Does Disability Have a Face?

May 18, 2015 • By

Reading Time: 2 Minutes

Last Updated: May 18, 2015

A man holds his hand over his chest.Does the word ‘disability’ conjure up an image in your mind?

For me, it’s the image of John.

His disability benefits have been a lifeline to John and his family.


John is a beneficiary I met while touring one of our field offices several years ago. His story is familiar — a man working hard to support his family — until he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

He continued to work until his condition no longer allowed him to. After open heart surgery, John was unable to go back to work. He told me that washing his hair or going up a flight of stairs left him out of breath and with a heart that threatened to pound out of his chest. To keep a heartrate normal, he took several medications twice a day — medications he couldn’t afford if he didn’t qualify for Social Security disability.

His disability benefits have been a lifeline to John and his family.

Like John, 34 million other Americans live with severe, disabling conditions that cause them to be unable to work. I’m sure you’ve heard stories and speculations about the disability program and the people who benefit from it. Some people think Social Security is a handout and that those who receive benefits are milking the system.

In reality, Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) is coverage that workers earn. John worked for more than 25 years before applying for disability. When he needed help, Social Security — the system he paid into his whole adult life — was there for him.

This is what Social Security does —provides some measure of protection for workers and their families from the loss of income because of disability. Our agency touches the lives of nearly every American, often during times of personal hardship, transition, and uncertainty. But there are misconceptions about how it works.

With this in mind, Social Security created our Faces and Facts of Disability website. Through this website, we share stories of people receiving disability benefits, while disproving the myths about the SSDI program. Through literature, videos, and personal testimony, the site offers an inside view into the heart of what we do.

We want to tell you the story of Larry, who lives with congenital heart failure. He is able to work only part-time and hopes to one day get better and work full time. You can also meet Kira, a remarkable young woman who says that without Social Security benefits, she wouldn’t be able to support herself and be independent.

Christine’s story is another. She lives with Guillain-Barré syndrome — a crippling disorder. She tells us:  “Although my condition limits movement and confines me to a wheelchair, receiving disability benefits remove a number of roadblocks from my life.”

You will find more stories on our Faces and Facts of Disability website. We invite you to come see the faces and learn the facts.



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About the Author

Doug Walker, Deputy Commissioner, Communications

Deputy Commissioner, Office of Communications


  1. Shauanna

    What if my Ex is collecting Social Security, and money from the VA, and has never paid Child support, and we have a son in college?

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Shauanna. We can withhold Social Security benefits to enforce a beneficiary’s legal obligation to pay child support. However, State laws determine a valid garnishment order. By law, we garnish current and continuing monthly benefits. We do not make retroactive adjustments. We hope this helps!

  2. Cheryl R.

    How do I go about claiming benefits from the death of ex-husband

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Cheryl, thank you for using our blog. If your ex-spouse is deceased and you want to file for surviving divorced widow’s benefits, you cannot apply online. To apply for survivor benefits, call us at 1-800-772-1213 for assistance or you can contact your local Social Security office. Please look for the general inquiry telephone number at the Social Security Office Locator. The number may appear under Show Additional Office Information. Please be aware that our call wait times are longer than normal. We hope this information helps.

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