Social Security Disability

Many people develop medical impairments before retirement age. Sometimes these physical or mental impairments prevent them from working.

This article provides general information on Social Security disability benefits. You will learn about the eligibility requirements for Social Security benefits. You will also learn about the disability application process and how the SSA defines disability. Visit FindLaw's Social Security Disability section for more information about SSDI benefits and SSI benefits.

Have you ever considered that an illness or injury may derail your job or career? Not everybody does. The good news is that federal government programs may provide monthly benefits to some disabled workers and their dependents. These programs under the Social Security Act include Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Eligibility for Disability Benefits

The Social Security Administration (SSA) first decides your non-medical eligibility. This includes residency, income, and resources.

  • For SSDI benefits, the SSA examines whether you've paid enough Social Security taxes and worked long enough.
  • The SSA looks at your finances for SSI benefits to decide whether your resources are limited.
  • For either program, you can't earn at "substantial gainful activity levels." This amount in 2023 is $1,470.

Definition of Disability

Next, the SSA turns to your medical eligibility. The SSA's definition of disability under the Social Security Act is as follows:

  • An inability to work because of an impairment, either physical or mental, or both; and
  • Unless expected to result in death, your impairment(s) must have either lasted or be expected to last for 12 continuous months.

The SSA goes through a 5-step sequential evaluation process to determine disability. But, the SSA may grant you disability benefits earlier in the process. To do this, your impairment must be listed in the SSA's official listings of impairments. You must also meet the severity criteria.

Some of the conditions in the listings of impairments include:

  • Hearing or vision loss
  • Mental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder, anxiety, and depression
  • Chronic heart failure
  • Cerebral palsy

You're not disqualified if you don't have a condition in the listings of impairments. The SSA may still find you disabled later in the Social Security disability claims process.

The Disability Application Process

You can complete the initial application for disability benefits online, in person, or over the telephone. Before beginning, it's helpful to prepare the necessary documents and information in advance. This includes medical evidence and medical records you may have. It also includes names of referring providers for medical tests and health care facilities visited.

The links below can provide an in-depth guide to the SSDI/SSI application process. They will also provide you with detailed information on the appeals process. The appeals process includes the following:

  • Requesting reconsideration
  • Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearing
  • Appeals Council review
  • Filing a civil action in federal court

Finding a Disability Attorney

It may be wise to seek legal advice from a Social Security disability attorney. Many attorneys meet claimants in their Social Security office. Some will meet you from home via a video conferencing service like Zoom. An advocate skilled in Social Security disability law may make it easier to get the disability payments you may be entitled to.

Disability Benefit Resources

Visit your local Social Security office for lists of non-profit organizations and other support services. The non-profit organization National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) may be a valuable source if you have a mental illness. NAMI's helpline is available at 800-950-6264. Or you can text "HelpLine" to 62640.

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