4 Things to Know Before You Apply for Disability Benefits


Margot Lester

When you have to miss work for medical reasons, you want the most support possible. But understanding leave policies and the types of disability benefits is challenging when you’re dealing with an unexpected health issue. That’s why we created this list of things to find out before you need to apply.

GOOD TO KNOW: Most HR teams don’t have a lot of experience with disability claims and medical leave and may not be able to help you navigate the system.

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Ready to see if you may qualify for disability benefits? Click here to speak with a nearby attorney for FREE about your claim.

The four things to know before applying for social security benefits.

1. Review Your Employer’s Medical Leave Policy

Your employer probably gave you an official employee handbook and went over leave policies during your orientation and onboarding. But most of us don’t pay that much attention because we don’t think we’ll ever need medical leave.

Contact your HR rep today and ask for a copy of the handbook to review your medical leave policy. It’s also important to verify whether your employer is covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act or a state provision like the California Family Rights Act. This determines how much job-protected leave you can receive.

2. Find Out What Type of Disability Benefits You Qualify For

There are two types of disability benefits: short-term and long-term.

Short-Term Disability Benefits 

Short-term disability benefits help if you miss work for a temporary condition. Some employers offer it as part of their benefits packages — another thing we may opt into when we start a job.

Check your pay stub for a deduction or ask your HR rep for a rundown of the insurance coverage you have. Some states also provide short-term coverage for people who don’t have employer-provided insurance:

  • Rhode Island
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Hawai’i
  • California

GOOD TO KNOW: Some employers require you to use all your paid time off before filing a short-term disability claim.

Long-Term Disability Benefits

If you are unable to return to work at all, you may qualify for long-term disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). There are two programs: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

SSI pays $943 per month to individuals or $1,415 to married couples who:

  • Haven’t worked in at least 5 years
  • Are 65 and older
  • Live with visual impairments or have another qualifying disability

Get more details on SSI

SSDI pays an average of $1,537 monthly to 18- to 64-year-olds who:

Learn more about SSDI

3. Don’t Assume Mental Health Conditions Aren’t Covered

You can take medical leave and apply for disability if your mental health keeps you from working. FMLA and state leave acts ensure leave for mental health care, and the SSA’s list of approved medical conditions includes:

  • Depression-related mental illnesses
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Personality impulse-control disorders

In fact, mental and behavioral health is the second-most common set of conditions approved for SSA disability benefits.

4. Work With a Social Security Disability Lawyer

Managing the disability process can be time-consuming and frustrating, especially when you’re trying to get better, coordinate care, plan transportation, etc. While it’s possible to manage the disability insurance process on your own, many people choose to work with an attorney.

See how a disability benefits attorney can help you

Before you decide you can’t afford one, consider this: you can consult a disability lawyer at no charge. And disability lawyers work on contingency and only get paid if your claim is approved. Recent SSA legal fee data shows most people pay around $3,000 on a $14,000 average back-pay award.

FACT: You’re nearly 3x more likely to get benefits when an attorney handles your claim, according to the Office of the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration.

Why invest time in figuring this out? With so many types of disability insurance and a range of leave policies, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. The more you know ahead of time, the easier it’s going to be once you get into the process.

Are you ready to see if you qualify? Click here to get a FREE, no-obligation consultation before starting your claim.

Margot Lester
CEO at The Word Factory | + posts

Margot Lester is the CEO of The Word Factory, a content marketing agency based in North Carolina that provides services for international healthcare brands, tech companies and SaaS developers. An award-winning business and brand journalist, she writes for daily and weekly newspapers and business journals, national magazines, in-flight publications and leading websites. Margot is also an in-demand writing coach and organizational communications trainer, helping individuals and teams write more effectively. LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/margotlester.