What Is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

Key takeaways:

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) offers financial aid to those who cannot work due to severe medical conditions expected to last at least a year before death.
  • To qualify for SSDI, you need enough work credits from jobs covered by Social Security and meet the strict disability criteria.
  • In 2023, the maximum monthly SSDI benefit is $3,627, sometimes changing annually based on federal guidelines.

What Is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

On this page, we’ll discuss what Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) entails, how the SSDI process works, who qualifies to file a Social Security Disability Insurance lawsuit, and much more.

Intro To Social Security Disability Insurance

Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, serves as a lifeline for individuals who have become disabled and are no longer able to engage in substantial gainful activity due to severe medical conditions.

Translating the complexities of federal programs into everyday understanding is vital, especially when it involves a lifeline like Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

What Is Social Security Disability Insurance SSDI

SSDI isn’t merely a safety net; it’s a crucial program that ensures those unable to work due to severe health conditions can still sustain their livelihood.

The beauty of SSDI lies in its design to alleviate people with disabilities who have contributed diligently to social security taxes during their careers.

With over 60 years of history, the program is a testament to our society’s commitment to supporting its members in need.

Unlocking this avenue for assistance becomes more straightforward with knowledge on your side—and this article promises just that.

Table of Contents

Overview of Social Security Disability Insurance

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a crucial program for individuals unable to work due to severe, long-term disabilities.

Enacted to provide financial stability, SSDI is a lifeline for disabled workers who have contributed to the Social Security Fund during their working years.

Definition and Purpose

SSDI is a federally funded insurance program designed to provide income to individuals who are unable to work because of a disabling condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death.

SSDI is intended to help cover living expenses for those who have had their earning potential significantly impacted by their disability.

Eligibility Criteria

To be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), applicants must meet specific criteria set by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

These criteria ensure that only those who truly need assistance receive it. The key eligibility requirements include:

  • Have a sufficient work history, typically quantified in “credits” based on total yearly wages or self-employment income.
  • Be younger than the full retirement age.
  • Suffer from a severe medical impairment that significantly

Specifically, individuals must:

  • Have a sufficient work history, typically quantified in “credits” based on total yearly wages or self-employment income
  • Be younger than the full retirement age
  • Suffer from a severe medical impairment that significantly limits their ability to perform basic work activities and is expected to last for at least 12 months or result in death.

Disability benefits through SSDI are founded on the principle that the disabled individual has previously paid into the system via Social Security taxes.

The eligibility for SSDI does not depend on income level but rather on work credits and disability status.

SSDI Benefits Explained

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides financial assistance to individuals who are unable to work due to a disability.

Previous earnings and the severity of the disability dictate the amount of assistance and the eligibility criteria.

Benefit Calculation

The cash benefits of SSDI are calculated based on the beneficiary’s lifetime average earnings covered by Social Security.

The formula used translates these earnings into a monthly payment.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides an online calculator and uses your entire work history to determine your benefit amount.

SSDI generally attempts to replace a percentage of the recipient’s pre-disability income, capped at a maximum benefit.

Family Benefits

If specific conditions are met, SSDI may also extend benefits to family members, including a spouse, dependent children, and sometimes even divorced spouses.

The total family benefits typically cannot surpass 150% to 180% of the recipient’s disability benefit.

Each qualifying family member may receive a monthly amount based on the beneficiary’s primary insurance amount, contributing to the overall financial support of the household.

The eligibility criteria for family members are as follows:

  • Spouse: Eligible if they are 62 years or older or are caring for a child under 16 or disabled.
  • Children: Must be unmarried and under 18, or up to 19 if still in high school, or 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22.

The Application Process

The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) application involves a clear set of steps to determine eligibility and facilitate the process.

Applicants must provide comprehensive documentation supporting their claim, including medical evidence and work history.

Applying for SSDI

Individuals seeking SSDI benefits can initiate the application process through several channels.

The most streamlined option is to apply online, which allows applicants to fill out forms at their convenience.

For those unable to complete the application digitally, the Social Security Administration offers assistance via a toll-free number, ensuring support is available from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Those applying should be prepared to provide detailed personal information, medical conditions, and employment details.

Required Documentation

The success of an SSDI application hinges on the strength of the evidence presented.

Applicants must compile medical evidence that demonstrates the severity of their disability.

Required documents include, but are not limited to:

  • Official medical records;
  • Test results; and
  • Physician statements.

Equally important is the applicant’s work history, which should detail past employment and how the disability has impacted their ability to work.

Having these documents ready is crucial to ensure the application is processed efficiently and that the individual may receive benefits without unnecessary delay.

Medical Criteria for SSDI

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) requires applicants to meet strict medical criteria, proving the severity and longevity of their conditions.

Only certain medically determinable physical or mental impairments qualify.

Severe Medical Conditions

A severe medical condition for SSDI is one that significantly limits an individual’s ability to perform basic work activities.

This includes both physical and mental disabilities.

For an impairment to be considered severe, it must interfere with basic work activities for at least 12 months or be expected to result in death.

Qualifying Impairments List

The Social Security Administration (SSA) utilizes a Qualifying Impairments List, often called the “Blue Book.”

This list details specific criteria for disabilities under various categories of impairments, such as:

  • Musculoskeletal Disorders: Issues affecting the skeletal system and connective tissues.
  • Cardiovascular Conditions: Disorders that affect the functioning of the heart or the circulatory system.
  • Digestive System Disorders: Conditions that impact the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Neurological Disorders: Diseases that affect the nervous system.
  • Mental Disorders: Including, but not limited to, depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.

Applicants must provide medical evidence to document their condition, which can include laboratory test results and doctor’s reports, demonstrating that the severity of their impairment meets the standards set by the SSA.

SSDI and Work Incentives

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides critical financial assistance to individuals who are unable to work due to a disability.

Within SSDI, work incentives allow beneficiaries to explore returning to work without immediate loss of benefits.

Substantial Gainful Activity

The Social Security Administration (SSA) determines the ability to work despite one’s disability by assessing what is known as Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA).

In 2024, they consider employment yielding over $1,550 per month as SGA for non-blind individuals; for statutorily blind individuals, the threshold is higher, at $2,590 per month.

One may still qualify for full SSDI benefits if earnings fall below these thresholds.

Returning to Work

SSDI enrollees are encouraged to return to work if they’re able, with several work incentives in place to support them.

Earnings may fall above the SGA limits under certain circumstances without causing immediate discontinuation of benefits.

The SSA offers a Trial Work Period (TWP), allowing individuals receiving SSDI to test their ability to work for at least nine months within a five-year window, during which they can receive full SSDI benefits regardless of earnings.

After the TWP, individuals enter an Extended Period of Eligibility for the subsequent 36 months, where benefits are reinstated if earnings drop below SGA levels.

This framework aims to balance providing support and encouraging those who can engage in other work opportunities.

Comparison with SSI

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) assist individuals with disabilities, yet they serve different groups and have distinctive eligibility criteria.

SSDI vs. SSI Benefits

SSDI is designed for individuals who have a sufficient work history and have paid into the Social Security system through payroll taxes.

The benefits one receives from SSDI are based on the person’s earnings record, meaning that the amount can vary substantially from one individual to another.

On the other hand, SSI focuses on aiding those with limited income and resources regardless of work history.

SSI benefits are funded from general tax revenues, not the Social Security trust fund.

The federal payment amounts for SSI are fixed but may be supplemented by the state, depending on where the recipient lives.

Here are some key distinctions between these two programs:

  • Eligibility: SSDI requires a qualifying work history; SSI does not.
  • Benefit Calculation: SSDI benefits are earnings-based; SSI provides a fixed amount.
  • Funding Source: SSDI is funded through payroll taxes, general tax revenues, and social security funds.

Dual Eligibility

Some individuals may be eligible for both SSDI and SSI benefits simultaneously, known as concurrent benefits.

In these cases, the recipient may receive their SSDI benefit, which could be below the SSI’s federal benefit rate, and then be supplemented up to the SSI’s standard with SSI benefits.

This ensures that they receive the maximum benefit allowable if their SSDI payment does not meet the SSI minimum threshold.

It’s important to note that while dual eligibility is possible, the individual must meet the separate criteria for both disability programs.

Financial Aspects of SSDI

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) has a significant financial impact on individuals, including how it affects retirement benefits and the tax implications of receiving these benefits.

Impact on Retirement Benefits

Receiving SSDI benefits is closely tied to a worker’s earnings history and the amount of social security taxes they have paid into the system.

Should an individual become disabled before retirement age, SSDI provides a monthly benefit, often based on their expected retirement benefits.

Importantly, once a beneficiary reaches full retirement age, SSDI benefits automatically convert to retirement benefits without reducing the monthly payment amount.

Taxation of SSDI Benefits

Taxation of SSDI benefits depends on the individual’s other income.

If the total combined income exceeds certain thresholds, some SSDI benefits may be subject to federal income taxes.

For 2023, individuals with an income between $25,000 and $34,000 and couples filing jointly with an income between $32,000 and $44,000 could have up to 50% of their benefits taxable.

Up to 85% of the benefits could be taxable for higher incomes. State tax treatment of SSDI benefits varies and should be checked following the recipient’s state laws.

SSDI for Specific Groups

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) extends its benefits beyond individual workers to specific groups based on their unique qualifications and associations with the primary beneficiary.

Notably, the program considers veterans and children within the framework of additional provisions.

Veterans and SSDI

Veterans with disabilities who are service-connected may find that their benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) interact uniquely with SSDI.

If they have a VA compensation rating of 100% P&T (permanent and total), they may also be eligible for expedited processing for SSDI benefits.

However, despite the potential for an accelerated evaluation, eligibility for SSDI still mandates a separate assessment.

SSDI benefits are evaluated based on past work credits and the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity, not just the disability status.

SSDI for Children

Children do not qualify for SSDI benefits directly; instead, certain family members of disabled workers may receive benefits.

Specifically, children, including those of baby boomers, can receive benefits if they are under 18 or up to 19 if still attending secondary school full time.

Additionally, if the child is disabled before the age of 22 and remains disabled, they may also qualify for SSDI based on the earnings record of their parent or guardian.

While it’s crucial to remember that SSDI is not designed to provide direct benefits to children, the inclusion of disabled family members upholds the program’s commitment to offering a safety net for dependents of disabled workers.

Maintaining SSDI Eligibility

Once eligible individuals begin receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, maintaining their eligibility is essential for continuing services and program support.

This requires attentiveness to periodic assessments and reporting requirements mandated by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Continuing Disability Reviews

The SSA conducts Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) typically every three to seven years to ensure beneficiaries still meet the medical criteria for disability.

The frequency of reviews depends on the expectation of medical improvement:

  • Expected: CDR approximately every three years
  • Possible but not predictable: CDR approximately every five years
  • Not expected: CDR approximately every seven years

If a beneficiary’s health improves to the point where they no longer meet the medical criteria for disability, SSDI benefits may cease.

Reporting Responsibilities

Beneficiaries of SSDI are required to report any changes that could affect their eligibility, such as:

  • Changes in work activity or income
  • Improvement in medical condition
  • Receipt of other Social Security disability benefits or pensions

This information should be reported immediately to avoid overpayments, which can result in future benefit reductions or the need to repay benefits.

The SSA provides various methods for beneficiaries to report through their online services, phone, or in person at a Local Social Security office.

The Appeal Process

When an individual’s initial application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is denied, they may begin the appeal process.

The first step is the Request for Reconsideration, an opportunity for a complete review of the application by someone not involved in the initial decision.

If the Request for Reconsideration is unsuccessful, the individual has the right to a hearing by an administrative law judge.

Before the hearing, the individual can submit new evidence or information to strengthen their case.

Here is a brief outline of the stages:

  • Reconsideration: A new review of the initial application.
  • Hearing: An administrative law judge conducts a hearing and considers new evidence.
  • Appeals Council: If the hearing outcome is unfavorable, the applicant can request a review by the Social Security Appeals Council.
  • Federal Court Review: An appeal can be filed in a federal district court as a last resort.

Eligibility for SSDI hinges on proving that an individual is severely impaired with a condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death.

To successfully navigate the appeal process, one’s case should ideally present clear evidence of such impairments and how they affect their ability to work.

The entire process can be complex, so applicants may benefit from legal guidance or assistance to ensure that all necessary documentation is accurate and deadlines are met.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What factors determine the amount of SSDI benefits an individual may receive?

    The amount of SSDI benefits one may receive largely depends on the individual’s average lifetime earnings before their disability.

    The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a formula that considers the person’s earnings record to calculate the benefit amount.

  • What are the specific eligibility requirements for Social Security Disability Insurance?

    Eligibility for SSDI requires that an individual has a qualifying disability and accumulated sufficient work credits.

    Work credits are based on total yearly wages or self-employment income, with the number needed depending on the individual’s age at the time of disability onset.

  • How can an individual apply for Social Security Disability Insurance?

    To apply for SSDI, individuals can file online, by phone, or in person.

    It is advisable to apply as soon as possible after becoming disabled, as the process can take significant time to complete.

  • Are there different rules for receiving SSDI benefits after the age of 50?

    Yes, the SSA has different rules known as “medical-vocational allowances,” which apply to individuals over the age of 50.

    These rules recognize that older workers may have a harder time adapting to new employment if disabled and, thus, may qualify more readily for benefits.

  • Can a person be eligible for both Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

    Yes, an individual can simultaneously be eligible for SSI and SSDI benefits.

    Eligibility for both programs requires meeting the SSA’s definition of disability and, for SSI, additional means-testing based on little or no income and assets.

  • What additional benefits are available to individuals receiving SSDI?

    Recipients of SSDI are eligible for Medicare after a 24-month qualifying period from the date of entitlement to SSDI benefits.

    In some cases, dependents of disabled workers may also be eligible to receive benefits.

Written By:
Jessie Paluch
Jessie Paluch

Experienced Attorney & Legal SaaS CEO

With over 25 years of legal experience, Jessie is an Illinois lawyer, a CPA, and a mother of three.  She spent the first decade of her career working as an international tax attorney at Deloitte.

In 2009, Jessie co-founded her own law firm with her husband – which has scaled to over 30 employees since its conception.

In 2016, Jessie founded TruLaw, which allows her to collaborate with attorneys and legal experts across the United States on a daily basis. This hypervaluable network of experts is what enables her to share reliable legal information with her readers!

You can learn more about the Social Security Disability Insurance System by visiting any of our pages listed below:

Camp Lejeune Lawsuit

Camp Lejeune’s water contamination issue spanned several decades starting in the 1950s. Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to various serious health issues, including cancer, organ diseases, and death.

Tylenol Lawsuit

Research is increasingly suggesting a link between the use of Tylenol during pregnancy and the development of neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism and ADHD, in infants.

AFFF Lawsuit

Legal action is being taken against manufacturers of Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF), a chemical used in fighting fires. The plaintiffs allege that exposure to the foam caused health issues such as cancer, organ damage, and birth and fertility issues.

Do You
Have A Case?

Here, at TruLaw, we’re committed to helping victims get the justice they deserve.

Alongside our partner law firms, we have successfully collected over $3 Billion in verdicts and settlements on behalf of injured individuals.

Would you like our help?

Helpful Sites & Resources