Social Security Disability Benefits
If you become disabled and unable to work, then your employee rights might entitle you to the Social Security disability benefits provided by the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Your employee rights might also entitle you to Medicare health care coverage and the benefits of vocational rehabilitation and other free back-to-work programs, which the SSA refers to as "work incentives" in its Ticket to Work program.
Independent contractors and other self-employed individuals might also be entitled to same.
If you qualify, Social Security disability benefits will pay monthly cash benefits to you and eligible members of your family, under the Social Security disability insurance program (SSDI).
To qualify, generally, your disability must be total (as defined by the SSA) and expected to last at least a year or result in death. A partial or short-term disability is ineligible for Social Security disability benefits; however, if your income is low to none because of such a disability, then you might qualify to collect the Supplemental Security Income mentioned below.
If you've become temporarily disabled off the job, then you might be eligible for state disability benefits, related back-to-work programs or both. If you were temporarily or permanently disabled on the job, then you might be immediately eligible for Workers' Compensation Benefits.
Additionally to qualify, you must have paid sufficient Social Security taxes per a valid Social Security number (SSN).
If you're an employee, then you are likely paying Social Security taxes through automatic payroll deductions, which show as "FICA" (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) deductions on your paychecks. If you're self-employed, then you are likely paying Self-Employed Contributions Act (SECA) taxes quarterly, which are equivalent to employee FICA taxes plus the percentage that employers pay on behalf of employees.
If you are still receiving Social Security disability benefits when you reach full retirement age, then the SSA will automatically convert your disability benefits to Social Security retirement benefits. The compensation amount will remain the same as that of your cash disability benefits.
If you qualify, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) will pay cash benefits to help you meet your basic needs for food, clothing and shelter. SSI pays benefits based on your financial needs, not Social Security taxes you paid. To qualify, generally, you must be aged, blind or disabled, with little to no income and limited resources.
If you disagree with a disability benefits determination that the SSA makes about you, then your employee rights entitle you to appeal through several levels, including requesting a hearing before an administrative law judge and filing a Federal lawsuit.
Many attorneys specialize in representing workers who appeal a denial of Social Security disability benefits. Unless you possess razor-sharp litigation skills, it's likely a good idea to hire an appropriate attorney to represent you, particularly if you are to appear before an administrative law judge or you choose to file a lawsuit. For more information, see "Your Right To Representation" by the SSA.
The SSA announced that there will be no cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for Social Security retirement and SSI payments in 2016. However, Senator Elizabeth Warren has introduced a bill named the SAVE Benefits Act, short for the Seniors And Veterans Emergency Benefits Act. If Congress passes the bill, it will issue Social Security (and Veterans Benefits) recipients a one-time payment each in 2016, equivalent to a 3.9 percent raise. At this writing, the bill has only a two percent chance of passing.
See also Disability.gov, a Federal Government Web site designed to help disabled people.