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Colorado Disability Benefits: How to Qualify, Apply, and Get Approved

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
March 1, 2023  ·  9 min read
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Atticus offers free, high-quality disability advice for Americans who can't work. Our team of Stanford and Harvard trained lawyers has a combined 15+ years of legal experience, and have helped over 10,000 Americans apply for disability benefits.

See if you qualify

If you have a health condition that’s left you unable to work, this is the guide for you. More than 100,000 people receive disability in Colorado, but navigating the application process can be strenuous. To help, we’ve compiled all the information you need to know about qualifying, applying for, and securing disability benefits in Colorado.

What Colorado disability program should I apply for?

While Colorado doesn’t have a state disability benefits program, residents with a disability can receive help from other sources — including federal programs. Here are four you may be eligible for:

1. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): If you’ve worked most of your life, but are now unable to work because of a health condition — you may qualify for SSDI. This program provides monthly benefits and Medicare coverage. There are specific work history and income requirements to qualify (more on those below). For most people, you'll meet these technical requirements if you’ve worked and paid taxes for at least five out of the past 10 years.

2. Supplemental Security Income (SSI): SSI is another federal program where you can receive monthly benefits. It’s meant for those who don’t have a long work history or are low-income. You’re also eligible for Medicaid benefits if you qualify for SSI.

3. Veterans disability benefits: Being an injured retired veteran or active duty service member makes you eligible for disability benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). You may qualify if your injury or illness has left you unable to work. You can also get these benefits alongside SSDI or SSI. Learn more about how to apply for veterans disability benefits.

4. Private long-term and short-term disability insurance: Some employers and private insurance companies also offer short-term or long-term disability insurance policies. Sick or injured people with a policy can file a claim to receive monthly benefits, usually paid out at up to 60% of your wages.

The rest of this guide will focus on SSDI and SSI. They’re the most common types of disability benefits that people in Colorado qualify for. Even if you have other benefits from a source like the VA or a private insurance company, you may still qualify for Social Security benefits.

Skip the reading. See which benefits you qualify for in 2 minutes or less.

How to qualify for disability in Colorado

Qualifying for SSI and SSDI requires people to meet medical and technical requirements. The medical stipulations are the same, but the technical requirements differ.

Medical qualifications for SSDI and SSI

To qualify for federal disability benefits, you’ll have to be unable to work for at least a year because of a health condition. You’ll need to demonstrate that your condition is severe and lasting by submitting medical documents, like health records, lab work, treatment plans, doctor’s notes, and imaging results.

Some life-threatening conditions on the SSA’s compassionate allowance list automatically qualify an applicant for benefits.

Age also plays a role in how you qualify. If you’re under 50, the SSA will need proof that you’re unable to work any job. They’ll consider your ability to retrain and do work that might accommodate your disability. For people over the age of 50, the rules get less strict. You’ll only need to prove you can’t do the type of work that you’ve done before. The SSA assumes you’re less likely to retrain.

For example, suppose a person over 50 who has worked in the construction industry for a long time gets diagnosed with a debilitating condition. In that case, they only have to show proof that they can’t complete tasks at a construction job. Someone under 50 would have to demonstrate that they can’t work at all — including as a cashier, teacher, or waiter — regardless of what that job is.

Technical SSDI qualifications

There are two technical criteria for SSDI applicants:

  • You must be younger than 66.

  • You have earned enough work credits through the SSA. You can check how many credits you have by creating a free mySocialSecurity account on SSA.gov.

Learn more about qualifying for SSDI here.

Technical SSI qualifications

There are two technical criteria for SSI applicants:

  • You have a total income of less than $943 per month.

  • You must have little to no assets or savings — less than $2,000 if you’re single, or $3,000 if you’re married.

Learn more about SSI eligibility here.

Conditions that qualify for disability in Colorado

Hundreds of conditions qualify for disability. As long as it’s severe enough to prevent you from working, and lasting enough to keep you out of work for at least a year, it could qualify. Many applicants also have multiple conditions that, when considered together, leave them unable to work many jobs.

Common conditions that qualify in Colorado

Based on the current Colorado residents that receive disability benefits, the most common qualifying disabilities are:

  • Mental health conditions: 34.1%

  • Musculoskeletal disorders: 28.1%

  • Neurological (nervous system) disorders: 13.5%

  • Cardiovascular (circulatory system) disorders: 4.9%

  • Injuries: 3.9%

  • Cancers (neoplasms): 3.2%

  • Respiratory conditions: 2.7%

  • Endocrine disorders: 2.1%

  • Digestive system disorders: 1.8%

  • Genitourinary disorders (kidney disease): 1.7%

  • Infectious and parasitic diseases: 0.9%

  • Congenital anomalies (birth defects): 0.8%

  • Other qualifying conditions: 0.3%

  • Hematological (blood) disorders: 0.2%

  • Skin conditions: 0.2%

Mental health conditions also qualify for disability, but have specific requirements. The three most common for Colorado residents are:

  • Depression, bipolar disorder, and related disorders: 11,054 people

  • Intellectual disorders:  7,712 people

  • Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders: 5,032 people

Learn more in our guide to getting disability for mental health.

Match with a great trustworthy disability lawyer in Colorado

How to apply for disability in Colorado

The first step to applying for Social Security disability benefits is completing the main disability application. Other supplemental forms like the work history report (prior work experience) and a function report (how the health condition impacts your day-to-day functioning) are also usually required.

Although you can fill out the application on your own, working with a disability lawyer can make the process significantly easier. To help you get started, we’ve also gathered information about applying for disability for a child and applying for another loved one.

How to prepare your application

Completing your disability application takes longer than you might think. It’s vital to give yourself enough time to fill it properly, so here are some ways to prepare:

  • Gather your personal records. Work history, income history, education records (like transcripts), medical records, treatment forms, and contact information for your health providers are all documents you need to assemble.

  • Submit the application and all supplemental documents. Make sure to fill out all the necessary forms and don't leave any questions blank. Missing answers could mean processing delays.

  • Be honest about your condition. When talking about symptoms, describe your average or worst days. Be honest and specific, but don't exaggerate to make your condition sound more severe than it really is. The SSA checks for contradicting answers across your application form, so double-check that your answers are consistent.

  • Follow up with the SSA after you submit. Thousands of disability applications pass through the SSA each month, so it’s possible they can miss some. After submitting your application, make sure to confirm receipt that it's being processed. If you have a lawyer, they'll handle this for you.

  • Respond to any requests from the SSA immediately. In most cases, you’ll have up to 10 days to respond to the SSA’s request for additional information. Responding more quickly reduces the risk of unnecessary delays.

For more detailed help, here’s our step-by-step guide to the disability application.

3 ways to submit your application

There are three ways to file the disability benefits forms:

  1. Apply online through the SSA website.

  2. Apply over the phone by calling 1-800-772-1213 or your local office.

  3. Apply in person at your local SSA office.

Without a lawyer, you might find the application process challenging. If you don’t have one, applying in person at an SSA office may be best. The SSA workers can’t give you legal advice — like telling you how good your answers are — but they can answer clarifying questions about the application itself.

Read more about how a lawyer can help your application.

Getting help with the application

We always recommend connecting with a disability lawyer as soon as you start the application process. From knowing what the SSA expects on the application to helping you through a hearing (something most applicants have to request), lawyer’s relieve the stress of applying for disability benefits. Best of all, you’re also three times as likely to win benefits when you work with a lawyer.

Atticus provides free legal advice on everything you need to know about disability benefits. Fill out our 2-minute disability quiz to get matched with the best lawyer for your case.

What happens after you apply for disability?

After you submit your application, the SSA will determine whether you meet the technical requirements by reviewing your work and income history. The Disability Determination Services (DDS) reviews your medical eligibility.

You might also need to do an in-person interview about your application or have a consultative exam, where a doctor employed by the SSA examines you. The results from both of these will help the SSA make a decision on your claim. On average, it takes about six months to receive an initial disability decision.

Your chances of getting approved for benefits

Around 75% of applicants are rejected at the first submission — though many of them do qualify for benefits. At this stage, you’ll have an opportunity to file for reconsideration, though 90% of cases also get rejected at the second review.

Getting denied at both stages means you’re eligible to appeal for a hearing with an administrative law judge, which is where most people win benefits. In 2022, 54% of applicants that received a hearing were successful in winning benefits.

Since a hearing offers the best chance of approval, working with a lawyer is essential — 83% of applicants have legal representation at the hearing stage.

Learn more about the odds of winning a disability appeal.

How long does it take to get disability benefits in Colorado?

After submission, most disability applicants wait years for final approval for benefits. Having to resubmit at multiple stages contributes to this long wait time.

For an initial decision, the average wait time is 6.1 months (187 days). A reconsideration decision takes another 4.9 months (147 days) on average. Colorado applicants should then expect to wait an average of 16 months before getting a hearing. Exactly how long you wait depends on which SSA office handles your hearing. From beginning to end, getting final approval takes the average disability applicant 27 months (two years and three months) in Colorado.

Below are the average times you can expect to wait before you get a disability hearing in Colorado.

Hearing office

Wait time

Colorado Springs

19 months


13 months

Unfortunately, there’s not much that you can do to speed up the SSA's review of your application at any stage. One thing you can do is respond to additional requests as soon as possible to avoid further delays. And while a disability lawyer can’t speed up the process, they can help you minimize the time it takes to gather and submit all the required documents. Submitting a stronger application form the start will also improve your chances for a quick approval.

Though the wait is long, remember that your first SSA check will include back pay — payments for the time in which you should have been receiving benefits, but were waiting on the SSA’s decision.

How much are disability benefits in Colorado?

The amount of your disability checks depends on your work and income history. Which program you qualify for also affects your payments. In some cases, you can even qualify for SSDI and SSI at the same time.

Estimate your disability benefit amount in just a few steps

We'll use the Social Security Administration's formula to estimate your monthly benefit.

monthly check


Average SSDI payments in Colorado

The average monthly SSDI benefits for people in Colorado is $1,374.74. Some people will earn more though, and the maximum benefit amount you can receive is $3,822 in 2024.

It’s important to note that only income and work history are considered to figure out your benefits. Where you live doesn't affect your payment amount.

To get an estimate of your SSDI check amount, visit your SSA.gov account:

Average SSI payments in Colorado

The average SSI payment for Colorado residents is $620.69. To calculate how much you’ll get from SSI, subtract your monthly income from the maximum benefit amount of $943 (as of 2024). People with no income automatically receive the maximum amount.

Learn more about how SSI and SSDI benefits are calculated.

How to find a disability lawyer in Colorado

Investing in a disability lawyer is a smart idea if you’re applying for benefits with the SSA. They’ll help you every step of the way — from filling out the application to filing appeals. Not only are you more likely to win benefits when you have a lawyer, but you also will be less stressed and overwhelmed by the application process.

However, searching for a lawyer is tricky. Here are three things to look for:

  1. Communication: You want your lawyer to regularly communicate with you about updates. They should also be able to answer any question you have. However, don’t expect to communicate with them on a daily basis. The application process is long, so you won’t always need to be in contact.

  2. Experience: A lawyer that specializes in disability benefits cases will be the most helpful to you. Newer lawyers can bring great knowledge to the table, but someone who’s been practicing longer will have more experience with the nuances of the application and hearing.

  3. Reviews: Finding a lawyer is like hiring anyone for a service. You want to look for someone with the best reviews possible. What are people saying about their performance? Were they easy to work with, or do they have lots of negative comments about working with them? A few bad comments are to be expected (even the best lawyers don't win every case) but multiple is a big red flag.

Do you want help finding the right lawyer for your case? Atticus is here to help. We’ve simplified the process of matching you with a lawyer that treats your case as a priority. Fill out our disability quiz, and we’ll reach out to learn more about your situation.

Get free legal help (and a lawyer — only if you want one).

Summing it up: Frequently asked questions about benefits in Colorado

What qualifies you for disability in Colorado? 

To qualify for disability you need to have a condition that prevents you from working for at least a year. You’ll also need to meet certain work history requirements (for SSDI) or be within certain income limits (for SSI). For more on these requirements, read our full write up here

What conditions qualify for disability in Colorado? 

Any condition that will prevent you from working for a year or more can qualify for disability benefits. Some of the most common conditions include musculoskeletal disorders, mental disorders, nervous system diseases, and circulatory system diseases. See our full list of conditions that qualify here

How long does it take to get approved for disability in Colorado? 

It takes an average of 6.1 months to get an initial disability decision in Colorado. Most people who apply are initially rejected, and need to appeal this decision. If you appeal and go to a hearing, the process takes around two years on average. Read more: How Long It Takes to Get Approved for Disability Benefits

How much does disability pay in Colorado? 

The average SSDI payment in Colorado is $1,374.74 per month. The average SSI payment is $620.69. What you’ll earn is dependent on your income, or the amount you’ve historically paid into the Social Security program. Read more on what amount you can expect.

How should I prepare my disability application in Colorado?

Answer the application questions truthfully, consistently, and succinctly. You should also ensure that you gather and submit all your medical records with your application. The SSA paperwork can be complicated, so our legal team has written a full guide to the application here.

Does Colorado have a state disability program? 

No, Colorado does not have a state disability program. Only five states (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island) have a state program. Residents of Colorado can apply for federal disability programs (SSDI and SSI). Read more about SSDI and SSI here

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Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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