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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Social Security disability demystified

By Elizabeth Mercer

The Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI), managed by the Social Security Administration, helps people who can’t work because of a temporary or permanent disability. The payments are provided until the disability heals, or until retirement if it’s a permanent condition.

Social Security Disability Insurance is only granted to applicants who prove disability
Social Security Disability Insurance ends upon reaching retirement age

Who Qualifies?

There are several factors that determine eligibility to receive SSDI benefits:
  • Must not have reached retirement age
  • Must be able to prove a disability that prohibits “substantial gainful activity” 
  • Disability must exist for at least a year, continue for an indefinite period, or result in death
  • Must have worked for at least five of the last 10 years (unless disability occurred before age 22)
  • Must not be currently working, and provide medical evidence of inability to work
All applicants undergo a background check that includes a review of all medical records and history.

Social Security Disability Insurance applications require extensive documentation
Medical background checks include a review of medical history


The following information will be needed to complete the SSDI application:
  • Social Security Number
  • Proof of age (birth certificate)
  • List of all your health care providers with contact information
  • Work history
  • Proof of income and financial status
  • Medical insurance information
  • List of dependents and ages
The qualifying process is extensive and may take as long as a year. It’s also common for the initial application to be denied because of failure to fulfill all the eligibility requirements. Denied claims can be appealed, but it’s a cumbersome process that will consume even more time.

How to apply

By phone – Call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY: 1-800-325-0778).

In person – If you're currently in the US, you can use the locator to find a Social Security office near you and apply for benefits using a paper form. If you are out of the country, on military duty or for other reasons, you can contact the nearest US embassy, consulate or Social Security Offfice of International Operations.

Online – Certainly the easiest way, applying online allows you to answer questions at your own pace and skip questions if you don't know the answer. You can come back later and answer those questions as your application is auto-saved for you. Apply online using the disability benefits application .


SSDI is different than the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program and should not be confused.
SSDI is an insurance program that is funded by Social Security taxes deducted from employment wages. Those who apply for SSDI can also apply for SSI, and may sometimes be required.

SSI is a needs-based, welfare program that is funded by the federal government through general tax revenues. Its purpose is to help low-income citizens of any age, and those who are severely disabled and have no means of earning a living. Prior employment is not required to be entitled for this benefit, but those who are working are still eligible. It’s strictly based on demonstrated financial need.
Needs based social welfare is supported through the Social Security Insurance program
Supplemental disability insurance expands government sponsored coverage

Disability insurance is also available for a premium through many employers and private insurance companies. These policies are more affordable for younger people because of a lower health risk to insurers. They provide supplemental coverage to the government-sponsored programs described above.

About the author: Elizabeth Mercer Matlock writes for Singleton Law Firm in Atlanta and has long enjoyed seeing the fruit of a well-written legal article. She's well-rounded in her interests and never above making a good lawyer joke.
* Image licenses: 1. ; Kayugee; CC BY-ND 2.0 2. Ken Teegardin; CC BY-S.A. 2.0  3.  Tony Alter; CC BY 2.0