Social Security Disability Questions

The SSDI application and appeals processes can be technical and complicated. Filling out an application without help can be challenging. This FAQ resource was compiled to help you understand some of the key terms and questions about Social Security Disability Insurance.

About Social Security Disability Insurance

Q: What is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

A: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a payroll tax-funding federal insurance disability program that provides income to individuals who are not able to work due to a disability.

Q: Why should I apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits?

A: If you qualify, SSDI offers long term disability income while you’re unable to work. When you apply and receive SSDI benefits, you may also be eligible for prescription drug help and benefits that assist your return to full time work.

Q: How do you qualify for SSDI?

A: To qualify, an individual must be disabled (according to the Social Security Administration’s definition) before reaching full-retirement age (65-67). You also need to have worked and paid payroll taxes for five of the last ten years. If you’re between 18 and 31, see our How to Apply page to understand how this rule changes.

Q: What is Social Security Administration’s definition of “disability”?

A: The SSA narrowly defines “disabilities.” Under their rules, workers must demonstrate an inability to work due to a physical or mental impairment that is expected to last for at least 12 months.

Q: How does the Social Security Administration determine if I am disabled?

A: SSA uses a 5 step disability determination process to determine if you qualify for SSDI benefits. Read more about the Social Security Disability Determination Process and visit our How To Apply section.

Q: How do I apply for SSDI?

A: You may apply online through the SSA web site or through your local Social Security office. Click here to learn more about the SSDI application process. While you may apply alone, hiring a SSDI lawyer will help insure that you have completed all the paper work correctly, have your medical records and lab tests in order and take the stress off you during the often confusing and overwhelming SSDI application process

Q: Is it difficult to obtain Social Security Disability Insurance?

A: Yes, it can be. More than 60% of individuals that initially file for SSDI are denied. In addition, the approval process can be long, sometimes between two and four years. Hiring a Social Security Disability lawyer can help insure that all your paperwork is in order and that you meet all timing deadlines for appeals, avoiding any costly delays.

Q: How long does it take to get a decision on my initial application?

A: Typically, it takes the SSA 3-5 months to decide on the initial application. The timing changes depending on several factors, including:

  • The nature of your disability;
  • How quickly SSA can obtain medical evidence from your doctor;
  • Whether it’s necessary for SSA’s doctors to examine you to confirm your doctor’s diagnosis and treatment plans; and
  • If your claim is randomly selected for a quality assurance review.

Q: What happens when my claim is approved?

A: When you are approved for SSDI, your first Social Security disability benefit will be paid for the sixth full month after the date your disability began.

Q: What do I do if I am denied SSDI benefits?

A: If you disagree with a decision made on your claim, you can appeal it. The SSDI appeal process is explained on this site. You have the right to be represented by an attorney of your choice when you file or appeal for your SSDI benefits. Many benefits claims are denied based on a technicality, missing data, or not enough medical information - instead of on the merit of the disability. Hiring an SSDI attorney can help you ensure the paperwork and medical records for your appeal are correctly completed so you don’t experience a denial or delay in your application.

Q: How much will my benefits be?

A: The amount of your monthly disability benefit is based on your average lifetime earnings, so it is different for every individual. Every year you receive a Social Security Statement that 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.

Certain members of your family may qualify for benefits based on your work. They include:

  • Your spouse, if he or she is 62 or older
  • Your spouse, at any age if he or she is caring for a child of yours who is younger than age 16 or disabled
  • Your unmarried child, including an adopted child, or, in some cases, a stepchild or grandchild. The child must be under age 18 or under age 19 if in elementary or secondary school full time
  • Your unmarried child, age 18 or older, if he or she has a disability that started before age 22. (The child’s disability also must meet the definition of disability for adults.)

Social Security Disability And Other Benefits

Q: What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

A: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a government program that provides stipends to low-income individuals or those who are aged (65 or older), blind, or disabled. Like SSDI, Social Security Administration (SSA) also administers this program.

Q: What is the difference between Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and SSI disability?

A: The Social Security Administration is responsible for two major programs that provide benefits based on disability: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which is based on prior work under Social Security, and SSI. Under SSI, payments are made on the basis of financial need, not previous work history.

SSDI is financed with Social Security taxes paid by workers, employers, and self-employed persons. To be eligible for a Social Security benefit, the worker must earn sufficient credits based on taxable work to be "insured" for Social Security purposes. Disability benefits are payable to blind or disabled workers, widow(er)s, or adults disabled since childhood, who are otherwise eligible. The amount of the monthly disability benefit is based on the Social Security earnings record of the insured worker. SSI is a program financed through general government SSI revenues. SSI disability benefits are payable to adults or children who are disabled or blind, have limited income and resources, meet the living arrangement requirements, and are otherwise eligible. The monthly payment varies up to the maximum federal benefit rate, which may be supplemented by the State or decreased by countable income and resources.

Q: If I receive SSDI, do I get Medicare?

A: Once you have received SSDI benefits for two years, you will automatically qualify for Medicare coverage. Social Security starts counting 24 months from the month you were entitled to receive Disability, not the month when you received your first check.

An exception: Individuals with permanent kidney failure or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) get Medicare beginning with the month they become entitled to disability benefits.

Q: What is the earliest age that I can receive Social Security Disability benefits?

A: There is no minimum age as long as you meet the very strict Social Security definition of disability. But to qualify for disability benefits you must have worked long and recently enough under Social Security to earn the required number of work credits. You can earn up to a maximum of four work credits each year. The amount of earnings required for a credit increases each year as general wage levels rise.
The number of work credits you need for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled.

Q: If I have a private long term disability policy, will it reduce my Social Security Disability benefit?

A: No. Your eligibility for Social Security disability benefits is not affected by any private insurance you may have. However, worker’s compensation and other public disability payments may affect your Social Security benefit.

Hiring a Social Security Disability Attorney

Q: Am I required to hire a Social Security Disability attorney or disability representative to help me?

A: No, you do not need an attorney to apply or appeal for SSDI benefits. However, many individuals find the process to be confusing, overwhelming and frustrating. Given that more than 60% of initial applications are denied, hiring a Social Security Disability lawyer can help insure that all your paperwork is in order and that you meet all timing deadlines for appeals. The AARP Public Policy Institute says, “some applicants may go it alone, but many rely on lawyers or other representatives for assistance.”

Q: Why should I choose Sokolove Law to help me get SSDI?


  • We can help you at every phase of the application and appeals process
  • We have more than 45 years helping people like you fight for their rights
  • We prepare your applications, speak to the SSA on your behalf and prepare and attend appeals hearings with you
  • We handle a complicated and confusing process for you and make it simple so you can focus on improving your health and not have to deal with legal paperwork and government red tape

Q: How much does it cost for Sokolove Law to help?

A: Sokolove Law does not charge you any legal fees unless we are successful in the application or appeal of your case. The amount of our fee is dependent on the award you receive

Why Hire a Social Security Disability Attorney?

Disability insurance claim paperwork can be complex and frustrating – additional stresses that can further complicate your health. We simplify the SSDI application, appeals and hearing processes by taking the burden off of you and fighting for your rights.

For more than 45 years, we’ve helped people get the legal support they need regardless of race or income. We offer free no-obligation legal consultations and don’t receive any fees until you receive monthly cash payments from the Social Security Administration.

Sokolove Law Team

Contributing Authors

The Sokolove Law Content Team is made up of writers, editors, and journalists. We work with case managers and attorneys to keep site information up to date and accurate. Our site has a wealth of resources available for victims of wrongdoing and their families.

Last modified: May 24, 2024