If you are disabled in Southern California and you are unable to work, the Social Security Administration (SSA) provides two programs for workers with medical, psychiatric, or psychological disabilities. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal disability insurance program offering monthly cash benefits to disabled workers and their families. The SSA provided these benefits to almost 11 million disabled workers in 2014. Most of the disabled workers approved for SSDI benefits receive about $1,150 a month; for many, it is their primary or only income source. Obtaining SSDI benefits is often a complicated and confusing process.

Despite its extraordinarily positive impact on the lives of millions of disabled U.S. workers, most of us actually know little about how the Social Security Disability Insurance program works. To qualify for SSDI benefits, an applicant must establish a sufficient and recent work history. When disabled workers in Southern California apply for SSDI benefits, they almost always require the assistance of an experienced Los Angeles Social Security disability lawyer.

An SSDI applicant must have sufficient work credits and a long-term or permanent disability that prevents the applicant from performing any type of work. A disability applicant will also encounter confusing – sometimes baffling – phrases and language that a disability attorney can explain. For example, when the SSA refers to an applicant’s “Date Last Insured” (or “DLI”), SSA is referring to the last work quarter in which the applicant met disability insured status requirements. In most cases, disabled individuals will qualify for Social Security disability benefits if they worked five out of the ten years immediately prior to the onset of the disability.

WHAT IS REQUIRED TO RECEIVE SSDI BENEFITS?

In fact, in order to receive Social Security Disability Insurance, you must pass the “recent work” test, which means that you must have worked for at least five of the immediately previous ten years, or more precisely, at least twenty of the previous forty quarters. The rules are a bit different for those who are under the age of 30, who may not have worked long enough to meet the standard requirements.

To qualify for SSDI benefits, most SSDI applicants will need from twenty to forty credits (five to ten full years of work) with at least twenty credits earned in the ten-year period immediately before the onset of the disability. The number of credits needed increases with age, so workers who are ages 31 to 42 will need at least twenty credits; workers who are ages 43 to 62 require one additional credit for each year of age; and those aged 62 and up need forty credits. About 80 percent of SSDI benefit recipients are age 45 or older.

For most individuals, the SSA will look back ten years – the “look back period” – from the date that the applicant filed a disability claim to determine an individual’s Date Last Insured. Understand that the date that the disability applicant actually stops working because of the disability is not the DLI. The SSA is interested only in the ten-year period immediately prior to the date of the application.

HOW IS A DLI DETERMINED?

Thus, an applicant’s DLI depends on the date that person stopped working at a job that pays into the Social Security fund through FICA taxes. For example, if you stopped working five years ago today, your DLI is today. If you stopped working four years ago today, your DLI would be a year from today. If you stopped working six years ago today, the DLI was one year ago today. But it is imperative for applicants to understand that, just as an auto accident must occur before your auto insurance expires if you want to file a claim, your disability onset must occur before the date you were last insured. Otherwise, you are not eligible for SSDI benefits.

Therefore, in most cases, if you apply for Social Security Disability Insurance after your DLI has passed, you will need to prove that the onset of your disability happened before your DLI. The only exception to this rule is if you received a “protective filing date” prior to filing your disability application, and if the protective filing date falls before your DLI, then you will remain qualified for benefits.

Many persons’ disabilities are not caused by a singular event that happens on a single day. Thus, determining a disability onset date can be difficult, and medical evidence will be required to establish an onset date. Once determined, if your onset date is before your DLI, you will still have to satisfy the recent work requirement, but the look back period will start with your disability onset date.

For example, if you stopped working six years ago after being disabled in a traffic accident, but you did not apply for Social Security Disability Insurance until today, the ten-year look back period begins when you stopped working six years ago. As long as you worked for five years – at least twenty quarters – in the period from sixteen years ago until six years ago, you are insured for SSDI.

WHAT IF A DISABLED WORKER IS INELIGIBLE FOR SSDI?

If you file a disability claim subsequent to your Date Last Insured and you cannot prove that your disability onset date came before your DLI, you still may qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, provided that your current income and assets meet the program’s requirements. The Date Last Insured is not pertinent to SSI qualifications. SSDI and SSI are different and distinct disability benefit programs, but they have one thing in common. Both programs entail a lengthy and complicated application procedure.

Confused? That is to be expected, and you’re only reading about the disability application process – not yet actually applying. It’s the reason that so many disabled workers in Southern California turn to an experienced Los Angeles Social Security disability lawyer for help. However, if you are disabled and you are unable to work, an experienced disability lawyer can explain more details and guide you through the entire process – from the first application through the first benefit check. It can take some time, however, until your first benefits arrive, so if you are a disabled worker, call an experienced disability attorney and get the process started now.