FAQ: How Much Can I Work & Still Be Eligible for Disability?

FAQ: How Long Will The Social Security Disability Process Take In Spokane?

This is not an easy question to answer, but it is one of the most important ones to consider when you contemplate your path to recovery. 

Here is our outstanding founding attorney, Randi L. Johnson, breaking down the answer:


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FAQ: What’s the Difference Between SSI & SSDI?

SSI vs SSDI - what's the difference?

Are you stuck trying to figure out the difference between SSI & SSDI? 

Here is our outstanding founding attorney, Randi L. Johnson, breaking down the answer:


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FAQ: How Long Will The Social Security Disability Process Take In Spokane?

FAQ: How Long Will The Social Security Disability Process Take In Spokane?

Initial Application, Reconsideration, Hearing Level, Appeals Council Level, Federal District Court Level…how long will it take to get your claim approved in Spokane, WA?  

Here is our outstanding founding attorney, Randi L. Johnson, breaking down the answer:


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FAQ: Should I Bring in ALL of My Medical Records for My Case?

SSI vs SSDI - what's the difference?

The answer to this one is all about communication and timing.   Is that vague – watch this short video and it will make more sense.

Here is our outstanding founding attorney, Randi L. Johnson, breaking down the answer:


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If Your SSI Was Denied Will Your SSDI be Denied Too?

SSI Vs SSDI if SSI was Denied

SSI and SSDI are both programs for supporting people who have disabilities that stop them from being able to work. 

However, the program that works best for you will be dependent upon a couple of different factors. 

If we break this down a little further, we can fully address the main question: 

If your SSI was denied will your SSDI be denied too?  


We broke down the differences between SSI & SSDI in a previous article titled: Is Social Security the Same As Disability?

Here’s an excerpt that will help frame the answer to the question above:

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a program through the Social Security Administration (SSA) designed to provide a monetary benefit to Americans who are older than 65, blind, or disabled.  SSI is needs-based, meaning that the beneficiaries must be below a certain asset threshold.  And they must have limited income, and/or income earning potential.

SSI is often paired with Medicaid, administered by individual states.  Recipients of SSI often also qualify for food stamps.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is similar to an insurance program you might buy into for the contingency that you might become unable to work due to an injury in the future.  In actual fact, it is essentially just that – an insurance program.  Though, it’s not really opt-in if you’re employed; you pay (or paid) into it through payroll taxes.

The payout for SSDI is typically higher than SSI, but it requires that you have a relatively recent work history, to base the amount of your benefits on.  Beneficiaries become eligible for Medicare after two years of being on SSDI.

Infographic: SSI Vs SSDI

Are You Eligible for SSDI?

The first question to help you understand whether or not your claim for SSDI is likely to be denied (assuming your application for SSI was denied) is, do you meet the eligibility requirements for SSDI?

We’re keeping it simple here, but here are the two basic qualification criteria for SSDI

Have a work history of jobs covered by Social Security (another great article on who is and is not included here as well)

Have a medical condition acknowledged by Social Security as a disability

Notice that none of these requirements are related to your previous income?  Alternatively, to your assets?  Unlike SSI, SSDI is not a means-tested/related benefit.

If you were denied SSI due to an asset issue (too much $ or property), you would not be denied from SSDI for that same reason.  However, you might be denied for other reasons, including not meeting the criteria listed above.

Is There a Reason Why Your SSI Was Denied?

In addition to assessing your basic eligibility criteria for SSDI, you might want to determine why you were denied for SSI in the first place.

If it is a lack of basic eligibility, that is pretty straightforward.  We covered eligibility for SSDI above, and because there are a lot of “if/else” caveats to SSI eligibility, we will link to the full eligibility criteria for SSI, here, so that you can review them in-depth.

If your reason for being denied SSI is not due to eligibility deficiencies, then we should look elsewhere to assess why you were denied.  Moreover, why you would be looking to SSDI as an alternative to SSI.

It is possible, for instance, that you should have filed for SSDI the whole time and only filed for SSI because of a knowledge gap of the differences between the two programs.  This gaffe does happen, and it is easy to see why! SSI & SSDI have a similar name, similar function, and provide support for similar groups of people.

However, bear in mind you may have been completely correct in filing for SSI in the first place, and were denied for other reasons.

Should you Re-File for SSI? 

Having a better understanding of why your SSI was denied will help you to get perspective on whether you should seek SSDI, re-file for SSI, or file an appeal on SSI.

In reality, if continuing to pursue SSI is the right decision for you, you should file an appeal vs. refile.  Unless, of course, you have missed your deadline to file your appeal.

Lastly, while you are assessing your options, you should re-consider all potential benefits you might be able to obtain.

Consulting with a local advocate or attorney is a good step in the right direction.  They will be able to advise you on likely reasons why your original SSI claim was denied, what to do now, and other benefits you may find value in seeking.

Social Security Myth #4


If you were to turn on the nightly news you might come away with the impression that disability claims have soared in recent years.  Perhaps everyone is onto the secret?   Social Security Disability is a way to get compensation from the Federal Government for being unable to work because of an injury or illness.. Or is it?

The Role of Social Security Disability

Social Security Disability is a benefit paid into by most workers. If something happens that stops these workers from being able to work, they can apply to receive compensation.  An excellent way to look at this benefit is to consider it similar to an insurance policy on someone’s ability to work.  But, as some news outlets have noted, is it something else as well?  Are disability claims a path to easy street?

We’ve already covered the history of fraud, waste, abuse, and drugs in Social Security Disability, and how we got to ‘today.’ In fact, a common theme in our series on busting Social Security Disability myths has been demonstrating how the facts don’t seem to match up with the prevailing opinions on this topic.

The Typical Spin

The Washington Post opines, Welfare is the New Work,” and expands on this assertion by stating, “disability rolls are growing even as worker safety has hit an all-time high.”  The Richmond Federal Reserve Bank decries federal disability benefits becoming the new “general safety net.”  What is the truth behind these seemingly authoritative opinions?   And what are some reasons to question the conclusions of these authors?

One of the best responses to these opinions has come from the opinion pages of the New York Times.  Three entire paragraphs at the end of the previously linked article break down in detail why “Disability claims are not skyrocketing.”  We will summarize below.

If you look at the disability claims and awards over a historical timeline you can see why someone might claim a skyrocketing increase in claims.  It’s certainly something that requires a nuanced and objective look though.

A Closer Look at the Data

Since 2000, claims have doubled, however, something interesting has happened..award rates have stayed essentially the same among the entirety of workers, about 5%.  If claims are skyrocketing and award rates are staying the same, is there a problem of fraud, waste, or abuse?  Logic would say in this case, that if there were it wouldn’t be on the part of the claimants.  It is Social Security that has deviated sharply down from their historical awards rate in recent years.

Another point that is important to understand in this discussion is that while the number of claims and claims awarded may have gone up in the last 10-15 years, so too has the pool of workers from which claims can be drawn.

Bringing the Spin & the Data Together

So why has the rate of total claims increased in recent years?  Several factors likely play into this.  The first being a poor economy from 2009-2015 or so.  During the Great Recession, the total labor force far out numbered available jobs.  Everyone had a hard time finding employment, especially those on the cusp of possibly rating a disability benefit.  The reality of being terminally un-employed likely brought a number of claimants to the disability application process that would potentially have continued being the working disabled in a more traditional economy.

Other, demographic, factors also influenced the spike in applications.  The average age of the workforce was/is moving higher as baby-boomers hit retirement age.  The number of workers 55-65 years remained unusually high during the great recession as many near retirement workers chose to continue working.  Workers in this age range are at a higher risk of needing to file for disability at some point because of a confluence of age and a  lifetime of work.

Another demographic shift can be found in the rising rate of women seeking disabilities.

Women have taken more work as a whole, and also more physically demanding work over the last four decades.  In reference to this trend, since1985 the age-adjusted disability rate for women has increased at a much faster clip than age-adjusted disability rate for men.

Looking at the Assumptions Again

So, is it fair to say, “Disability Claims are Soaring!” 

Well, the disability claims rate is up, sure.  But when adjusted for age and demographics, they are only slightly up, and certainly not “soaring.”  Moreover, as we’ve shown many times in this blog, the actual award rates, despite the number of claims, has remained flat, and in respect to the number of claims – it has dropped drastically.

This last point is probably the more surprising story that places like the Washington Post missed.  The headline should read:

“The Award Rate for Disability is Plummeting!”

But that story doesn’t sell…

Lilac City Law advocates on behalf of the disabled in their claims for Social Security Disability and SSI

We provide a Free 30-minute Consultation 


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Social Security Myth #3

“The vast majority of present recipients are on drugs but otherwise fine.”

Is there a link between Social Security Benefits and Drug addiction?  Some think so.  To determine the truth about drugs and Social Security, it’s important that we don’t confuse a correlation with causation.

Establishing Definitions

It might be true that those seeking Social Security or Disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) are circumstantially more likely to have abused drugs.  If there is a true cause and effect link between these benefits and drug use, then spotting it is pretty simple.

Take two sample groups and measure the amount of drug use.  In one sample put a number of SSA benefits recipients, and in the other put their peers.  If there is some sort of free reign of drug users in these programs, the sample will reflect this.  There will be a higher use of drugs or alcohol among Social Security recipients.  If not, the assumption is false.

Has anyone ever done this?  

We’ll get back to that in a minute.  First, this post needs to cover how this myth might have started.  And how the simple method just explained above was once used to great effect about 20 years ago.

Social Security’s Historical Problem with Drugs

In the early 1990s, the SSA really did have a drug problem.  At least according to lawmakers.  In 1994, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimated that “the number of addicts receiving disability benefits has substantially increased at an annual cost of about $1.4 billion per year.”  That would be about $2.8 billion per year in 2016 dollars.

This didn’t go unnoticed.  Less than two years later after the GAO report, Congress passed the Contract with America Advancement Act.  This stopped benefits for those whose primary diagnosis was drug addiction or alcoholism.

The results of this act were markedly clear.  Of the 140,000 or so recipients that were receiving Social Security benefits due in part or whole to substance abuse, about 60,000 still did so after Jan 1, 1997.  The rest were found to have other disabilities of a strong enough nature that they would still be deemed disabled without the substance abuse.  <- This remains the basis of determination to this date in dual diagnosis cases.

Social Security & Substance Abuse Recipients Before & After the “Purge” in 1997

Modern Rules on Drugs and Social Security

The rules now state that a person may be approved for these benefits only if it can be determined that they would still be disabled without using drugs or alcohol.  Drugs and alcohol cannot be a contributing factor in an applicant’s disability.

So, how well do the rules work?  Everyone has an opinion on this, but let’s go back to the assumption and conclusions that worked in the past.

If Social Security has a drug problem, one would reason that drug use amongst recipients is higher than a control group of their peers.

The Hard Facts

The United States Library of Medicine asked this question in 2006.  The study was titled: Effect of Social Security Payments on Substance Abuse in a Homeless Mentally Ill Cohort.

The conclusion of this study, “(recipients) did not have any different drug use changes than those without benefits.”

In fact, digging into the study yields surprising insights.  Long term recipients of Social Security benefits have less average years of drug use in almost every category when compared to their peers.


The Truth

Neither the vast majority nor a majority at all, of Social Security and/or Disability recipients are ‘drug addicts.’  Since 1997, it has become much harder for those abusing drugs or alcohol to get Social Security benefits in the first place.  And for those who are receiving them, by and large, they are not retaining them while actively abusing.

The rule of thumb used in 1996 still works today.   The proof: the rate of use among the population receiving benefits is less than among their peers.  Their peers who don’t receive benefits abuse drugs MORE often.  Myth Busted.

Lilac City Law advocates on behalf of the disabled in their claims for Social Security Disability and SSI

We provide a free 30-minute consultation.   



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Social Security Myth #2

“There’s a simple reason hardworking people are denied benefits…Liars are running rampant and using up all available funds.”  

Social security has a limited amount of funding for benefits and this is why their first step is to deny, initially, all claims.

(See Social Security Myth #1) 

 The truth is in the details…

There are about 9 million people unable to work that collect disability because of illnesses or injuries, an extreme few of them liars.  Another 2 million spouses and/or children of disabled workers also collect disability (SSDI) benefits.  In total, about 11 million people collect these benefits each year.  That is about 3.5% of the population in 2016.  And the cost of the SSDI program in 2016 was about $146 billion.  These are all very big numbers.

Because of the financial size of the SSDI program alone, there is a lot of attention paid to any story pointing out fraud, waste, and abuse.  These numbers are so big, they have become tropes in red herring attacks from politicians or sound bites to bring traffic to websites.  There are serious money and political capital to be made in false outrage and sensational stories about false disability claims.  These stories always stop short before sharing how to fix the “broken” SSDI system.  And they often veer into attacking those who cannot work in skilled attempts to make an easy argument in lieu of one that is supported by facts.

So, what is the weight of the havoc that liars or fraud wrecks on the Social Security disability system?  Is this, in fact, the reason claims are denied so frequently?  Is the system full of liars, fakers, and malingerers?

No, on all accounts.

The Cash Impact of Liars?

$11 Billion.   In ten years of tracking (2005-2014), this is the total of over-payments paid out for Social Security Disability.  That is about $1 Billion per year, out of $140 Billion in benefits.  0.7% of those receiving disability benefits are getting them (knowingly or unknowingly) when they should not.

Of course, $11 Billion is a heck of a lot more than $0.  But in context to programs like Medicare, and even the private retail industry, fraud is surprisingly rare in the Social Security system.

These basic facts should give you a reason to question the idea that there is any sort of incentive for Social Security to deny claims based on any fiscal need.  Or that there are millions of non-disabled workers illegally on the rolls of disability.  Meaning to dry up the benefits for those that need them.  And in this vein, we haven’t even addressed the false idea that the Social Security Trust Fund has dried up.  Hint: It hasn’t. 

They (SSA) Get it Wrong a Lot – But we Already Knew That!

We don’t agree with Social Security most of the time.  That’s why Lilac City Law fights Social Security for you.  But an agency or its policies can be wrong and also not criminally minded.

During your claim remember that the Social Security Administration works as best they can within the rules provided to them.  There is a great burden on claimants to present evidence of disabilities that preclude full-time work.

Tough rules and policies added to a heavy burden to present relevant evidence is the reason most claims are denied at first. This is also why it is so important to have an attorney on your side that knows the Social Security system extremely well.

Lilac City Law advocates on behalf of the disabled in their claims for Social Security Disability and SSI

We provide a free 30-minute consultation.   

Social Security Myth #1

“You have to apply three times and then you win”

Did you know that you have to apply three times before you win a Social Security Disability claim?  Well, that’s the rumor.  This particular rumor is a common theme, or curse, in many discussions about claim denials. Though the idea is mostly false, it has enough truth to it to make it believable to those recently denied disability.

We’ve already talked about the odds of achieving success at each level of your Social Security Disability claim in some of our other articles.  Keeping it simple, if you were to look at all the claims put in for Social Security Disability, you would see about 30% are awarded at the initial application level.  From this perspective, it seems to follow that you have a one in three chance each time you apply… By the third time, you’ll have a great chance of achieving a successful outcome.  And a myth is born…

The Truth…

There are a lot of great reasons why this is not an accurate perspective.  But let’s assume it is in fact true, and the myth is therefore true.  Furthermore, let’s assume, this is the direction you want to go.  On your third application, you achieve success and are awarded your disability claim.  Is this the best possible method you could have used?  Applying multiple times.  Is this the method with the highest likelihood of success?  Is it the best outcome financially and support wise?

The short answer is no & no & no & no.  This “3rd Time’s a Charm” method would not have provided you with the best overall chance of success.  And it certainly wouldn’t have provided you with the greatest level of benefits, financial or otherwise.  At best you’re getting the award a couple of months faster IF you get the award at all.  Why gamble when there is really a very little benefit to doing so?

Continuing to Break it Down

 You may be awarded on the third time you apply for benefits.  You might be awarded Disability Benefits on the second, first, or even fourth time as well.  But it is not the best approach.  This approach doesn’t provide the greatest likelihood of success.  And it does not provide you with the greatest level of support or benefits to keep re-filing a claim.  Look below to see your chances at the initial claim when compared to pursuing an appeal.


Your best bet is to speak with an advocate that understands this, and will talk about the approval rates where you live.

Lilac City Law advocates on behalf of the disabled in their claims for Social Security Disability and SSI

We provide a free 30-minute consultation.   



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3 Mistakes to Avoid when Denied Disability

The application process for disability and Social Security is tough enough, being denied disability only adds to the mess.  You first have to more-or-less discover that you are not able to keep working.  Then you have to state that you can’t work in a very deliberate way.  You do this by applying for benefits directly to the Social Security Administration.  If your family is involved in your support, you often have to teach them at the same time you are seeking help yourself.

Add to this, you have to do a lot of things to keep your claim alive. 

Answering questions relating to your disability and challenges.

Timely returning mail.

Attending uncomfortable and sometimes hostile medical appointments.

If you’re lucky enough to have all your documentation lined up and a great support system, you may be one of the 30% that finds success on their initial claim for disability benefits.  But if you’re like the majority of those that apply (and the majority of those that eventually get their claims approved) you’re likely to be denied disability and see a denial letter for your efforts.

We’ve covered several times in this blog, why a denial is not to be unexpected.  And also why a denial for disability is something that you can beat. 

The First Step in Beating a Denied Disability is Avoiding these Three VERY Common Mistakes.

Common Mistake #1: Waiting Too Long to File an Appeal for a Denied Disability

60 Days, not two months, or 6 weeks… 60 Days.  That’s how long you have to file your appeal or to have someone file the appeal on your behalf.  This can be challenging from the perspective of someone who just received their denial letter.  You may wish to set the letter down and come back to it when you’ve collected yourself.  Whatever you do, don’t wait 61 days.  Remember that for better or worse, most people who eventually get social security were denied at one point.

Common Mistake #2: Filing a New Claim Instead of an Appeal

The idea and process of an appeal may sound challenging and complicated.  You might be thinking that maybe the people at the Social Security Administration didn’t understand.  Or perhaps, you feel you didn’t answer everything the “right way” at your medical appointments.  If you’re unsure which is better, filing a new claim or filing an appeal.  File an appeal, do not file a new claim.  You’re throwing away months of support and you do not have a better chance the second time around than you had the first time.

Common Mistake #3: Going it Alone

The appeals system in Social Security is set up in such a way that it is very difficult for someone not familiar with advocating Social Security Law in front of a judge to be able to do so, effectively.  It takes years of experience for Social Security attorneys to become proficient advocates for their clients.   The best way to use your 60 days to file your appeal is to have a discussion with one or several attorneys within the first 15 days.  The best attorneys will listen to you to understand your claim and explain to you, in simple terms, if and why it may be in your best interest to continue pursuing your claim.

Lilac City Law advocates on behalf of the disabled in their claims for Social Security Disability and SSI

We provide a free 30-minute consultation.   



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