investments or trusts, receiving workers’ compensation money, etc. may make you ineligible for SSDI.

Not qualifying as “disabled” under the Social Security Administration laws

To qualify for disability benefits, the SSA requires your disability to have lasted for no less than 12 months, or be sufficiently critical that it is going to result in your demise. Additionally, your condition must be on the SSA’s listing of impairments.

Being able to earn in a different but related job

If you are capable of doing some kind of work – regardless of the possibility that it is not the same work you did before – your application may be denied. An analyst will make a determination about your capacity to work.

Failure to submit the correct documents

SSA requires you to submit multiple documents and reports about your salary, work history, applications for other disability benefits, and your medical history, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Be sure to include a list of jobs you had up to 15 years preceding your disability, pay stubs, grant letters, settlement agreements, workers’ compensation benefits, state or local government disability protection or military disability benefits in your file of documents. Do not forget your medical records, test reports, and all other information about the doctor under whose care you have been.

False representations

Finally, be honest with whatever your situation is and do not try to mislead the officials with false, fabricated, or erroneous documents. In case you don’t understand something, it is better you ask for clarification, or better still, contact a Social Security attorney who shall be able to guide you through the entire procedure.

Speak to an Experienced Florida Social Security Disability Attorney Today

As you can see, applying for SSDI can be challenging and you are likely to have your application denied, at least initially. At Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti, P.A. our team of experienced Florida Social Security disability benefit attorneys offer free consultations so that you, or a loved one, can learn your rights under this vital program. There are no fees for representation before the Social Security Administration in disability claims, unless we win. We have offices in Dade, Broward and Monroe Counties for your convenience.