If you become disabled, you may qualify for federal disability benefits. There are two federal disability benefits programs. The first is Social Security Disability Insurance, which pays benefits if you worked long enough and paid social security taxes. The second, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), pays benefits based on financial need. The Social Security Administration (SSA) oversees both programs. Use the resources on the SSA Web site to determine if you qualify for benefits, and use their checklists to help you apply for them.
Who may receive disability benefits
Both adults and children may qualify for disability benefits. For children to qualify, their conditions must seriously limit their activites and be expected to last at least 1 year or result in their deaths. If you are an adult, you must be unable to do any substantial work, and your medical condition must last or be expected to last at least 1 year, or be expected to result in death. You also cannot do work you did previously and cannot find other work because of your condition.
A wide range of conditions qualify a person for disability benefits, including blindness, multiple sclerosis, paralysis, and inflammatory bowel disease. SSA maintains a list of qualifying conditions.
If you are on state disability, that does not mean you will necessarily qualify for federal disability benefits. For example, SSA does not provide benefits for partial disability.
If you are eligible for disability benefits, you will continue to get them until your health improves, or you find you are able to go back to work. If you earn more than about $1,000 a month, your benefits will stop in the months that you earn money. You may receive partial disability payments if you earn less than $1,000 a month. Note that these wage limits are subject to change.
When you retire, your benefits will continue, but will be considered retirement benefits rather than disability payments.
How to apply for disability benefits
To file for disability benefits, call the SSA or apply online through the SSA Web site. Apply promptly, as it will take an estimated 3 to 5 months for the SSA to process your application. Payments begin in the 6th month after the date your disability first occurred.
SSA will get medical records, and an agency in your state will review your records and make a decision regarding your eligibility. Medical and vocational experts will research your case. During this investigation, you may be asked to take a medical exam, which will be free of charge.
You will also be interviewed and asked for documentation, including your birth certificate, medical records, tax forms (if you are working), and bank account numbers.
Social Security toll-free information: 1-800-772-1213 or TTY number 1-800-325-0778