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Social security disability benefits are designed for people who can’t work anymore because of a severe physical or mental health condition.  When the legislature adopted the disability laws, they had to decide how long somebody would need to be unable to work in order to qualify for benefits.  They settled on a one year requirement because that would help the system find people with severe health problems with really limited work ability.  This is called the durational requirement for social security disability benefits.

Do I Have To Be Unable To Work At All?

No.  Your health conditions have to be so severe that you can’t perform substantial gainful activity.  In the social security world, “substantial gainful activity” is called SGA.  As of 2020, if you cannot earn at least $1,260 in a month, then you are not able to perform SGA.  So, you can work and still qualify for benefits. You are also going to have to prove that you are not able to do the type of work that you have done in the past.  If you can only earn $900 per month because of your health problems, then you meet the unable to work standard.

Do I Have To Be Off Work A Year To File An Application For Social Security Disability Benefits?

Absolutely not.  You don’t want to wait a whole year before filing the application for benefits.  This delays your receipt of social security disability benefits.  However, you do want to establish your inability to work before filing.  If you file for benefits while still working and earning full wages, that is evidence that you are not disabled.

The law says that you have to expect to be off of work for a year.  How do you prove this expectation?  By proving that your injuries, disease, or mental conditions are so severe that you can’t work.  You can do this by going to the doctor and getting treatment.  The doctor will document your health problems and address your ability to work.  Medical records are the main evidence that the SSA will use to make a decision on your benefits.  Ask the doctor to explain how long your medical problems will affect your ability to return to work.

If you have a diagnosis and a doctor who explains that you are expected to be off work for at least a year, then you can be awarded benefits immediately.  As with most legal issues, it’s all about the evidence.  Most people who were not awarded social security disability benefits did not have the right evidence.