To determine whether you are eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you must first understand how Social Security defines disability. For SSDI purposes, you must have a medically determinable physical and/or mental impairment that prevents you from being able to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA). Your impairment must have lasted or be expected to last, a continuous period of at least 12 months.

Substantial gainful activity is generally defined as working and earning more than a specific amount. In order to be eligible for benefits, your medical records must document your impairments and their severity.

Factors that Could Harm Your Social Security Disability Eligibility

Even if you meet all the medical criteria for SSDI, you still may be denied disability benefits. Here are some of the most common non-medical reasons that can disqualify you.

Earning too much income. In order to qualify for SSDI, you cannot be earning more than a certain amount of income ($1,090 per month in 2015 for non-blind individuals, before taxes).

You haven’t worked long enough over your lifetime. You may be denied SSDI if you haven’t earned enough credits to be covered by the program. However, if you are a disabled widow or widower between the ages of 50 and 60, you may be eligible based on your deceased spouse’s work record.  Also, a disabled adult child may be able to receive benefits on one of their parent’s earnings record if the disability commenced prior to age 22.

You haven’t worked enough just prior to becoming disabled. Similarly, if you haven’t worked within the years leading up to the time you became disabled, you also may be denied Disability Insurance Benefits.  Social Security will determine your “Date Last Insured.”  This is the date by which you must establish that your disability began, in order to qualify for Disability Insurance Benefits.  Please note that the  Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability program doe not have a work requirement.  Instead, SSI disability benefits are dependent upon financial need.

You don’t fall under “covered employment.” If you work in a state or local government position which has opted out of  the Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits program, you will not be eligible for SSDI benefits based upon that employment.  You would need to work for another employer that does pay into the Social Security disability system.   Check your paystubs or ask your employer to see if you and your employer are paying Social Security taxes.  Self-employed individuals can also pay into Social Security.

The best way to avoid having your claim denied for technical or medical reasons is to consult with an experienced Chicago Social Security Disability attorney. An attorney can help you understand your options and file your claim, ensuring that you and your family receive the Social Security benefits you need.