The threshold question for both Title II SSD and Title XVI SSI is the same: is the individual disabled, or likely to be disabled, for at least a twelve consecutive month period? The difference between the two programs is that to qualify for SSD (Title II Social Security Disability), you must have sufficient work credits. The number of credits you need is age dependent but for most adults, you must have 40 credits. http://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/credits3.htm SSA publishes a chart which can give you more detailed information, but you can call your local Social Security office to ask about this as well to find out if you have sufficient credits to quality. And the rules are different for those who are legally blind. The second prong of qualifying for SSD is a determination of whether you are disabled. At the hearing level, the Administrative Law Judge will apply what is termed the 5-step sequential evaluation process. More on this later.
Supplement Security Income (also known as Title XVI or SSI) does not require work credits. Instead, this is a “needs based” program. It is designed to help those who have not worked, or who lack sufficient work credits to qualify for SSD, and who are also disabled. There are strict resource limits allowed that are applied to the individual and the household. Generally, your allowable resources include cash up to $2000, one house, and one car. Excess resources are generally considered to be extra property (even if located in a foreign country*), cash or other assets in excess of $2000**. http://www.socialsecurity.gov/ssi/text-resources-ussi.htm
Once you have passed the threshold of having enough work credits or not having too much in disqualifying resources, then attention is turned to whether you are actually disabled. In this matter, both programs operate the same. Both ask whether there is sufficient medical evidence to quality you for benefits. The 5-step sequential evaluation process asks the following questions: (1) have you engaged in substantial gainful activity (generally considered as work above the allowable earnings limits, generally full time or close to full time work for many individuals); (2) is your impairment severe (generally considered any condition which imposes limitations on your ability to function in a work environment); (3) does your condition meet or equal a listed impairment (as defined by the Social Security Bluebook); (4) does your condition prevent you from performing past relevant work (any work you have performed in the past for which you retain the skills necessary to perform that work); and (5) if you cannot perform past relevant work, is there other work you can perform in the national economy which fits within your skills and abilities considering your age, education, work experience and limitations from your disability.
As you can see, qualifying for these programs is difficult. An experienced attorney can certainly help you should your case proceed to hearings. But the key is to begin the process.
*I once had a client who maintained a very small apartment in a foreign country. It required extensive work, research, and information from an attorney in that country to establish the value of this property. If you own such a property, it is best to get an appraiser licensed in that country, or a real estate attorney in that country, to provide an accurate valuation of that property.
**I once had a case where the excess resource was logging property held by the client and his siblings that they had inherited. Such property is considered by the SSA to be an excess resource even though its liquidation would have involved the cooperation of the siblings. Unfortunately, even such assets that are difficult to dispose of can be considered by the SSA.