| Skip to content
Social Security Online
Disability BenefitsSSA Publication No. 05-10029, May 2008, ICN 456000, [View .pdf] (En Español)
Our website is a valuable resource for information about all of Social Security’s programs. There are a number of things you can do online.
In addition to using our website, you can
call us toll-free at
We treat all calls confidentially. We also want to make sure you receive accurate and courteous service. That is why we have a second Social Security representative monitor some telephone calls.
Disability is something most people do not like to think about. But the chances that you will become disabled probably are greater than you realize. Studies show that a 20-year-old worker has a 3 in 10 chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement age.
This booklet provides basic information on Social Security disability benefits and is not intended to answer all questions. For specific information about your situation, you should talk with a Social Security representative.
We pay disability benefits through two programs: the Social Security disability insurance program and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. This booklet is about the Social Security disability program. For information about the SSI disability program for adults, see Supplemental Security Income (SSI) (Publication No. 05-11000). For information about disability programs for children, refer to Benefits For Children With Disabilities (Publication No. 05-10026). Our publications are available at www.socialsecurity.gov.
Social Security pays benefits to people who cannot work because they have a medical condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death. Federal law requires this very strict definition of disability. While some programs give money to people with partial disability or short-term disability, Social Security does not.
Certain family members of disabled workers also can receive money from Social Security. This is explained in "Can my family get benefits?"
How do I meet the earnings requirement for disability benefits?
In general, to get disability benefits, you must meet two different earnings tests:
Certain blind workers have to meet only the “duration of work” test.
The table below, shows the rules for how much work you need for the “recent work” test based on your age when your disability began. The rules in this table are based on the calendar quarter in which you turned or will turn a certain age.
The calendar quarters are:
The following table shows examples of how much work you need to meet the “duration of work test” if you become disabled at various selected ages. For the “duration of work” test, your work does not have to fall within a certain period of time.
NOTE: This table does not cover all situations.
There are two ways that you can apply for disability benefits. You can:
You should apply for disability benefits as soon as you become disabled. It can take a long time to process an application for disability benefits (three to five months). To apply for disability benefits, you will need to complete an application for Social Security Benefits and the Disability Report. You can complete the Disability Report at www.socialsecurity.gov/disability/3368. You can also print the Disability Report, complete it and return it to your local Social Security office. We may be able to process your application faster if you help us by getting any other information we need.
The information we need includes:
In addition to the basic application for disability benefits, there are other forms you will need to fill out. One form collects information about your medical condition and how it affects your ability to work. Other forms give doctors, hospitals and other health care professionals who have treated you permission to send us information about your medical condition.
Do not delay applying for benefits if you cannot get all of this information together quickly. We will help you get it.
We will review your application to make sure you meet some basic requirements for disability benefits. We will check whether you worked enough years to qualify. Also, we will evaluate any current work activities. If you meet these requirements, we will send your application to the Disability Determination Services office in your state.
This state agency completes the disability decision for us. Doctors and disability specialists in the state agency ask your doctors for information about your condition. They will consider all the facts in your case. They will use the medical evidence from your doctors and hospitals, clinics or institutions where you have been treated and all other information. They will ask your doctors:
They also will ask the doctors for information about your ability to do work-related activities, such as walking, sitting, lifting, carrying and remembering instructions. Your doctors are not asked to decide if you are disabled.
The state agency staff may need more medical information before they can decide if you are disabled. If more information is not available from your current medical sources, the state agency may ask you to go for a special examination. We prefer to ask your own doctor, but sometimes the exam may have to be done by someone else. Social Security will pay for the exam and for some of the related travel costs.
How we make the decision
We use a five-step process to decide if you are disabled.
Special rules for blind people
There are a number of other special rules for people who are blind. For more information, ask for If You Are Blind Or Have Low Vision—How We Can Help (Publication No. 05-10052).
We will tell you our decision
When the state agency reaches a decision on your case, we will send you a letter. If your application is approved, the letter will show the amount of your benefit and when your payments start. If your application is not approved, the letter will explain why and tell you how to appeal the decision if you do not agree with it.
What if I disagree?
If you disagree with a decision made on your claim, you can appeal it. The steps you can take are explained in The Appeals Process (Publication No. 05-10041), which is available from Social Security.
You have the right to be represented by an attorney or other qualified person of your choice when you do business with Social Security. More information is in Your Right To Representation(Publication No. 05-10075), which is also available from Social Security.
When do my benefits start?
If your application is approved, your first Social Security disability benefits will be paid for the sixth full month after the date your disability began.
Here is an example: If the state agency decides your disability began on January 15, your first disability benefit will be paid for the month of July. Social Security benefits are paid in the month following the month for which they are due, so you will receive your July benefit in August.
You also will receive What You Need To Know When You Get Disability Benefits (Publication No. 05-10153), which gives you important information about your benefits and tells you what changes you must report to us.
How much will my benefits be?
The amount of your monthly disability benefit is based on your average lifetime earnings. The Social Security Statement that you receive each year displays your lifetime earnings and provides an estimate of your disability benefit. It also includes estimates of retirement and survivors benefits that you or your family may be eligible to receive in the future. If you do not have your Social Security Statement and would like an estimate of your disability benefit, you can request one at www.socialsecurity.gov or call our toll-free number,
|Certain members of your family may qualify for benefits based on your work. They include:
If you are getting other government benefits, the amount of your Social Security disability benefits may be affected. For more information, you should see the following:
You can get these publications from our website, or you can contact us to request them.
If you have an outstanding warrant for your arrest
You must tell us if you have an outstanding arrest warrant for:
You cannot receive disability benefits for any months in which there is an outstanding arrest warrant for a crime that is a felony (or a crime punishable by death or imprisonment for more than one year).
If you are convicted of a crime
Tell Social Security right away if you are convicted of a crime. Benefits generally are not paid for the months a person is confined for a crime, but any family members who are eligible for benefits based on that person’s work may continue to receive benefits.
Benefits are usually not paid to someone who commits a crime and is confined to an institution by court order and at public expense. This applies if the person has been found:
If you violate a condition of parole or probation
You must tell us if you are violating a condition of your probation or parole imposed under federal or state law. You cannot receive disability benefits for any month in which you violate a condition of your probation or parole.
You will get Medicare coverage automatically after you have received disability benefits for two years.
After you start receiving disability benefits, you may want to try working again. There are special rules that help you keep your cash benefits and Medicare while you test your ability to work. We call these rules “work incentives” or “employment support” programs.
For more information about helping you return to work, ask for Working While Disabled—How We Can Help (Publication No. 05-10095). A guide to all our employment supports can be found in our Red Book, A Summary Guide to Employment Support for Individuals with Disabilities Under the Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income Programs (Publication No. 64-030). Also visit our website, www.socialsecurity.gov/work.
Under this program, Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability beneficiaries can get help with training and other services they need to go to work at no cost to them. Most beneficiaries will receive a “ticket” that they can take to a provider of their choice who can offer the kind of services they need. To learn more about this program, ask for Your Ticket To Work (Publication No. 05-10061).