The Social Security Act and related laws create a variety of programs to protect the financial needs of individuals with disabilities. There are two main disability programs under the Act: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers both programs. See http://www.ssa.gov/.
I represent claimants who seek SSDI and/or SSI benefits. SSDI basically is a disability insurance program, but instead of paying insurance premiums, an individual gains coverage through payment of income taxes (FICA). If an employee pays enough taxes to meet certain tests of coverage, the employee is considered "insured." If a claimant then establishes that he or she is disabled, benefits are payable without regard to whether the individual has other economic resources. By contrast with SSDI, SSI does not require an income history to qualify for benefits. SSI instead is a cash assistance program based on need. Benefits are payable to disabled claimants only if they lack sufficient other economic resources.
A person must meet the Social Security Act's test of "disability" to receive either SSDI or SSI benefits. The Act defines "disability" as:
...the inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months (or result in death).
The SSA applies this test of disability when it reviews applications for benefits. That process begins with a call to one's local SSA office and completion of an initial application . If the SSA denies the initial application, the next step is "reconsideration." If the SSA again denies the application on reconsideration, a claimant has the right to request a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) in the SSA's Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA). If the application still gets denied after a hearing, a claimant can seek review by the federal courts. I represent claimants following denial on initial application on a contingent basis. That means that my clients do not pay attorney fees. I recover fees only if I win benefits for my clients.