Social Security Disability Benefits Explained

If you have worked for at least five of the past 10 years at a job that is covered under the Social Security Act, you are likely eligible for benefits from Social Security if you become disabled. The test for eligibility is not a measure of when you can go back to a job or whether you’ve been able to find a new job. The only concern is if you are capable of doing a job that is typically open in the average workplace.
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There are several variations of Social Security benefits, including two kinds of disability insurance you can receive before you reach retirement age.

Social Security Disability Insurance pays disability benefits to people who have paid into the Social Security system for a required number of years. It may also cover some family members.

Supplemental Security Income pays disability benefits based on financial need.

You may be eligible to receive SSDI if a medical disability has prevented you from working for at least 12 months.

Are You Eligible for Disability Benefits?

If you have worked for at least five of the past 10 years at a job that is covered under the Social Security Act, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits if you lose the ability to do any open job in the average workplace.

Some veterans can get special Social Security benefit rates.

A licensed medical provider must offer proof of your disability before you can receive benefits. You may need to consult an attorney if a diagnosis is difficult to prove through testing.

How Can You Make a Claim for Benefits?

Individuals can file for Social Security disability benefits at any time, but applicants who have legal assistance may secure benefits faster.

You can apply online or by calling the office toll free at 800-772-1213 to request an appointment with your local Social Security office. You may also give make a claim over the phone. Your application may take more than an hour.

You must provide the following information to apply for Social Security benefits:

  • Your Social Security number
  • Your birth certificate
  • Names, addresses and phone numbers of the doctors, caseworkers, hospitals and clinics where you sought treatment and dates of your visits
  • Names and dosage of all the medications you take
  • Medical records from your doctors, therapists, hospitals, clinics and caseworkers that you have on hand
  • Laboratory and test results pertaining to your disability
  • A summary of where you worked and the kind of work you did
  • A copy of your most recent W-2 Form (or, if you are self-employed, your federal tax return for the past year)

You should file for benefits as soon as you know you are disabled. The processing time for most benefit claimants is three to five months or longer.

Service members can receive Social Security disability benefits while on active duty.

How Much Will You Receive?

Your average lifetime earnings will determine your Social Security benefits. Your annual Social Security benefit statement should will provide an estimate of how much you and you family members might receive if you became disabiled.

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is The Military Wallet's founder. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over six years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the Illinois Air National Guard.

Ryan started The Military Wallet in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about personal finance and investing at Cash Money Life.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free Personal Capital account here.

Featured In: Ryan's writing has been featured in the following publications: Forbes,, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, Reserve & National Guard Magazine (print and online editions), Military Influencer Magazine, Cash Money Life, The Military Guide, USAA, Go Banking Rates, and many other publications.

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