Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Social Security Disability Benefits

New York attorney Peter Cordovano has been helping people through the difficult process of obtaining Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits for nearly thirty years. You probably have lots of questions about how SSD works and what it takes to get payments. Below are answers to some of the questions we hear most often. If you have other questions, if you are applying for SSD, or if you have already applied and been denied, call our office for a free consultation.

Q. How is disability defined by Social Security?

A. The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses its own definition of disability, which may be different than disability as used by New York workers' compensation or NYS retirement systems. The SSA definition requires that you have a physical or mental condition (or both) that makes you unable to work or "perform substantial gainful activity." In addition, the SSA definition of disability requires that you have a medical condition that is expected to last for a year or more or eventually result in death.

The SSA uses a multi-step process to determine if you are disabled. You can find more information on this process by following a link on our Resources page.

Q. How Does Social Security figure out what my disability benefits are?

A. Benefits are determined based upon your age and your work history, including how long you have worked and how long it has been since you last worked. Benefits are based in part on how many "work credits" you have accumulated. Your monthly disability benefit is based on your lifetime average earnings, but the SSA uses several different formulas to arrive at the precise benefit amount. Workers' compensation or other payments that you receive can also affect the amount of SSD you can get.

Q. What is the difference between SSI and SSDI?

A. SSI (Supplementary Security Income) is a needs-based program that pays monthly benefits to people who qualify due to low income. SSDI is the program which pays benefits for people who cannot work due to a disability. SSDI stands for Social Security Disability Insurance.

Q. Can I collect Social Security Disability while I am temporarily disabled from working?

A. SSDI is only intended to pay for people who are permanently disabled. If you are only temporarily disabled, your best bet for benefits are workers' compensation if your injury is job-related or a civil claim/lawsuit if your injury was caused by another's negligence or misconduct. We can help you determine your possible sources of compensation and represent you in any area.

Q. I'm not sure if I can go back to work or not. Will I lose my Disability benefits if I apply for a job, even if it doesn't work out?

A. Under Social Security rules, you can return to work for a trial period while still receiving disability benefits. If it turns out that you can work, you will stop receiving disability, but if you find you cannot work, then your benefits will not be terminated just because you returned to work for a trial period. See an attorney for the specific rules before you try to return to work.

Q. Are there any disability benefits available to a widow or widower?

A. There are Survivor's Benefits which may be available based upon your spouse's earnings record. In addition, if you are 50 years old or older and become disabled within seven years of the death of a spouse who qualified for Social Security, then you may be eligible for Disability benefits.