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Social Security Disability Explained

Social Security Disability Explained

Social Security Disability helps individuals with disability and their dependents. Leaf through this article to learn about its requirements and various benefits.
Madhavi Ghare
Social Security Disability Benefits are provided by the federal government under two programs:
  • The Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits program (SSDI), and
  • The Supplemental Security Income program (SSI).
Under the SSDI program, the federal government provides benefits to workers with disabilities, dependents, and the surviving spouses.

Under the SSI program, it provides benefits to those individuals with disabilities whose income and assets are below a specified level.


The Social Security Act defines 'Disability' as 'the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death, or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not more than 12 months'.


Thus, to apply for a benefit under either or both of these programs, a person should basically meet any one of the conditions mentioned in the definition above. These impairments can be either physical or mental and they should be of such a severity that the person will not be able to do either of his previous work, or based on his age, education, and work experience, that person will not be able to do any other substantial gainful work elsewhere.

  • Disability Insurance Benefits are given to individuals who have worked for at least 5 out of 10 years in the recent past and are now differently abled.
  • Disabled Widow's and Widower's Benefits are given to those individuals who are at least 50 years old and have become disability afflicted within a certain amount of time after the death of their spouse. However, the deceased husband or wife must have worked sufficiently under Social Security to be insured.
  • Disabled Adult Child Benefits go to the children of the individuals who are deceased, or are taking the Social Security Disability benefits or Retirement Benefits. In this case, the child must have become disability afflicted before the age of 22 years.
  • Supplemental Security Income Benefits are paid to those who are poor and differently abled.
Process For Accepting A Claim

Under the Social Security Act, the following steps are taken before a claim is accepted:
  • If the person already has a substantial gainful activity, he is not eligible regardless of his medical condition, age, or work experience.
  • If he is not having a substantial gainful activity, the next step is identifying the severe impairment. It is considered severe if it limits the individual's physical or mental capability to conduct basic work.
  • The Social Security Act has a List of Impairments. If an individual's impairment(s) fall within that list, he is declared as 'Disabled'. Alternatively, if it is not in the list, he moves on to the next step.
  • An assessment is conducted of his past work. If he is able to perform it, then the claim is denied. However, if it is found that he will not be able to perform his past work duties in the same manner, he moves on to the next step.
  • The next step is where an evaluation is conducted about the other available work which exists in the national economy. An individual's age, education, past work experience, and his functional capacity are assessed. If it is found that he cannot do any other work, then he is declared as 'Disabled'.
Ideally, one should apply for the benefits right away because the processing of claim takes about 4 months to get completed. It is recommended that you hire a legal representative for the purpose. If a claim is rejected, one can appeal to higher authorities as well. You can also apply for these benefits if you are getting other compensations such as Workers Compensation Benefits.