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Social security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits and supplemental security income (SSI) differ in several ways. However, both of them require that you be found disabled by Social Security.

SSDI is a payroll tax-funded federal insurance program of the United States Government. Social Security Disability Insurance pays benefits to you and certain members of the family if you are insured. You are considered insured if you have worked long enough, typically 5 out of the last 10 years, and paid Social Security taxes. For most people, this requires working five out of the past 10 years.

Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, is a type of federal welfare. It is a needs-based program for the disabled. It is not necessary to have worked in order to receive SSI.

Five-Step Disability Evaluation

Social Security is funded and regulated by the Social Security Act. It uses the five-step sequential evaluation process to determine if a person is considered disabled. The five-step evaluation is so that if Social Security finds that you are disabled at a step, they can make their determination based on that finding and step alone, even if they are not found disabled in a different step.

The first step considers whether you are doing substantial gainful activity. For example, if you are working a 40-hour a week job, you are not going to be found disabled in step one.

With step two, Social Security considers the severity of your disabilities. If you do not have a severe, medically-determinable physical or mental impairment that lasts for 12 months, is expected to last for 12 months, or is expected to result in death, they will find you not disabled in step two.

The third step considers the medical severity of impairments and see if those impairments meet one of the Social Security listings.

At the fourth step, Social Security considers whether you can still your do your past relevant work. If Social Security finds that you can do your past relevant work, you will be found not disabled.

The fifth and last step that Social Security considers is whether you can make an adjustment to other work. If you cannot make an adjustment to other work, Social Security will find that you are disabled.

Appeals Process

There are multiple levels of decision-making for both the SSDI & SSI programs. There are four levels of appeals that can be made. The first appeal is reconsideration and is used after you have been denied initially. The next step is to request a hearing by an administrative law judge. If that is denied, or if you are unsatisfied with the findings of the judge, you can seek review by the appeals council. If you have an unsuccessful request for review by the appeals council, there is the federal court review.

Additional SSI Requirements

SSI is a needs-based federal welfare program. You must be found to meet the definition of disability and have limited income and resources. You also must be a US citizen, or meet one of the few limited exceptions to that.

Generally, the more countable income you have, the less your SSI benefit will be. If your countable income is over the allowed limit, you cannot receive SSI benefits. Certain rules state that some income may not count as income for the SSI program.

To get Supplemental Security Income or SSI, your countable resources, or resource limit, must not be worth more than $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a couple. There are a large number of things that count as resources so it would be helpful to examine your resources prior to filing that application, because it can get very complicated.