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6 Reasons Why the Government Might Reject Your Disability Claim

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
December 15, 2022  ·  4 min read

One of the biggest challenges of living with a disability is the lack of financial security. While there is government assistance available, it can be confusing trying to navigate the application process for benefits. In fact, most people who end up getting benefits are initially denied — but don’t let that discourage you! It helps to know what things might hinder your chances at approval before you begin. We’ve compiled a list of reasons why the government might reject your disability claim, so you can try to eliminate any roadblocks in advance.

#1. Your income or assets are over the limit

When figuring out which disability benefits you qualify for, you’ll come across a lot of complex information on income and asset thresholds. Exceeding these thresholds is probably the clearest red flag that your disability claim might be rejected. For example, to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you have to be unable to work (or work much). While you are allowed to work a small amount when you're applying for and collecting SSDI, you must not exceed the “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) limit. This figure is adjusted annually, clocking in at $1,550 per month for 2024 (for non-blind people). 

On the other hand, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is designed to help those with low income and few assets who are unable to work for at least a year. When you apply for SSI, you can't be making over the SGA level at the time of your application. There's a limit of around $1,600 per month on all earned and unearned income for SSI — this comes into play both when you're applying for benefits and when you're collecting them.

Individual circumstances will affect how this information applies to you. To better understand what you qualify for, you can take our free and easy social security quiz

#2. You are unresponsive to communication

It may sound like a no-brainer, but being reachable during the application process is crucial. If the SSA and the Disability Determination Services (DDS) can’t contact you to discuss crucial matters and schedule exams, your claim may be rejected. They also frequently require “follow up” paperwork, after you submit your application, like the Work History Report and the Function Report — which you’ll have to submit within 10 days of their request.

The process of applying for SSDI and SSI is quite drawn out, so it’s vital to keep your contact information up to date throughout. If you have a lawyer or other representative handling your case, make sure to keep in touch with them and notify them of any changes to your details. 

#3. Your disability isn’t deemed severe enough

To qualify for SSDI, your condition has to be severe enough to keep you from working. The SSA has a comprehensive list of conditions that may qualify you for benefits — however, you will need to provide varying levels of medical evidence depending on your circumstances. The SSA’s listing of impairments is long, complex, and tricky to comprehend at times, so we’ve broken it down into simple terms. This list is a great starting point to get the basics on what you need to do to qualify, but everyone’s circumstances are different. You should consider engaging a disability lawyer who is familiar with the technicalities and specific evidence you’ll need to apply. 

#4. You fail to follow your treatment plan

If you’re being treated by a doctor and they have prescribed you therapy for your condition, you need to participate to be considered for disability benefits. Failure to follow your doctor’s orders is a big red flag in the eyes of the SSA and DDS. However, there are some legitimate medical and non-medical excuses that can exempt you from things like taking medication, undergoing surgery, or attending therapy appointments. 

Medical excuses include reasons beyond your control, like phobias of surgery, a severe mental illness that impairs your judgment, or physical limitations that prevent you from undertaking therapy without assistance. Non-medical excuses have nothing to do with your disability, but can take into account other factors — for example, your religion may prohibit you from receiving certain treatments, or you can’t afford your prescribed therapy. 

#5. Your disability is caused by sustained drug use or alcoholism

Substance use disorders (SUDs), also referred to as drug and alcohol addiction (DAA), are regarded with scrutiny in the disability sector. While they are considered disabilities under the ADA, there are complex systems in place that can affect your eligibility for benefits. The main thing a DDS medical consultant considers when making a DAA determination is whether or not the SSA would still classify you as disabled if you stopped using drugs or alcohol. The SSA will not grant disability benefits based solely on substance abuse. Your medical records would come into play here to determine whether you would remain disabled if drugs or alcohol weren’t in the picture. 

#6. You have a criminal conviction

There are certain conditions pertaining to criminal convictions or imprisonment that can prevent you from being approved for SSDI. Let’s break it down. 

  • The timeline of your incarceration and release will greatly impact your odds of getting approved for SSDI. If you’re in prison after being convicted of a felony, you won’t be approved. The exception to this is if you are in a court-approved rehabilitation program that is likely to result in employment upon your release.

  • If you were injured while committing a crime and received a conviction, this injury can’t be used as the basis for applying for SSDI. This also applies to any conditions that were exacerbated by your injury.

  • If you were injured in prison, the impairment can’t be used to obtain benefits. However, it’s likely you can receive benefits when you’re released if your impairment continues. 

This information may seem disheartening, but don’t let this put you off applying even if you have a criminal conviction. Sometimes the SSA will not grant you cash benefits but will determine a grace period of benefit-free disability. What this does is freeze your earnings record so that your future disability benefits won’t be negatively impacted. 

Getting help with your disability claim

As you can see, it’s worth going into the SSI and SSDI application process as prepared as possible. While you might be feeling like you are facing insurmountable roadblocks, you don’t have to go through this journey alone. Atticus is a fast, free service that has been tailor-made to help people with disabilities claim aid as efficiently as possible. Our website has been designed so you can easily check the types of benefits you are eligible for, then talks you through the application process step by step. We can also connect you to lawyers who specialize in advocating for people living with disabilities and who will take your case for free. See what Atticus can do for you today.

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Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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