Social Security Disability Frequently Asked Questions

Who is eligible to receive disability benefits under Social Security?

Anyone, regardless of age, may receive disability benefits so long as his or her disability meets Social Security’s definition of disability. Under certain conditions, a disabled worker’s family may qualify for disability benefits, as well. For example, the following family members may be eligible to receive disability benefits under Social Security:

  • Unmarried children under age 18 (age 19 in high school);
  • Unmarried children age 18 or older who became disabled prior to attaining age 22;
  • A spouse age 62 or older;
  • A spouse of any age who is caring for the worker’s child under age 16;
  • A spouse of any age who is caring for the worker’s disabled child, so long as the child is also receiving benefits.

Moreover, should the worker die as a result of his or her disability, other family members may qualify for disability. They include:

  • A disabled widow or widower who is age 50 or older;
  • A disabled divorced widow or widower who is age 50 or older, provided the marriage lasted more than ten years.

What are the disability requirements for an adult?

Disability under Social Security law is strictly defined. To be eligible for benefits, a person must be unable to do any kind of substantial gainful work because of a physical or mental impairment (or a combination of impairments), which has lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months or to end in death. If, because of a medical condition, a person cannot do the work he or she performed in the past, then age, education, and past work experience must be considered in determining whether the person can do other work. If evidence shows that the person can do other work, even if it involves different skills or pays less than their previous work, he or she will not be considered disabled for Social Security purposes.

The Social Security Administration uses a step-by-step process to determine whether you will qualify as being disabled. The process includes the following five questions:

  • Are you working?
    If you are and your earnings average more than $1010 a month, you generally cannot be considered disabled.
  • Is your condition severe?
    Your impairments must interfere with basic work-related activities for your claim to be considered.
  • Is your condition found in the list of disabling impairments?
    Social Security maintains a list of impairments for each of the major body systems that are so severe they automatically qualify you as disabled. If your condition is not on the list, Social Security will decide whether or not your impairment is of equal severity to an impairment on the list. If so, your claim is approved. If not, your application proceeds to the next step.
  • Can you do the work you did previously?
    If your condition is severe, but not at the same or equal severity as an impairment on the list, Social Security must determine whether or not it interferes with your ability to do the work you did in the previous 15 years. If it does not, your claim will be denied. If it does, your claim will be considered.
  • Can you do any other type of work?
    If you cannot do the work you did in the previous 15 years, Social Security looks to see whether or not you can do any other type of work. The decision is based on several factors, including your age, education, prior work experience, transferable skills, and a review of the job demands of occupations as determined by the Department of Labor. If you cannot do any other kind of work, your claim will be approved. If you can, your claim will be denied.

What is the difference between Social Security disability and SSI?

Social Security disability insurance is a program that workers, employers and the self-employed pay for with their Social Security taxes. You qualify for these benefits based on your work history, and the amount of your benefit is based on your earnings. SSI is a program financed through general tax revenues-not through Social Security trust funds. SSI disability benefits are paid to people who have a disability and who don’t own much or have a lot of income.

How do I apply for Social Security disability benefits?

You can apply by calling your local Social Security Office. A representative will schedule an appointment for you. You can apply in person or over the phone. You should apply as soon as you become disabled. However, Social Security disability benefits will not begin until the sixth full month of disability. This waiting period begins with the first full month after the date we decide your disability began.

How does a child qualify for disability benefits?

Children who are severely disabled may be eligible for monthly benefits under one or more of the programs. Both the Social Security program and the SSI program provide a monthly income for people with severe disabilities. However, the eligibility requirements for the two programs are different. The Social Security program pays benefits to disabled or retired workers and their families and to the families of deceased workers. Child’s benefits generally may be paid to a dependent unmarried child under age 18, to a child age 18 or older who became disabled before age 22, and to a full-time elementary or secondary school student under age 19. If the parent is alive, he or she must be entitled to retirement or disability benefits. If deceased, the parent must have worked long enough under Social Security for survivor’s benefits to be paid on the record. A child age 18 or older may be entitled to Social Security benefits based on his or her disability when a parent who has worked long enough under the program is entitled or dies. The criteria used to evaluate the disability are the same as those used to evaluate disability in adults. The child must be unable to do any substantial work because of a medical condition that has lasted or is expected either to last at least 12 months or to result in death. (Usually a job that pays $1010 or more per month is considered substantial.) The child’s disability must have begun before age 22. The SSI program provides monthly income to people who are age 65 or older, or are blind or disabled, and have limited income and financial resources. Children can qualify if they meet the definition of disability and if the household income of the parents and the child are within the allowed limits.