Claimants do not need to be out of work for 12 months to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. Social Security has a rule governing the length of your absence from work due to medical impairments. That rule is called the ‘durational requirement’ and it is the focus of today’s blog post.
What is Social Security Disability’s Durational Requirement?
Social Security’s durational requirement rule states the following:
“To be found disabled, an individual must be unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death, or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months. In considering ‘duration,” it is the inability to engage in SGA because of the impairment that must last the required 12-month period.
Let’s break this requirement down a bit further by addressing two key components of the ruling.
How SGA Impacts Social Security’s Durational Requirement
Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) is defined as the level of work that a non-disabled person can do. In 2021, SGA is defined as earning $1,310 or more per month from working. If you are blind, that amount is $2,190 per month.
To engage in SGA, you mut earn more than $1,310/month from work activity in a month. If you suffer from a medical impairment but earn at or above the SGA limit, the SSA does not consider you disabled. Conversely, disabled claimants as defined by the SSA must suffer from impairments preventing them from engaging in SGA. This period of work stoppage must last or be expected to last 12 consecutive months or longer.
The Consecutive 12-Month Durational Requirement
Now that you understand what SGA is and isn’t, we can address the 12-month timeline. Claimants seeking disability often cite the 12-month rule when contacting our disability lawyers. This is what it means:
Your medical impairments must be severe and persistent. This means they must prevent you OR be EXPECTED to prevent you from engaging in SGA for 12+ consecutive months.
The key statement here is “prevent you or are expected to prevent you.” This simply means you don’t have to wait until you are out of work for 12 consecutive months to apply for disability benefits. In the event that you apply early and SSA disagrees that your impairment prevents you from engaging in SGA, they’ll simply send you a durational denial letter.
Will Working Impact My Disability Decision?
If you work at or below SGA levels, while applying for disability, this can negatively impact your disability decision. After all, SSDI and SSI benefits are reserved for those who cannot work at SGA. So the strongest claims involve claimants who are unable to work due to their medical impairments.
Working in any capacity will also impact backpay for approved claims. Approved claims receive a ‘disability onset date,’ which is simply the date SSA determines your disability began. Then, successful claimants receive backpay consisting of owed benefits from that day forward. If you apply earlier in the process while working, your disability onset date will be recent. This could reduce your backpay. That’s not a bad thing, just the reality of applying early.
And finally as a reminder, the SSDI program does have a five-month waiting period for benefits. This period starts from your onset date of disability.
If you or someone you know is considering filing for disability benefits and would like to work with a local disability lawyer, we’d be happy to help. Please contact our Team today for a free consultation.