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. J L.

    Excellent description of the impact of Social Security benefits on people with serious health problems and other hardships coming from them. For me, not having those benefits would have mean death before reaching the age of 50. Without the possibility to work and no income after years of sickness and a cardiac crisis that sent me to the hospital for weeks, I did not have anything else to cling to survive. Social Security benefits saved me.

    • Lorenzo D.

      Thanks for your feedback, J.L. We value your opinion of us and look forward to many more years of serving you in the future.

      • Liberty

        I’m in the same boat but was denied disability. If I die before reconsideration you’re not invited to the funeral and I mean that sincerely. Your alj threw a temper tantrum like an infant and ignored your own rules to deny me. Your system is full of baloney

    • samuel r.

      How long from the time that you applied did it take to begin receiving benefits and how many times were you denied before you received your disability?

  2. samuel r.

    I applied for disability in December for advanced retinitis pigmentosa I have now only 10 per cent of my vision left and had to give up driving. I was told it would take 3 to 5 months to get a decision . It has now been over 5 months. The status of my claim says still reviewing the medical portion of my claim no decision has been made, How long can it take?

    • F.Becker

      Take a look here: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/2.00-SpecialSensesandSpeech-Adult.htm

      If your vision does not qualify as “statutory blindness”, then it might take longer to get a decision.

      • samuel r.

        My question was ,I was told when I filed my application I would have a decision within 3 to 5 months. It has been more than 5 months and I haven’t been approved or denied . The only answer I get is the medical potion of my claim hasn’t been looked at yet. They claim to have all my medical records since shortly after I filed my claim. My question is how long can it take for them to get around to reviewing my medical records

    • Lorenzo D.

      Thanks for your question. The length of time it takes to receive a decision on your disability claim can vary depending on several factors. Primarily, the nature of your disability, how quickly we obtain medical evidence from your doctor or other medical sources, and if your claim is randomly selected for a quality assurance review of the decision.

      You may be able to get more detailed information on the status of your claim by contacting your local Social Security office. Or, you can call our toll free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and ask to speak with one of our representatives, who are available Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. You will generally have a shorter wait time if you call later in the week. We hope this helps.

      • samuel r.

        I called the 800 number and keyed in to speak to an agent the wait time told to me would be 30 mins if I wanted to stay on the line. I didn’t have enough mins left on my prepaid phone to hold. I called the local office and was told all I could do was wait , there was a huge back log and my app was in que to be looked at by the medical panel , the 3 to 5 months means when ever they get around to looking at it.I began working and paying into social security at age 15 I have worked every year and payed into it until last year when my eyesight became so bad I could no longer drive. My condition retinitis pigmentosa is on the list of disabling conditions and there is no known treatment or cure. Mine is in an advanced state and I will lose 5% of the vision I have left each year-I only have 10% left now and my means deviation is greater than -22 in both eyes which is listed as severe enough in the social security guidelines to warrant disability . Of course the fact I’ve had two heart attacks with 3 stints and 4 feet of my bowels removed and am on an ostomy bag now should be enough. Make no mistake I’m sure I will be denied and have to give an attorney 25% of what I paid into before the government will grant my claim

      • jose

        This sounds good. I tried calling and its ridiculus over 30 minutes on line and when they answer they transfer me to a survey. Still cannot log on line they say i have a freez ed inf from my credit berue,like if its easy to deal with this people.This is a joke.A nd yes know with relation with Cuba its going to get worth,They give them prefernce..Nothing againt them I was born there,the only diference i worked 40nyears in US….Mine its not free.

    • jose

      Well sorry to say,that if you are not from another country it would take you more than three years to get answers..Im on the same page,back problems,artritis.gout ,sleep apnea,carpol tunnel,Copd,faybromialgia,depresion,anxiety e.c.t. and been waiting now 2 years..I know people that had nevr worked in this country and they been recivin SSI for 30 years. GOOD LUCK.

  3. Marky V.

    iv been applying for this benefits and they still havnt approved my disability and if you want to see the truth I have copy’s of my doctor stating that I can’t work!!!!!! I NEED HELP

    • john3347

      Hello cyndee and Marky. The advisable procedure to get approved and begin collecting disability is through an attorney. Find an attorney near you who specializes in disability claims. They know dos and don’ts of disability claims and can have far better claim results than individual claimants. A disability attorney’s percentage is regulated by social security disability law and is a reasonable fee for their services. Enlisting an attorney is the best – most successful – procedure. I was on disability for about 5 years before turning full retirement age and transferring to regular social security.

      • Liberty

        Until SSA employees and those awful judges start following THEIR OWN RULES having an attorney to discuss the merits of your case won’t help at all! They deny you if they have indigestion, if the sky is blue, if their wife burnt the toast. It’s spelling.

      • Divya

        I am on social security disability. Would I be able to transfer to regular social security benifit, what is higher amount than now, when I reach the age?

    • Sandie

      Email me to sandieveazey, I will give you a tip!! What part of the USA do u live in? my email is sandieveazey@gmail.com

  4. cyndee

    My friend is 59 and has had lung cancer,3 heart attacks,been diagnosed with CHF, COPD, had stent placement, depression,panic attacks and acrophobia. She was denied social security disability. She wants to work. She loves her field of preschool childcare but every time she gets a job she gets sick. She has no endurance. SHE IS DISABLED!! She is appealing but I find this totally outrageous. What do you think?

    • F.Becker

      She should ask for a reconsideration, especially if she can provide additional medical records. If she’s denied on reconsideration, she can ask for a hearing. The disability rules are very strict, and the illness has to be expected to last over a year. If the medical records made the examiner think that she might recover within a year, she would be denied. She should make sure to get her doctors to document ALL her diagnoses. Sometimes people only submit their worst diagnosis for consideration, but if there are multiple disabilities, they should _all_ be documented, as that may make a difference in the decision.

    • Lorenzo D.

      We are sorry to hear that your friend’s application for disability benefits did not go the way she had hoped, but she does have a couple of other options. First, Social Security wants to be sure that the decision made about her disability claim is correct. If she does not agree with our decision, she has the right to file an appeal. She must make a request within 60 days from the date she received her notice of denial. She can File an Appeal Online . If she needs help with filing the appeal, she can contact her local Social Security office. She can locate her local office by using the Social Security Office Locator. For more information read our publication on The Appeal Process.

      Also, she may be eligible to receive social services from the state in which she lives. These services include Medicaid, free meals, housekeeping help, transportation or help with other problems. To find out whether she may qualify and if she needs to file a separate application call the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services at 1-800-633-4227 (TTY, 1-877-486-2048). She also can get information about services in her area from her state or local social services or welfare office. We hope this helps!

      • Kevin R.

        How do I expose a discriminatory judge? An ALJ who ignored the records and fax of a medical professional as well as his patient. Please tell me where I can do this oh and by the way the 60 day thing when you have a mental disability dates and times as well as everything else are near impossible to keep an order for a lack of a better term as you can see I’m having trouble finding words now. What I’m trying to say is if you don’t know about the 60 days and the 60 days goes by your screwed……..
        And before you tell me we clearly state that it’s in the forms we send you, well when you have a mental disability such as mine it is nearly impossible to not just obtain mail but an overwhelming fear , moreover a feeling of terror that plagues you day in and day out,
        you are completely unable to do the things that a normal person does. So how can you expect someone with a mental disability to follow rules or stipulations that someone who doesn’t have a mental disability and follow it’s like telling a blind person to walk without stick and then telling them they shouldn’t have tripped over the rock I maybe messed up in the head by now that makes sense and I know that I’m getting screwed over by this BS system in this BS corrupt judges who are above the law and are not required to follow their own protocol or their own job description or the rules that their opinion should not be engaged in the decision-making but more rely on the facts of the case dammit I am so angry you have no clue and it worsens every day which makes it even more difficult to jump through the hoops that you place out expecting the week to fall!

    • Sandie

      It is a real tragedy, what I see when I see the words social security disability is the face of poor, homeless hungry people!! I am on as disability and after my bills I don’t have enough for grocery’s for the month! I am thankful I finally got it but took 6 years to get approved!! Its disgusting!!

      • Crystal

        Same here. Been disabled since 2004, living on 60% of what I made then, which was just enough, so eat only once a day now. Docs say I need to eat more and eat healthy. I just smile bc they don’t live in my world or understand it in the 15 minute slot with me. Arthritis doesn’t able me to clean and cook anyway. Waiting on God,

  5. poptoy1949

    Yes, Disability does have a face. But are what are some of the faces that is should not have? Let me offer one example. You live in Puerto Rico and you speak Spanish and you don’t speak English I and most people would consider that “normal”. Lately Social Security has been talking about the inability to Speak English as a disability. That I hope is not true. People can easily be taught to speak English and that is just good old Common Sense. I think the social Security Administration should be Judicious in spending the hard earned dollars of the everyday Tax Payer. I just wanted to share my opinion and I just did. Thank you for reading. PT.

    • F.Becker

      The inability to speak English is not considered a disability. There must first be a severe disability that prevents the person from working. The ability to speak English only comes into play when the examiner is considering whether it is possible for the severely disabled person to earn enough despite his/her disabilities. Yes, the procedures should specify the “local language” rather than “English”, but know that the people that these poorly worded procedures are applied to are also truly disabled. The rules for qualifying for disability are very stringent.

  6. DHFabian

    Allegations of “widespread fraud” are at the heart of this generation’s attacks on disability benefits. The solution would be a public education campaign. By reason of the extremely stringent rules and requirements related to disability benefit eligibility, we can truthfully say that there is virtually NO fraud within the system.

    That said: For years, middle classers have been entirely willing to throw the poor off the cliff in hopes of saving their own butts. SSDI is for those who became disabled after being in the workforce for a certain number of years, and SSI is for those who became disabled before they were old enough to join the workforce/work for long enough to qualify for SSDI. We see an appalling willingness to raise the “I paid for it” banner as an excuse for sacrificing those on SSI, and that’s unacceptable.

    • cyndee

      Oh there is fraud; no doubt about it. If lawyers can spend their entire careers handling social security disability appeals that should explain it right there. Aside from the “fast track” conditions it all depends on subjective factors. I have supported someone through this process and believe me it’s an eye opener. This person was denied despite many appeals with a lawyer. He was bi-polar and had severe anxiety disorder,depression. When he would get a job he always thought the boss didn’t like him or his coworkers didn’t and this paralyzed his success in job after job. As it turned out his social anxiety improved and he has experienced some success but it remains a difficult journey. Others can get it very easy for back problems or bi-polar or depression. There is no specific criteria which would prevent fraud. I wish there was………..

      • azure

        Can you link to some data that supports what you’re saying?
        The critieria for receiving SSDI or SSI benefits (as an adult or child) are available at SSA’s website, the general definition of disability, and the Listing of Impairments is another source–the Listings are very specific. You might also want to look at the ALLOWANCE rates for benefits at the different adjudicatory levels–they range from about 15-40% at the initial (first step) (depends on which state) to some administrative law judges having an allowance rate of 15% at the hearing level. But look for yourself, the statistics are on SSA’s website.
        Most of the fraud I’ve read about is connected with the Medicare & Medicaid programs (which SSA does not administer) and is by health care providers-pharmacists, MDs, dentists and it’s in the hundreds of thousands and millions. Special prosecutorial (federal/state) attention to those programs to catch fraud was initiated during the Clinton adminstration and as far as I know has continued.

        There’s some fraud in probably every program–there are adult foster care providers who don’t report the death of a SS disability beneficiary, occasionally I’ve read about an adult child failing to report the death of an elderly parent so he/she can receive those benefits.

        Not much compared to defense contractor fraud in the US and the billions in “assistance” and “reconstruction” money that’s disappeared or been wasted in Afghanistan and Iraq.

        • cyndee

          Perhaps fraud was not the correct term. I apologize. What I meant was despite the seemingly strict criteria and guidelines the results are extremely inconsistent. Yes the person I helped guide through the process had a specialized disability lawyer that handled the appeals to no avail. The other case I am most familiar with was denied representation because she had received the social security disability but let it lapse because she felt guilty accepting it. Apparently lawyers only accept clients that have never received benefits and not those that want it reinstated.

        • Lore

          Th93a#t&;s it, we're all in this together. I'm not surprised others didn't want to lend, but I could never see Tanya turning down a fellow rider. If you're ever up this way Megan, get in touch and we'll take you on a dirt road adventure, Tall Tree style!

        • Denise

          Well put!!! Its unbelievable the level of corruption and fraud in military contracts that goes on while the sick and injured are denied their well earned benefits.

      • Kevin R.

        I will gladly support what she is saying. I experienced nearly exactly the same experience. I have been diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder as well as a manic depressive for almost 15 years now. My condition worsens every day and people don’t care don’t want to believe or just simply don’t understand the severity of a mental disorder and how deeply it affects every detail of your so-called life. I applied for SSDI, was denied, went before an ALJ, the ALJ stated that my doctor ( by the way, my doctor is a extremely well respected psychiatrist in K.C.) the ALJ said that my psychiatrists “testimony” as well as my own carried no weight in the decision of the hearing? What the F is that about? Is that even legal for him to do that? Since then my appeals of been denied my work credits have expired so I can no longer obtain any thing that I’ve put into the system they say is gone now because my work at seven expired what is that about? As if I’ve never worked and never paid into the system? Bullshit! There are illegal aliens who receive cash money from the government! But hard-working law-abiding taxpaying citizens get shafted, over and over, over and over, until we are on the brink of f•cking suicide! Yes that’s what’s going on out in the real world here, i’m just so, I’m done I have no purpose any time I’ve gone to the Social Security administration I’m told different things by the employees so no one is consistent and I’m given different advice and I get denied and then the next time the other employee tells me will that you shouldn’t of done that ? What do I do always been lost my home my car my life I have no purpose because of a judge Who still has the beliefs of someone from the 1940s that you just have to pull your bootstraps up and get on with it cannot comprehend that people genuinely suffer from mental disorders and it prevents them from earning substantial gainful whatever it’s all BS !

    • azure

      I don’t agree. SSI or Supplemental Security Income benefits are paid from the general fund, they aren’t paid from any or other of the Social Security trust funds. When passed (LBJ administration or long after the original SS statutes were passed), it was believed it would mostly help elderly women. Women who were widows and had outlived any savings they and their husband had managed to accumulate during their working lifetimes (often the women had worked little–cared for children, etc., instead). SSI kept them alive.

      People who have never worked may be eligible for SSI (it has pretty stringent income and resource eligibility limits), people who have worked but not earned much may ALSO qualify for SSI. The requirements are that (1) you be over 65 and have very low income and resources OR (2) you are less then 65 but disabled and very low income/resource.
      You can check this information at SSA’s website.

  7. Durand C.

    Mr. Walker – As far as I know, SSI was not an original part of SS and it is probably one of the major reasons the SSA has gone into deficit sine sometime in 2010.

    Why is the $2.6+ trillion is “pay before all other” treasury instruments in the name of the SSA not been tapped since that time instead of allowing the shortfall to be added to the annual deficit and be included in our 18 trillion and increasing national dept.

    Why isn’t SSI not the “Welfare” part of the old HEW, now HHS?

    I would gladly not take my SSA, but allow it to help those would did not plan for their retirement and just look for the government to take care of the (the 47% of the nationals adults known as low information voters and, who, also, you look to for your control of elections and perpetuate a “slave plantation” as you move our nation from a Republic, through Democracy (control by the table) to socialism.

    You need to put a stop to this before you destroy our nation. If you do not understand this, then you have no place at any level of government, whose purpose should be to make itself continually smaller, less costly and allow all citizens to be more self reliant.

    If you can not see this, then you must know you are the problem and need to be replaced by someone who works to find solutions and put themselves out of a job.


    • DHFabian

      That isn’t correct. SSI is not a part of Social Security. Quick definition: “The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources. SSI benefits also are payable to people 65 and older without disabilities who meet the financial limits.” A complex issue. Social Security provides retirement, disability and survivors’ benefits. The “I paid for it” theme falls flat, though. Millions of elderly widows — my own mother included — are able to survive because of Social Security, even though so many of them were never in the workforce, paying into Social Security. It works because so many who do pay into Social Security for years don’t live long enough to receive any, or much, benefits. As poverty in the US has increased significantly since the 1980s, it means that fewer people are living long enough to retire.

      Through the years, funds have shifted from one part of Social Security to another to reflect changes in caseloads. The only danger to Social Security comes during those times (every 15 yrs or so) that govt suddenly launches the campaign claiming that the Social Security surplus is so massive, that we should let legislators “borrow” this money to meet more immediate needs.

      • F.Becker

        You said “Millions of elderly widows — my own mother included — are able to survive because of Social Security, even though so many of them were never in the workforce, paying into Social Security.” This is only if their spouse DID pay into it. Your elderly mother most likely took care of home and children, making it possible for her husband to earn a living. To say that she did not “earn” Social Security is rather unfair. She worked hard, and her husband paid into the system knowing that his widow would be taken care of.

  8. RAFAEL W.


    • KM

      Call 1-800-772-1213 and set up an appointment to apply or go to ssa.gov and apply online.

    • Lorenzo D.

      Thanks for your question. You can apply online for disability benefits. If you cannot or do not wish to apply online, please call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. You can also contact your local Social Security office.

  9. JOHN C.

    I am receiving a disability from VA. Am I entitled to further disability from susses security? Thank you for letting me ask these questions.

    • Carol

      My dad got both VA benefits and SSD.

    • Dan

      Possibly, depending on your unique circumstances, you would need to make an appointment that can be done onlnie or over the phone, file and you can see whether Social Security can help!

    • Lorenzo D.

      First of all, we thank you for your service to our country. The Social Security Act sets out a very strict definition of disability, much different from the requirements for other government programs, including veterans’ benefits. We do offer expedited processing of certain disability claims for military members. You can learn more about these options and how to apply for disability benefits on our web page, Information for Wounded Warriors and Veterans Who Have a Compensation Rating of 100% Permanent & Total (P&T).

  10. Regina H.

    Please send me 2014-1099 social security Benefits, Thank you very much

    • Harriet W.

      Good question?

    • Sheri

      I believe you can create an online MySSA account at http://www.ssa.gov & print a 1099 or call the 800-772-1213 Mon-Fri 7am to 7pm to request a 1099 mailed to you.

Comments are closed.