Common “Myths” About Social Security Disability (SSD/SSI) – Part One

Having represented clients in Social Security Disability/SSI claims for the past 30 years,
I have had the opportunity to hear (and dispel) an endless amount of misinformation, misunderstanding and misinterpretation about the way the Social Security system works and how disability benefits are actually awarded.  This is understandable, given the complexity of Social Security’s rules and regulations. 

Here is a sampling of some of the most common “myths” that invite rebuttal: 

1.  You must be “permanently disabled” in order to be eligible for Social Security Disability/SSI.   This is false.  The word “permanent” is nowhere to be found in the Social Security Act as it pertains to the disability program.  It is unnecessary to prove “permanent disability.”  Rather, you must prove that you are unable to work for at least 12 consecutive months due to “medically determinable” impairments.   In fact, many of the clients I represent return to work while their claims are pending, and they may therefore still be eligible for disability benefits for a “closed period.” 

2.  It’s harder to get disability benefits if you are disabled due to a mental health/psychiatric disorder. 
This is false.  Statistically, there is no evidence to support the proposition that a person suffering from, say, bipolar disorder, is less likely to be awarded disability benefits than someone suffering from, for example, breast cancer.  All Social Security claims are evaluated on a case-by-case, individual basis, and nothing in the Social Security Act predisposes the Social Security Administration to favor claimants with physical disabilities over those with mental health problems.

3. You cannot receive disability benefits if you are collecting unemployment benefits.  This is false.  While there is some interplay between State Unemployment benefit programs and the Federal Social Security Disability/SSI program, nothing in the Social Security Act bars someone who is collecting or has collected unemployment benefits from being awarded disability benefits.  However, the receipt of unemployment benefits may have an adverse effect on the award of some or all Social Security Disability/SSI benefits.  Again, this issue is assessed by the Social Security Administration on a case-by-case basis. 

4.  You must wait a year from the time you become disabled before you can apply for Social Security Disability/SSI.  This is false.  While it is true that the Social Security Administration’s definition of “disability” includes the requirement of being disabled (or expect to be disabled) for at least “12 consecutive months,” you are not required to wait in order to file an application.  In fact, I generally encourage prospective clients to file their disability claims early, so long as they have good reason to believe that they will be unable to work for at least one year.  Because the disability process tends to be a bit slow, the general rule is to “apply earlier than later.” 

5.  You can’t get disability benefits if you “have money in the bank.”  This is false.  This is one of the more confusing issues I deal with on a regular basis.  The Social Security Disability benefit program is not “means-tested;” that is, one’s assets and income are not considered at all when the Social Security Administration determines entitlement to disability benefits.  You can be a multimillionaire and be eligible for Social Security Disability, so long as you have paid FICA taxes while you worked.  In contrast, the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program does have the additional requirement that the applicant have limited assets and income.  SSI applicants are therefore required to provide extensive personal financial information as part of their application, and may be disqualified solely based on financial considerations.

David S. Bross, Esquire, is a trial attorney in private practice, who concentrates in Social Security Disability/SSI claims, disability insurance litigation, and Veterans’ claims. His firm maintains offices in Cherry Hill, Mount Holly, and Philadelphia, along with “satellite” offices at other locations throughout NJ,  PA, and DE.  He has been licensed in the state and federal courts of NJ and PA since 1981. Mr. Bross was formerly a Benefit Authorizer for the Social Security Administration. He is a sustaining and active member of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR), the New Jersey chapter of the American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA), and various county associations.

As seen in Burlington County Woman and Camden County Woman


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