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


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    Paid into social security for 40 years, served my country for 10 years including combat. One day i am healthy employed contributing member of society, the next day i am paralyzed from the neck down.Was stricken with guillian-barre syndrome and left without the ability to walk, can hardly breathe and the joint pain is unbearable. Was denied benefits and now appealing. The process to get my benefits will now take up to 3 years. In the meantime i have lost my job, my health insurance, i am in the process of losing my home and not sure where i will live or get my next meal. Living on the streets is really my only option. I look back and can remember spending hours crying for my fellow soldiers that lost their lives fighting for their country. Now i realize that they were in fact the lucky ones.

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  4. Iris K.

    Is it true if you get SSD and you want to marry someone else who also receives SSD…. One of them will loss part or all of their check even though they both worked and have earned their own SSD?

  5. Cary C.

    I have a question: I’ve been on disability since approx. 2011. Before long, SSA will (I believe) check to see if I’m still disabled.

    I have an anxiety disorder, and have to psych myself up just to go into town. I live near a small town. The nearest SS office is maybe two hundered miles away.

    What happens if I can’t get there? My benefits are all I have

    • Ray F.

      We understand your concerns Cary C., and thank you for your questions. The Social Security Administration conducts Continuing Disability Reviews from time to time to make sure the individuals receiving checks are still eligible to get them. The review depends on how severe your medical condition is and the likelihood it will improve. Generally, if medical improvement is possible, we will do a continuing disability review (CDR) approximately every 3 years. If not, we may review it less frequently. You will be notified by mail, when and if we need to review your case. You will be given enough time to respond and contact us for further instructions. You can call your local office or our toll free number at 1-800-772-1213 Monday to Friday between 7 a. m. and 7 p. m.
      For more information, please read our publication: What You Need To Know – Reviewing Your Disability.

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  9. Connie C.

    I have RA and I’m on disability. I also work 18 hour in a week,so I can keep my companies insurance. My RA is getting worst and I don’t know if I will be able to work 3 years before I turn 65 years old. What can I do if I can’t work any more?

    • Ray F.

      Hi Connie, and thank you for contacting us! If you are receiving Social Security disability benefits, and declined Medicare benefits because you’re working and covered under an employer’s group health insurance program, you could qualify for a “Special Enrollment Period” when you stop working.
      For security reasons we don’t have access to personal information in this Blog. In your situation, it is best if you contact your local office or call our toll free number at 1-800-772-1213 Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. for assistance.

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