Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): Qualification and Application Guidelines


( – Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, is one of three programs created by the Social Security Administration. The goal of the program is to make sure recipients who meet the definition of “disabled” are able to receive a modest level of financial support until they reach full retirement age.

The majority of the money used to fund the program comes from payroll tax, which is why recipients are required to have a certain amount of work credit. Most people receiving SSDI have serious, long-lasting disabilities and are generally not expected to be able to return to the work force.

SSDI vs Other SSA Programs

A great number of people think of retirement when discussing Social Security. Believe it or not, though, the odds of a career worker either becoming disabled or dying before reaching full retirement age are one in three.

Unlike the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, which is a means-tested program, SSDI requires a work credit. To qualify for SSI, a person may be 65 years of age or older, have a qualifying disability, or be blind. Benefits in this program are designed to assist those who may not be able to work, do not have any or enough work credits, and meet certain income levels.

Collecting Social Security in retirement requires a person to have a certain number of years worked, or work credits. The SSA then looks at the highest income earning years in order to calculate a person’s monthly benefit, to be paid from the time of application until the end of their life.

Social Security Disability Insurance fills in a unique gap for those who have recently worked but are not yet of retirement age. Benefits are typically paid to those who are expected to be unable to work for a years or more, or who are ultimately expected to die from their medical conditions.

Defining a Disability and Determining SSDI Eligibility

The definition of a disability is as simple as it is broad. A worker must be:

  • Incapable of participating in gainful work activity (ie. unable to earn at least $1,040 per month). This includes their original occupation or any other type of work they might be capable of doing.
  • Expected to be impaired, whether mentally or physically, for a period of at least one year.
  • Expected to have an impairment that will result in death.
  • Able to provide medical evidence of their disability, as documented by a doctor. Statements from family, friends, and even certified but non-doctor medical providers do not count.
  • Able to show they have worked for at least 25% of their adult life.
  • Able to show they have worked at least 5 out of the 10 years immediately preceding the qualifying medical disability

SSDI Application FAQS

The guidelines are strict and require that applicants apply and be denied other resources first as well. As of 2022, there were 7.8 million workers (or 4% of our adult population) in the USA receiving monthly SSDI payments. Approximately 38% of applications are approved on the first try, while others are encouraged to appeal within the 60 day grace period.

It is important for applicants to keep the following in mind:

  • A great majority of SSDI denials happen because the application did not provide sufficient or proper documentation of their medical condition. It is imperative that the documentation of a person’s medical history come from a doctor — not a physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner, or any other type of certified healthcare provider.
  • SSDI may ask applicants to undergo additional physical examinations with doctors assigned by their states. There is no charge to the applicant if this happens.
  • It can take anywhere from 3 to 5 months for a SSDI application to be approved, sometimes longer. In most cases, recipients will receive retroactive back-pay to the date of their initial application.

SSDI application denials aren’t at all uncommon but require the applicant be careful in their response. The letter will explain why the person was denied, and an applicant does have the right to request reconsideration. If rejected again, the applicant can request a formal appeal, which usually results in a hearing before a judge. Applicants should consider contacting an attorney familiar with SSDI law before going to appeal, as these decisions are often final. Many experts advise consulting with someone before even submitting the initial application.

How to Apply for SSDI

Anyone who feels they may qualify based on physical or medical impairment can apply for SSDI benefits. They can do so by:

  • Visiting the Apply for Benefits page on the SSA website
  • Using the Office Locator tool to find a local office to apply in person
  • Calling 1-800-772-1213 or TTY at 1-800-325-0778

A career cut short shouldn’t lead you to believe you don’t qualify for financial assistance. While the guidelines are strict, the Social Security Disability Insurance program was designed to support hard working Amerians between the time of disability and what would have been their retirement age. Don’t delay your application.

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