Who is Eligible for Social Security Disability?

Who is Eligible for Social Security Disability?

There are two Social Security programs that provide monthly cash payments to disabled people.  But who is eligible, and for what? Who can apply? Who should apply?

Workers are Eligible for Social Security Disability.

The Social Security Disability Insurance program, or SSDI, is for workers who become disabled. It’s an insurance program that you are eligible for based on your work history.  SSDI is like private insurance for those who get hurt and can’t work. Except SSDI is  run by the government and is for everyone with enough work history.

For example, a 40 year old person must have worked 5 out of the last 10 years to be eligible for SSDI. If you’re under 31, you can have less of a work history and still qualify.

Supplemental Security Income is for those with limited assets and income.

The Supplemental Security Income program, or SSI, provides monthly cash benefits to disabled people who lack the work history to be eligible for SSDI. Like SSDI, the SSI program is run by the Social Security Administration.

SSI is a needs based program. That means that instead of the work requirement, you must have limited income and assets to be eligible. How those limits are calculated can be complicated.

SSI generally pays less than SSDI, but an award of SSI typically makes you eligible for Medicaid, and the program can be available for children. If you have questions about your eligibility for SSI, you should ask a lawyer. When in doubt go ahead and apply.


Who can apply? Who should apply?

If you have a disability that prevents you from working and you are a citizen or lawful resident, you can apply.  The application process is the same for both SSI and SSDI and can be done online - though we recommend having a lawyer help you.

Social Security has a screening tool page, but it’s not very helpful. If you have any doubt about whether you should apply, you probably should apply. Though don’t exaggerate or leave information out of your application.

Unless you’re applying for a child or other person without a work history, typically you would want to apply for both SSDI and SSI.  Under some circumstances you can be eligible for both programs.

Medical Disability

There are all kinds of medical conditions that qualify for disability. Cancers, deafness, back and neck injuries can all qualify depending on their severity.

What’s important is that you have medical records to back up your claim of disability. Don’t be shy about going to the doctor. Without a diagnosis and treatment history you’re not going to be able to support your claim.

While you might be able to get records later to support your claim, a lack of medical records early is likely to cause your claim to take a long time to be approved.

Unable to Work

Not only must you be disabled, it has to prevent you from “substantial gainful activity.” That means you don’t have to be completely unable to work. If you can still do some work, you may still qualify for disability - but not if that work is “substantial.”

Where to get help:

  1. The Social Security Administration has several pages of basic information about its disability programs;
  2. Download and review the Social Security Administration’s “disability starter kit;” and
  3. Use Disability Alabama’s disability calculator for an estimate of your benefit. While you do not need any special information to complete the calculation you may want to take a moment to think about your average yearly income and current household income before using the disability calculator; and
  4. Contact Disability Alabama about filing your disability claim or appealing your denial.