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Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Benefits

Nobody likes to think about becoming disabled. It's certainly not something that will happen to us, right? Well, maybe not. Data from the Council for Disability Awareness indicate that over 37 million Americans, more than half of them of working age, are disabled and that over 25% of today's 20-year-olds will be disabled before they reach retirement age.[1] There is a significant chance that you or someone you love will experience disability at some point. We should all understand what these programs do, how they work, and how to get them.

What Are Disability Benefits?
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are monthly payments based on the average income the disabled person earned before disability. The program, as the name suggests, is under the Social Security Administration of the Federal government, administered at the State level. In 2017, the average monthly benefit is $1171, and the maximum is $2687.[2] Disabled persons in extreme financial need may also use Social Security's Supplemental Security Income program (SSI) and may be eligible for Medicaid to help with medical expenses. If a work-related incident caused your disability, you might be eligible for Worker's Compensation, which may pay within days or weeks of your injury.

Disabled individuals may also be eligible, often with referential status, for many other assistance programs that are not specifically for the disabled, such as accommodation in public housing or access to housing choice vouchers.

SSDI benefits do not apply to persons over the age of 65. At that age, disability benefits become retirement benefits. SSDI is not a low-income subsidy program and is not dependent on the applicant's assets. Any applicant who meets the work and disability requirements may be eligible for benefits regardless of assets. Don't confuse SSDI with Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a program that provides support to individuals and households with critically low incomes.

What are the requirements?
There are three basic requirements to receive SSDI:

You must have worked a minimum number of years recently, and some of that work history must be at a job that contributes to Social Security.

Years Recently Worked
AgeRecent Years Worked
16-241.5 out of last three years
24-31(Age - 21)/2
31-655 out of the last ten years

The number of years worked under Social Security varies. For those under 28 it's 1.5 years, for those under 40 it's five years or less, for those under 50 it's seven years or less, and for those under 60, it's 9.5 years or less.

You must be unable to work at the job that you previously had, AND you are unable to work at another job, given your work history and education. If you can still work at your existing job or another job, you are not disabled.

You must show a severe impairment that is expected to last longer than 12 months. If your condition improves, you must notify Social Security. Your status will be reviewed, and you may lose your eligibility.

How do I get it?
Disability benefits are hard to get, and the system is designed to discourage unqualified people from applying. Unfortunately, the process may discourage some qualified people from applying as well. There is a strict applications process, which takes three to five months. 60% of all applications end in rejection, as do 80% of all appeals. You can hire a disabilities lawyer to help you with the application, or you can do it yourself. If you are not a detailed and meticulous person, you may wish to have a professional help you through the process.

You can apply online at or by phone 1-800-772-1213. In either case, you will be given a Starter Kit to help you prepare for your interview.

You should have the following information and documents:

Personal documentation, like birth certificate, marriage or divorce documents
Medical history
Work history
W-2 or tax returns for the last year
Lab results
List of medicines taken and dosages
List of hospitals, doctors, therapists that treated you, and when
List of dependents
Documentation of Child Support
Documentation of Public Assistance or benefits received
Doctor's Statement explaining your disability

After your interview, Social Security will decide if you have sufficient work history. If so, they will send the file for processing at the state level, involving doctors and claims specialists examining your medical history. You may be required to have an additional examination.

You will receive notification of approval or rejection. If your application is successful, you will start receiving payments six months after your disability began. After two years, enrollment in Medicare is automatic.

The applications process is lengthy, so do not wait. Apply as soon as you can.

Can my family receive benefits too?
Certain family members can also receive support under SSDI:

A spouse over the age of 62
A spouse of any age caring for a child under the age of 16 or disabled
An unmarried child under the age of 18 (even an adopted child)
An unmarried disabled child if the disability started before 22 years old

There may be a few cases other than those above. Always check with Social Security. For example, divorced spouses can claim benefits if they are over 62, unmarried, and were married to a SSDI beneficiary for over ten years.

Other Considerations
There are some other things to keep in mind. If you successfully apply for SSDI benefits, you will have to keep Social Security appraised of any changes in your health or location. You will also have follow-up reporting every seven years or so. Any other government benefits you receive, even those from other countries, may affect your benefits. You must tell Social Security if you are convicted of a crime, or violate any applicable parole provisions. You must tell Social Security if you have an outstanding warrant for flight or escape. Under the law, you cannot receive payments from SSDI in any month where you are a convicted prisoner, in violation of parole or have a flight/escape warrant. You can be billed for these payments later.

A quarter of today's adults will become disabled at some point in their life, so it is very likely that you or someone close to you will be in this position. We should all understand what disability benefits are, how to get them, and what sort of work history you will need to claim them. As a working American, you are already paying into the Social Security system, and you deserve to receive these benefits if you meet the standards. If you are disabled, don't hesitate. The process is long and complicated, but the outcome is worth it if you are approved.

1. "Disability Statistics" .