If You Are Working, You Are Not Disabled

by Steven Tregea

I frequently talk, or trade emails, with people who are thinking about applying for Social Security disability but are still working (and earning more than the SGA amount of $1,000 per month).
Sometimes people are surprised that they cannot still work and apply for disability benefits. Sometimes they want to discuss the likelihood of success for a disability claim, should they stop working and apply for benefits.

Often people want to know if their particular medical condition can provide a basis for disability. My answer is always yes, so long as the symptoms are severe enough to prevent them from working, and there is good medical support for the severity of the symptoms. It is not the diagnosis, but rather the severity of the symptoms that determine the success of a disability claim.

I invariably also say that stopping work should be a last resort. There are good reasons for this.

First, the path to Social Security disability benefits can be a winding one. It can take longer than hoped. These days in Pennsylvania, if a hearing is necessary, the better part of twenty months can pass (and if you take 60 days to appeal your initial and reconsideration denials, it can be two years).

Second, even if the disability application is granted right away, there is still a 5 full-calendar-month waiting period for benefits. As a result, it can often be almost 6 months before your are eligible for benefits, and the first check comes the following month. So that’s almost 7 months from your last day of work. You have to be prepared financially for that gap in income.

If you have any choice about it at all, please think carefully before stopping work. However, when work becomes too much, you should apply for the disability benefits for which you have paid a premium through your FICA taxes over the years.

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