Disability Benefits: Protection against the Unexpected

August 29, 2016 • By

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Last Updated: August 29, 2016

young man in a wheelchair writing a letterDisability is unpredictable and can happen to any person, at any age. Millions of Americans live with disabilities that are the result of a sudden traumatic event or onset of a serious medical condition.

Social Security disability benefits protect you against the unexpected. When you know about the services we provide, you’ll make better decisions when life throws you a curve.

Our disability program provides financial support to disabled individuals and their families in times of need. If you think you have a qualifying disability, don’t wait, apply right away.

Social Security pays disability benefits to people with a severe medical condition expected to last at least one year or result in death. This condition must prevent you from performing substantial work. Social Security does not give benefits to people with partial disability or short-term disability, like veteran’s benefits and workers’ compensation do. You must also meet the earnings requirement for disability benefits.

When you apply for disability, we will need medical and other information from you. We can help you get this information together. You can also have a representative help you gather and submit this information. This representative may be an attorney or other qualified person.

You can get more information about applying for our disability programs at our website. If you click on “Apply for Benefits,” you can then follow a link to get a Disability Starter Kit. This kit will help you get ready for your disability interview or online application.

Once you have your information together, you can apply for disability benefits online. Knowing this information can help you make the best decision for you and your family, if life throws the unexpected at you.

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About the Author

Jim Borland, Assistant Deputy Commissioner, Communications

Jim Borland, Assistant Deputy Commissioner, Communications


  1. Karen A.

    Thank you! As for myself I fought hard to receive benefits. Yet I am astonished as to how easy it is to receive workers comp & VA BENEFITS. I’m not saying all apply, however from personal experience; my ex husband easily received both worker’s comp & 100% VA Benefits that he fraudulently obtained. In the beginning I couldn’t understand why it was so difficult to receive SSDI; now years later and watching my ex get away with what he doesn’t deserve! Someday when he meets his maker he will have to be held responsible for receiving $ he shouldn’t. PS. He also collects SSDI as well. When I found out the truth I won’t have anything to do with him & yes I am having him investigated. Had it not been for the trauma etc he caused me ; I was working on myself to become healthy enough to become gainfully employed. So sad. But again thank you ♡K

  2. Patricia

    Why does it take up to 2 years and 3 or more attempts yo recieve benefits?

    • Cheryl

      I believe, in some cases, it depends on the disability. If there are medical issues that have been know to be cured or maybe improve a condition within 2 years, they may put the disability on hold to make sure that everything is going to continue.
      The SS office I worked with did so over the phone and taped our 3-way conversation (with the disability attorney I had hired). Before anything was even started, the attorney made sure that all of my disabilities were covered in medical records, given a code for the disability, and documented by a physician or specialist. They have their own board of physicians that can look over the records (at least that’s what I was told) as well and compare that to previous “success” stories.
      The only regret I had was not discussing the fee I was charged. Most of them state that you can disagree with the final total. I sent for all of my records that they had on me, and there was nothing different – no notes or anything – that I had not already given them. It is good to ask the attorney, if you get one, to show you that he/she did the $6,000 of work. I received mine 3 months from date filed and it did go back to when I had been out of work and then Medicare I had to wait a year for. It’s frustrating, yes, but if you do everything you are suppose to do, it should be easier all around.

  3. Andrea

    I am very disappointed in the disability process and system. They say the benefits are there for you at any age, but that’s a lie. If you are disabled well before the age of 50, you get denied pretty much because of your age because they will conjour up some job out of a severely outdated database to say you can do and it doesn’t matter if those jobs are not in your area or if those jobs have any openings in your area. Can you really expect a person to pack up and move to that area of the economy where it’s supposedly numerous jobs? Really? Oh, let’s not get started on their contracted state DDS office in how they treat people and the personal and bias comments they make in your file about you. I have had a compromised medical health record and I’m sure you all have too where every doctor you go to do not actually notate or touch each and every part of your health record for each visit which means if you are in pain or have had weight loss due to illness and they don’t specifically notate in your physical examination and review of systems, etc dds will deny that you have a problem because they count on those indescrepancies against you. I brought that issue up to them but they try to use it against me. Check your medical records or have someone look over them and don’t leave it to the attorney because they don’t look that close either. I assure you they are looking for any indescrepancies they can find to deny and discredit you. It’s straight harassment!

    • ata

      Your remark is typical of someone who has had their claim denied

      • Andrea

        These are the facts and are already being looked into. Thank you!

    • debb

      True it is very hard to get Ssa I was 42 yes old tried to work but know way. I applied 3 ttimes. I was turned down. I got an attorney, he told me I would get my SSA. I got it in 2 years. Had to wait 2 years after for Medicare, but I worked and paid for it. Thank God I received it each month. I don’t understand why you have to have an attorney to get something that you work for, but that is our system.

  4. James K.

    If someone who has been in the military, in combat, retired from the military after 21 plus years, worked for two non-profit Veterans Organizations, then finally working with the County Government Agency, then retired after 16 year’s total. Now substantially disabled since retired from the County. Just receiving SSA. Had filed previously for SSD, but was denied because didn’t finish getting the right medical information to SSA. Can that individual refile again with his current medical information? Is there a time line for refilling again or for appealing the first denied claim? Who can I talk to about this case. This individual has been totally disabled since the last 6 years and is still disabled.

    • Andrea

      If you are within the appeal deadline, appeal it.

    • ata

      No time limit but a claim could be denied res adjudicata. No agency or court will keep on hearing a claim over and over if all the current issues have been previously decided. One has to be currently insured and have a disability that falls withing that period. It sounds as id that person has a limited work history or maybe has reached full retirement age and disability would not apply. You can’t talk to anyone about someone else’s claim unless SSA has their permission properly executed.

    • Milan R.

      James, you can refille, but you may lose some money because an application is retroactive for only 12 months. If you are within 60 days of your last denial you can appeal. Under some very strict circumstances you can appeal even if you’ve missed the 60 day deadline. Hope this helps.

    • Ray F.

      Hi James. An appeal must be requested within 60 days from the date the notice of denial is received in the mail. The claimant should visit the local Social Security office to confirm the status of his or her initial claim. Or call our toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213. Representatives are available Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Our representatives should be able to provide him or her with the information needed, and direct him or her to file an appeal or to file a new claim. For more information on the appeals process, please read our Appeal Processing publication.


    I have been denied my disability since 2008 by the out of control lies and manipulation of this alj must end I beg the administration to investigate all of the claims filed since 2003 in my behave that have been lost in the system totally forgotten

    • WILLIAM J.

      I have been denied my disability since 2008 by the out of control lies and manipulation of this alj must end I beg the administration to investigate all of the claims filed since 2003 in my behave that have been lost in the system totally forgotten .

      • Andrea

        You may need to file a discrimination complaint.

        • Tony S.

          If denied SSDI and poor, file for SSI.

    • Disappointed i.

      William, are you speaking of the same ALJ in which I was speaking of, Ronald Feibus? If so, you should file complaints like I did. Perhaps if they receive continuous complaints regarding him and his behavior, they will finally do something! I noticed not one person from SS had the decency to acknowledge me. That is what they do, just keep letting him get away with what he does!!! God is always watching, and He is my judge!

  6. Molly

    Takes too long and people suffer without food because the employees just shoot out form letters delaying benefits. Why would anyone go to the extremes after working their entire life even bother to apply? They must have quotas they must achieve because the reject more then they approve. Someone needs to overhaul this system to make it timely instead of dragging their feet just to make an excuse to deny, deny and deny. They have a fix with attorneys At least it seems that way) because as soon as an attorney is hired snd gets 1/3 of YOUR benefit is just wrong.

    • John O.

      Your post is so full of incorrect information, one does not know where to begin. Form letters, quotas, dragging their feet? Get real.

      • Andrea

        John, that is probably how she feels even if it not the entire truth. Social security does not treat people fairly, well, I guess I should say the DDS office don’t treat people right.

    • Ray F.

      Hi Molly. Social Security assumes than an attorney or an appointed representative will charge a fee when representing a claimant, unless the fee is waived. Under current law, when the Court issues a favorable decision, we withhold (up to) 25 percent of the claimant’s AND the claimant’s auxiliaries past-due benefits. A fee agreement, also limits how much of a claimant’s past-due benefits an attorney can collect: No more than 25% of your past-due benefits and that includes any children in your account, but only up to a maximum of $6,000. We hope this information helps.

  7. Harry

    I posted one other time about when i became disabled it was there for me i was 45 years old i have sense tried to go back to work and would in honeslty go back to work but can’t and even tired a few times at after i became disabled no one know excatly what is like losing so much money a month etc because of being disabled till it happen then the are DR bills they even medicare won’t cover and should like dental etc .but no complaints i still have a income , now sister is disabled at 55 and having a really hard time getting SS she wirked most of her life the if it wasn’t for the affordable health act she would also have DR bills she could not pay due to a major back operation she has a year ago and two month ago one knee was operated on and the other knee has to be replaced she has other health issues that are covered under the act .. but I honestly can say it was there for me , i all ways paid my taxes etc . i do hope my sister gets her soon it taking a big toll on our house hold three living on two incomes . you learn to but it hard and some have it worst.

    • Sig A.

      Were the operations your sister got neccesary before the AFFORD CARE ACT was available? Pre-existing in other words? I was told any occurences that required surgery or other procedures/care before Obama Care existed wiuldnt be covered.

  8. Susan i.

    Can anyone apply or just people who have worked and contributed to Social Security? Who pays for Social Security disability? I need an answer from someone who knows for sure what the correct answer is.

    • Harry

      as far as i know anyone can if your disabled and have proof your check may not be much but it’s something you didn’t have before and you can eat at least and get a roof over your head with help if you don’t have have a place or food .

      • Colleen H.

        Does that mean if you are 73 on social security and working part time, if you are told for example by the doctor you can no longer drive…can you apply then?

    • John O.

      Anyone can apply. SS will only approve those who meet the earnings test and have a disability that results in a condition that will last at least a year or result in death. You must be unable to perform substantial work in anything that is within your ability.

    • Milan R.

      Under the Social Security disability law, there 2 benefits: Social security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and Supplemental Security Income. (SSI). For SSDI you must have paid into the system for a set # of years , the exact number of paid years depends on age. The amount paid into the system (FICA) will determine the amount of the monthly benefit. For SSI there is no requirement to have paid into the system. Hope this clarifies.

      • Susan i.

        Milan, I guess I don’t understand what Supplemental Security Income is and why anyone would get it? Can you give an example of a reason why a person could get SSI?

        • Deborah

          SSI is for persons who have 0 or less than 10 years paid into the system and have become disabled w/in SSA guidelines and have low income. SSI is also given to U.S. citizens who are indecent or low income, age 65 and have never paid into SS. Amount is currently at $350 per month. SSI essentially covers US citizens who haven’t paid into the program.

          • Deborah

            I meant “indigent” and not “indecent.” Hard typing on phone.

        • Ray F.

          The Supplemental Security Income or SSI pays benefits based on financial need. It is designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income.

        • Joe B.

          Do you mean $733/month?

      • Ray F.

        Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) pays benefits to you and certain members of your family if you are “insured“, meaning that you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes. We also pay disability benefits through the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. The SSI program is a Federal-income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes). It is designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income.

        • Colleen H.

          So you would help some one who wants to drive at 73 but has a medical reason he can’t? If his SS is not enough to live on?
          Thanks, for this web site

    • Ray F.

      Thank you for your question Susan. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) pays benefits to you and certain members of your family if you are “insured“, meaning that you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes. We also pay disability benefits through the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. The SSI program is a Federal-income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes). It is designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income. If you think you have a qualifying disability, don’t wait, apply right away.

      • Susan

        I became disabled literally over night in April 2012. I had worked through cancer treatments, radiation had set off 9 Autoimmune Diseases and finally 3 years later my hips went and I had major hip replacement. I was 55 at the time and had been paying into SS since the age of 12.9 yrs so I worked 42 years paying into SS. I worked in the same field for 33 years and was blessed making way over 6 figures a year. I was devastated having to go on SS Disability. Some of us don’t want to take it. Even though my SSD is about the max it’s about a 3rd of what I’m use to bring home. At 59 I worked with SS Return to Work Ticket Program which I highly recommend for people like me who don’t want to just sit at home and do nothing. I can never do what I did before in the corporate world and I’ve had 3 different positions the past year. I tried but due to my disabilities I can not work 40 hrs a week and I had opportunities to work jobs makes nag over 6 figures. SS RTWT program gave me 9 months to make as much money as I wanted without affecting my SS D benefits. I realized I just couldn’t do it but didn’t want to just exist. I now work 15 hours a week at not more then min wage and within the limits I’m allowed to make without affecting my SSD benifits. But I chose to contribute to life. It’s depressing going from working your entire life to sitting looking at 4 walls. SS was great! They have so many resources to assist you but you have to call them, search for them. I fought to go back to my former job but after a year out I had to leave. My surgeries took 2 years to be able to walk again. I worked for one of the top 10 companies in the US and after being out a year they told me I need to apply for SSD. I hired an attorney. He charged $6k which apparently is the standard fee. If you don’t get approved the attorney doesn’t get paid. I was approved in 3 months. My attorney took care of everything. All doctors and medical reports. SS went back almost 2 years to the date of the surgeries that resulted in me never being able to perform the job I had done for 33 years. I received a large sum. My LT Disability company got back the difference in overpayment those 2 years and my attorney took his fee of $6k out of my award. I still ended up with $24k. But the entire process was quick, painless and worth every bit of the $6k. Attorneys specializing in SS know what to do, and if I had attempted to do it on my own? No way. All I had to do was sign a contract and release of medical records. He took care of everything. I was approved almost immediately. Almost 60 now but I will continue working part time within the guidelines as long as I can. I wished and tried to be independent from SSD for those 9 months and it took me that long to finally realize I am truly disabled and unable to go back into my former field but even at $10 an hour, my former hourly rate was $78 an half ur before I became disabled but I feel better mentally contributing to society in some way. Maybe the Return to Work Ticket isn’t for everyone but I no longer feel depressed. But SS has so many programs and employers they work with and trading available for those of us needing to be retrained to go back into the work force. You just have to check and ask questions I highly recommend an attorney.

  9. liz

    Its ridiculous how long it takes to get a hearing.

    • Bela

      Why is it that the govt does not have a list of qualifying disabilities, and a rule that every applicant be approved or denied within 30 days? Why does it take around 2 years or more to be approved? The lawyers who take on the cases of those who are automatically denied benefits get varying amounts, I am guessing 35% of the total “award” as an example. A percentage of years of benefits taken from the poorest and weakest is a nice sum, for those who like to “help” that way. And don’t forget that someone with a physical illness, such as neurofibromatosis, will be sent to a psych expert waiting for his own guaranteed income from the court system.

      • janice

        there is a set amount the lawyer can get for filing for you.

        • Ray F.

          Hi Janice. Social Security assumes than an attorney or an appointed representative will charge a fee when representing a claimant, unless the fee is waived. Under current law, when the Court issues a favorable decision, we withhold (up to) 25 percent of the claimant’s AND the claimant’s auxiliaries past-due benefits.

          • Teresa M.

            My do you know that I fell on winter ice 9 times in the year 2013 and was turned down in 2015 for disability social security. Now in the year 2016 on September I have filed for SSI again because I still walk to slow for others at age 46, and I can not run to fast to save my self from anything bad. I am now a grandma and yes I have worked for 28 years strait and I am waiting to hear from the Toledo Ohio courts to see if they approve my SSI application or request. It does not bother me to have to pay my attorney that 25%, I just hope I am allowed permission to receive SSI being that I worked hard to earn my forty credits so that when I would need my social security, that it would be there for me, ya know? Signed by T.M.Kitchen

          • Ray F.

            Hi Teresa Marie. When it comes to qualifying for disability benefits under the Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) program, individuals must have worked long enough–and recently enough–under Social Security to qualify for disability benefits. Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which you have to earn within the last 10 years before you become disabled. The credits you earned in the past, will remain on your Social Security record even if you had no earnings for a while. Actually, individuals receiving benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) who are insured and qualify for their own retirement benefit, are required to apply for those benefits at age 62. We hope your SSI case is resolved soon.

      • Mary S.

        If you can, get someone from your county Human Services to help you. I believe they are in the Social Services Department. They do not charge you and they are considered to be advocates or counselors rather than an attorney. I actually did more than mine but he may have had a lot of cases. Good luck.

        • Sherrie B.

          many people say filing online is easier and faster to be approved . several people have done it this way and was approved.

      • Rod

        If you apply for disability and get approved, SSA will pay you the missing months you didnt get paid by your employer or at the start of the application process.

        • BUG

          SSDI/SSI will only pay you from the date you applied for benefits.

          • Ray F.

            Disability benefits for workers and widows usually cannot begin for 5 months after the established onset of the disability. Therefore, Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) will be paid for the sixth full month after the date the disability began. The 5-month waiting period does not apply to individuals filing as children of workers. Under the Supplemental Security Income or SSI, disability payments may begin as early as the first full month after the individual applied or became eligible for SSI. We hope this information helps!

        • Lin

          Are you sure on this one? If so, PLEASE give me the details as we have been approved for Disability Social Security but are required to wait 5 months, receiving the first check 6 months later. Nothing in the way of retroactive payments nor money from the employer. Please do tell!

      • Nick T.

        Thank You !!!!!

      • Ray F.

        Hi Bela. You may find our listing of impairments useful. In regards to the attorney’s fees, Social Security assumes than an attorney or an appointed representative will charge a fee when representing a claimant, unless the fee is waived. Under current law, when the Court issues a favorable decision, we withhold (up to) 25 percent of the claimant’s AND the claimant’s auxiliaries past-due benefits. Thanks!

      • ricardo v.

        im dissabled and have been denied ssdi three times i lawyer-up twice no luck they look for working quarters hey i have been dissable for year not even one penny in benefits

        so dont believe anything they say

      • Keely

        I couldnt agree more. I meant my attorney the day of my herring as we were walking into the courtroom. He didn’t even know my name. I did all of my filing and collected every document sorry. He was awarded $6,000 that was withheld from me

      • Colleen H.

        Agree that it takes way to long. I have been told they deny it intentionally so you do get an attorney! The system is not working as it should.

      • Linda M.

        SSDI tells you step by step what to do. I did mine myself and turned everything in and received it in 5 months. If you have years of medical documentation and your DR.s sign off that yes you are qualified under these rules, you will be fine. If you haven’t worked in awhile it seems to hinder the process. Good Luck and God Bless

    • Tom

      The Hearing backlog is directly related to the budget. If Congress reduces the budget, or refuses to keep current with rising expenses, attrition kicks in and instead of replacing a lost judge the position is eliminated. While Congress is able to borrow above income, the agency is not. They must spend within what Congress provides. These reductions have been going on for most of the last 36 years, and yet the American public will often blame the agency rather than protest to Congress or change voting patterns. You paid your whole working life for the service, yet Congress holds back the funds. Currently Congress has promised a continuing resolution rather than a true budget for 2017 pending the fall elections. However, they are looking to cut again rather than use 2016 funding levels for the CR. This will make service even harder to obtain. If their are no negative consequences, why should Congress change their behavior?

      • Andrea

        Thank you for this information.

      • Rhonda

        Well written.

      • Marc P.

        And not only that, but after the 2014 elections when the Republicans took over both houses of Congress, the very first thing they did upon starting the new term in 2015 was to pass a bill CUTTING SSDI by 20%. Ye, twenty percent. It was to go into effect Jan 1 2016 but President Obama managed to negotiate a reprieve for a year. Imagine what more they can do to dismantle Social Security and SSDI if a Republican president is elected…

      • Tony S.

        3% COLA CY 2016, end of FY 2016 $272 billion fine against the FBI piracy of that which belongs to Congress, ie. Presidential elections, attempts to defeat or evade tax, to limit the retroactivity of the people’s Social Security Amendments of January 1, 2016 http://www.title24uscode.org/ss1.htm

      • Colleen H.

        So then we need to be our own lobby? I will happily do that , okay people who read this let’s speak up once and for all, before all our money is gone!!!

    • Ray F.

      Hi Liz. The length of time it takes to get a hearing can vary from state to state. We attempt to resolve all claims promptly, but there may be delays due to the volume of pending appeals in your area. The good news is that we are trying to conduct many of our hearings through video teleconferencing (VTC) to speed up the process. Visit our “Hearing And Appeals” web page for more information

      • John G.

        Im sorry sir, yoyr incorrect, the delay is due to a massive workload, and minimum numb er of state employees. Nevada is an excellent example of this, as well as policies that are being blatantly ignored despite ample records that qualify apllicants. Could this be due to the past history of allowing fraudalent claims to be approved with little or no legitimate qualifications?

    • Joe B.

      There is a lost of disabilities for Adults and Children on Social Security’s website. The main reason it takes so long to get a decision on a claim is due to the number of claims that are filed. You have more and more people filing because many are being told by their doctors or relatives that they need to file. This has caused a huge backlog of claims.

      • Colleen H.

        What does told by their doctors to apply? Are you saying they are not deserving of this? If that is the prob lem then for heavens sake FIX IT.

    • Sherrie B.

      Is online easier and faster ? Several people have told me it was .

  10. Disappointed i.

    Someone with power at SS really needs to take a good, hard look at the record of ALJ in Chattanooga, TN named Ronald Feibus! Look how horrible he treats people. God is always watching!!! Shame on him.

    • Disappointed i.

      Oh, and I did report him to every department and organization that I could. I pointed out specifics, details, examples, etc. Everything was documented, but to no avail. How can that be considered fair to me? I filed in 2011 and I am still awaiting approval, even though my doctor stated I was disabled, and unable to work! God bless America! She sure needs our prayers. I have worked my entire life since I was 16 year old, and after becoming disabled and requiring help for SSDI, my life was decided by a nasty, cruel, bully they call an ALJ. What a shame, nobody will even respond to me on this blog.

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