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.




See Comments

About the Author

Doug Walker, Deputy Commissioner, Communications

Deputy Commissioner, Office of Communications


  1. Bernard W.

    If you work after retirement and pay in to social security does that add to your check you get monthly ?

    • Ray F.

      Great question, Bernard. Each year, we review the records for all working Social Security recipients to see if additional earnings may increase their monthly benefits.
      When you apply for retirement benefits, we base your benefit payment on your highest 35 years of earnings and your age when you start receiving benefits. If your earnings for the prior year are higher than one of the years we used to compute your retirement benefit, we will recalculate your benefit amount.
      If an increase is due, a new monthly benefit amount is established on your record automatically.
      See “Getting Benefits While Working” for more information. Thanks!

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  4. Bruno M.

    I am currently receiving FRA benefits, I was married for 11 years and divorced 33 years. I am currently married, and would like to know if I qualify for spousal benefits from my ex-wife’s benefits; she also began her benefits at FRA. Thanks

    • Ray F.

      Thank you for your question, Bruno. If you remarry, you generally cannot collect benefits on your former spouse’s record unless your later marriage ends. See “If You Are Divorced” for more information. Thanks!

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  8. Helen

    What is the maximum amount any given individual can get out of SSDI per month? I cannot find it in the SSA regs. I know it’s based on the amount you pay in over the years you work, etc.. But there has to be a cap at some point. Does anyone know what that cap is and can you provide me with a link that proves it? I believe it is around $2560. or in that range and I have a friend who says there is no cap and that he is receiving over $4K/month. I don’t believe him and therefore, trying (yes as stubborn as I am) prove him wrong. Thanks so much everyone!! 🙂

    • Ray F.

      Hi Helen! The estimated average Social Security disability benefit amount for a recipient of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) in 2016 is $1,166 per month. Visit our Fact Sheet for additional information.

  9. Herb

    My spouse applied in June 2015 and was approved for disability benefits in April 2016. In the acceptance letter, it was stated that the benefits from June 2015 to April 2016 was being held to be paid at a later date. Why is it withheld and when will it be paid? Her employer wants to reduce her disability retirement payment in half due to what she should receive but SS has withheld a year of disability, and we would like to know why and when it will be paid.

    • Ray F.

      Hi Herb. Generally, we try to establish and start your regular monthly payments before releasing any Social Security Disability back pay. Then, we must review records and do additional calculations before back benefits can be paid. We attempt to resolve all claims promptly, but there may be delays due to the high volume of pending cases in our payment centers. We apologize, but for security reasons, we do not have access to information about your spouse’s account in this venue. Please continue working with your local office in this matter, or call our toll free number at 1-800-772-1213. Our representatives are available Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Thanks.

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