The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers two government programs that provide medical and financial support for persons with disabilities: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
SSDI provides support for individuals (and some dependents) with disabilities who have worked or paid into the Social Security system through FICA taxes. There is no minimum age for receiving SSDI benefits, but applicants must meet strict eligibility requirements, including work credits and documentation of meeting SSA’s definition of disability. Once an individual has received SSDI benefits for two years, he/she qualifies for Medicare benefits (although some conditions — such as ALS — qualify for SSA’s Compassionate Allowances expedited eligibility program (see below).
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provides support for individuals with a disability (including children) who have not worked or who have not earned the required work credits but still meet SSA’s definition of disability. There are additional citizenship/legal residency requirements, income and resource thresholds, and living arrangement qualifiers that may affect payment or eligibility. Individuals who qualify for SSI typically also qualify for state Medicaid benefits based on income level.
Individuals 18 and under are eligible for both SSI and SSDI, but in order to receive these benefits, the child and his/her parents/legal guardians must meet certain criteria, which include:
Application process: As a first step, contact SSA to start the application process,and to determine if income and resources are within determined limits.
Adults with disabilities are eligible for both SSI and SSDI, providing that certain qualification are met, which include:
You can apply online for SSDI or schedule an appointment at your local Social Security office.
To apply online:
An interview is scheduled after all documentation has been submitted.
The Social Security Administration reviews applications to make sure all requirements are met. The application is then sent to your state’s Disability Determination Services office, which determines whether or not you meet the SSA disability requirements. More documentation may be requested by the disability determination specialist at this office (e.g., medical records, vocational rehabilitation history, school records, etc.).
The review process can take anywhere from three to five months depending on the following:
Many Social Security applications are denied when first submitted, so don’t be discouraged if your initial claim is denied. There are several mechanisms for filing an appeal, all of which have limited time frames (and in most cases the appeal must be presented within 60 days of your receipt of the denial notice).
There are four stages in the appeals process in most cases. Some states or areas of states eliminate the reconsideration appeal and go directly to the administrative law judge hearing level. The stages are:
People with disabilities are encouraged to try to work while receiving SSA benefits. Each program — SSDI and SSI — has specific work incentives that encourage recipients to work:
Other SSDI and SSI work incentives can be located at SocialSecurity.gov/work.
The Compassionate Allowances program covers a list of diseases that have been designated by SSA as catastrophic enough that applicants always qualify for disability benefits, even if they appear physically strong and are still walking on the day they apply. It’s hoped that the program will reduce wait times for those applicants to a matter of days. The SSA website has a list of diseases that apply. If you are affected by one of the diseases listed, be sure to mention the Compassionate Allowances list when applying for Social Security benefits.