Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

What is Social Security Disability Insurance?
Social Security Disability Insurance (also known as SSDI) is the program through which disabled persons can receive Social Security benefits before reaching retirement age. Like retirement benefits, disability benefits are calculated based on work history, though there are exceptions for younger workers or those unable to have compiled a significant work history.

NOTE:Though some information can be provided here, disability benefits are often complex and vary case by case. Circumstances that apply for most people may not apply for you. Help is often available from disability coalitions and advocates, as well as private attorneys and caseworkers, in navigating the disability process.

Who can receive SSDI?
Individuals who are unable to continue in a previous job and are unable to adjust to other work (whether from disability, age, disease, etc), with long-term disabilities may apply for SSDI. Applicants must have been disabled for at least five months before applying and have a prognosis of disability lasting more than 12 months to be eligible.

In addition, persons must have enough work credits to receive SSDI. A work credit is based on a certain amount of income earned per year, and is different in every year (for instance, $1,120 is one work credit in 2010). Based on the individual’s age at the time of disability, the number of credits varies.

How to apply for SSDI
Individuals can apply for SSDI at the online at the SSA website, by calling 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), or by finding your local SSA office.

You will need to have the following information available, and possibly more:

  • Your Social Security number
  • Your birth or baptismal certificate
  • Names, addresses and phone numbers of the doctors, caseworkers, hospitals and clinics that took care of you and dates of your visits
  • Names and dosage of all the medicine you take
  • Medical records from your doctors, therapists, hospitals, clinics and caseworkers that you already have in your possession
  • Laboratory and test results
  • A summary of where you worked and the kind of work you did
  • A copy of your most recent W-2 Form (Wage and Tax Statement) or, if you are self-employed, your federal tax return for the past year.

How do I appeal a Social Security Disability decision?
If your application for SSDI is denied, you have several rights of appeal. When appealing an initial application denial, individuals request a reconsideration or a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.

Individuals who appeal can then present their information before the administrative court. There is a large field of attorneys who specialize in disability appeals, and all individuals should make sure that any attorneys they retain are reputable, have good references and clearly explain any charges and when they will apply. An attorney is not required to appeal however, advocates and caregivers may also assist in presenting the case if the individual is unable.

After the judge’s ruling, individuals can appeal to the Social Security Appeals Council, and if that is denied, can file an appeal with a federal district court and enter the main court system.