Eligibility and Application

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal program that gives monthly cash benefits to people who have worked, paid Social Security taxes, and now have disabilities that prevent them from working.

SSDI is linked to Medicare. Once you have gotten SSDI benefits for 2 years, you automatically become eligible for Medicare, even if you are under age 65. We’ll discuss the connection between SSDI and Medicare later in this article.

If you worked in the past, but now have a disability that prevents you from working at a job that can pay for your monthly expenses, you should consider applying for SSDI benefits. Once you apply, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will look at your case.

You will have to meet these 2 basic requirements to qualify for SSDI benefits:

  1. You must be insured. SSA will look at your work history and see if you have worked long enough to be covered by SSDI. Because it's an insurance program, you do not have to prove financial need to qualify for SSDI. This is an important distinction between SSDI and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
  2. SSA must decide that you are disabled. They will look at 5 different criteria and if you meet all 5, SSA will decide that you are disabled.

You must meet both of these requirements to get SSDI benefits; if you only meet one of them, you will not qualify for SSDI benefits. How SSA decides if you are insured and are disabled is described later in this article.

Exceptions to these requirements

There are a few cases where you may qualify for benefits even if you have not worked long enough to be covered by SSDI or if you are not disabled:

  • If you have not worked because of a disability that you acquired before you turned 22, you may qualify for Childhood Disability Benefits (CDB). CDB is described in greater detail later in this article.
  • If you are under the age of 19, you may qualify if your parent gets Social Security retirement or disability insurance benefits or is deceased. You do not need a disability to get this benefit. To learn more about these Child’s Benefits, read DB101’s article about Benefits for Young People.
  • If your spouse or ex-spouse qualifies for SSDI benefits or Social Security retirement benefits, or qualified before dying, you may be able to get these benefits as well. If you are in this situation, talk to a Benefits Planner.

Application

There are 3 ways you can apply for SSDI benefits:

  1. You can apply online.
  2. You can call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY) and the representative will take your application over the phone.
  3. You can visit your local Social Security office and apply in person.

Whichever method you choose, you will need to complete an application form and an Adult Disability Report.

You may need to give the following when you apply:
  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of all doctors, hospitals, and clinics that have supplied you with medical treatment and the dates of treatment
  • Names of any medications you are taking
  • Copies of any medical records you have
  • Your Social Security Number and the Social Security Numbers of your spouse and any children under the age of 18
  • A certified copy of your birth certificate
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or legal residency, if you were born in another country
  • A certified copy of your military discharge papers (Form DD 214), if you were in the military
  • Your most recent W-2 Form or if you’re self-employed, your most recent tax return
  • Information on any workers’ compensation you get or have gotten
  • A summary of all your jobs during the past 15 years (names of jobs and dates of employment)

SSA will decide if you are insured and if you are disabled. If you are both insured and disabled, you may qualify for SSDI.