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Illinois Disability Benefits: Qualifying, Applying, and Getting Approved

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
February 8, 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.

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More than 300,000 people in Illinois receive disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). Both having a disability and being unable to work can feel isolating, but you’re not alone. Think of these individuals as 300,000 reasons why you can get through the application process, though it can feel overwhelming at times.

This guide will help you apply for disability in Illinois by explaining what you need to know about qualifying for benefits, the application process, and determining the potential benefits you may receive.

We've helped 5,814 people in Illinois.

What Illinois disability program should I apply for?

Illinois does not have a state disability program. The good news is that Illinois residents can still apply for disability plans available through the federal government or a private insurance company. The most common disability programs that people in Illinois may qualify for are:

  1. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): The federal government offers SSDI to support Americans who have worked before but have a medical condition that makes it difficult for them to continue working. You’re more likely to qualify for SSDI if you have a long work history and you’ve paid taxes. SSDI has the largest benefit amounts, but they’re based on how much income you’ve earned and the amount of taxes you’ve paid.

  2. Supplemental Security Income (SSI): People with limited income and assets typically qualify for SSI. People without an extensive work history or who haven’t worked recently enough to qualify for SSDI can also get benefits through SSI. It shares an application with SSDI.

  3. Veterans disability benefits: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers disability benefits for active and retired veterans if they are injured during their military service and can’t work because of it. You can get veterans disability alongside SSDI and SSI. Learn more about how Atticus can help you apply for VA benefits.

  4. Long-term or short-term private disability insurance: Many employers offer these policies, but some people also purchase private plans. Either way, you can file a claim with your insurer if you had the disability plan before you had to stop working. Your payments will be a portion of your former paychecks (often up to 60%) and may last months or years. Check your individual plan details for specifics.

The rest of this guide will focus on SSDI and SSI since most Illinois residents with disabilities will qualify for one of those two programs. People who receive VA benefits can also qualify for Social Security disability, as can people who have a private program; your insurer may even require you to apply for SSDI and SSI alongside your private plan.

How to qualify for disability in Illinois

To qualify for SSI or SSDI, you have to meet specific medical and technical criteria. Both programs have the same medical requirements, but their technical requirements vary.

Medical qualifications for disability benefits

Before you can medically qualify for disability benefits, you have to prove that your disability or medical condition makes it impossible for you to work. Your doctor must also expect your condition to continue for at least one more year — or for the rest of your life. Terminal conditions qualify under the SSA’s compassionate allowance list.

Qualifying for disability can be easier after age 50 because you only have to prove that you can’t continue the work you’re doing now. Applicants under the age of 50 have to prove to the SSA that their condition makes it impossible for them to do any job, not just the jobs they’ve already done.

Technical SSDI qualifications

To qualify for SSDI, you must meet two basic criteria:

1. You’re at or below 66 years of age.

2. You meet SSA work credit requirements based on the amount of taxes you’ve paid into Social Security. You’re likely to qualify if you’ve worked at least five of the last 10 years. You can create a free SSA.gov account to find out how many work credits you have.

Learn more about SSDI eligibility.

Technical SSI qualifications

To qualify for SSI, you must:

1. Have little to no income, usually less than about $1,000 per month.

2. Have little to no personal assets, which includes retirement or personal savings of less than $2,000 for single individuals and $3,000 for married individuals.

Learn more about SSI eligibility.

Get matched with a top disability lawyer in Illinois.

Common conditions that qualify for disability in Illinois

You may qualify for Social Security disability benefits if you have a medical condition that makes it impossible for you to work, and you expect that the condition will impact you for at least a year.

Data released by the SSA in 2022 shows that the most common conditions among disability benefit recipients in Illinois are:

  • Cancers (neoplasms): 3.2%

  • Cardiovascular (circulatory system) disorders: 7.3%

  • Congenital anomalies (birth defects): 0.7%

  • Digestive system disorders: 1.3%

  • Endocrine disorders: 2.3%

  • Genitourinary disorders (kidney disease): 2%

  • Hematological (blood) disorders: 0.3%

  • Infectious and parasitic diseases: 1%

  • Injuries: 3.1%

  • Mental health conditions: 36.5%

  • Musculoskeletal disorders: 26.3%

  • Neurological (nervous system) disorders: 11%

  • Respiratory conditions: 2.7%

  • Skin conditions: 0.2%

  • Other qualifying conditions: 0.2%

This is the breakdown for the most commonly qualifying mental health conditions in Illinois:

  • Intellectual disorders: 33,227 people

  • Depression, bipolar disorder, and related disorders: 38,079 people

  • Neurocognitive disorders: 7,976 people

Learn more in our full guide to conditions that qualify for disability benefits.

How to apply for disability in Illinois

To apply for disability, start by filling out the main disability application and supplemental forms. Once those are complete, you’ll also need to submit a work history report to describe your previous work experience and a function report to explain how your condition affects your daily activities.

While it’s possible to apply on your own, working with a disability lawyer can greatly simplify the process. You can also reference our advice on applying for disability benefits for your child or another loved one.

How should I prepare my application?

Preparing a disability application takes time. Even once you’ve gathered all the required materials, applying can take longer than you might expect. Make sure you have plenty of time to complete the application once you’ve started. Though a lawyer can help you manage all of your documentation, here are some key steps for you to take on your own:

  • Gather your personal records. You’ll need your medical records, treatment forms, bank account information, work history, and contact information for all relevant healthcare providers.

  • Submit the application and all supplemental documents. Consistency matters. The SSA looks for contradictions in the application and any documents you provide, so be realistic and honest about your limitations, like pain levels or the symptoms associated with your condition.

  • Follow up with the SSA right after you submit. Call the SSA or have your lawyer make contact to ensure they’ve received your application, are processing it, and haven’t lost track of it amid the high number of submissions they receive.

  • Respond to any requests from the SSA immediately. You have up to 10 days to provide additional information to the SSA, but responding quickly can help avoid processing delays.

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

3 ways to submit your application

The SSA accepts disability benefits forms through these three channels:

  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.

If you don’t choose to work with a lawyer, applying in person can be helpful because the SSA staff can advise you on how best to answer the application questions. That said, they can’t give you the personalized legal advice that a lawyer can to strengthen your responses. Your lawyer can also submit your application for you.

Read more about how a lawyer can help your application.

Getting help with the application

Working with a disability lawyer is one of the best ways to get help filing for disability. They can make your application stronger and actually fill it out for you, as well as communicate with the SSA. This takes the stress of applying off your shoulders. Here at Atticus, we provide free legal advice on filling out your application and finding the right lawyer for your case. Fill out our 2-minute disability quiz to get started.

What happens after I apply for disability?

After you apply, the SSA will review your application to verify that you meet all technical requirements. Then, your application moves on to Disability Determination Services (DDS) to verify your medical eligibility. DDS will often request a quick consultative exam so an SSA doctor can verify your condition. The SSA will then make a decision on your application. It’s important to note that this process takes months.

Your chances of getting approved for benefits

Qualifying for disability is difficult. Knowing that upfront can help you work through the stages of approval since it isn’t always easy.

Around 70% of applicants are rejected on their first application. At that point, applicants can file for reconsideration, but the SSA rejects another 90% of reconsidered applications. If this happens, you can appeal the decision and move on to a hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ).

While a hearing may sound scary, it actually has the highest odds of approval. More than 50% of people who appeared before a judge in 2022 won their claim. Applicants who work with a lawyer are also three times more likely to get benefits.

Learn more about the odds of winning your disability appeal.

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

It takes more than two years for the average disability application to get approved. This long wait is largely because most applicants must go through multiple rounds of appeal.

To put that in context: The average wait time to receive an initial decision was 6.1 months, or 184 days, in 2022. Applicants had to wait 6.1 more months, or 183 days, for a decision on their reconsideration request. After that, the amount of time it takes to get a hearing depends on which SSA office oversees your application. The average time to get a hearing in Illinois is about 13.2 months. With all that time taken into account, applicants in Illinois typically wait about two years and four months from the time they apply until the time they’re approved.

Still, the average wait time varies. The table below shows wait times at the three Illinois hearing offices.

Hearing office

Wait time for a hearing


16.5 months


13 months


10 months

It’s important to submit your application as soon as you can because the application process does take years. Quickly responding to SSA requests is the best and only way to speed up the process since you’ll prevent any additional delays. A lawyer can also keep the process on track by following up with the SSA and handling appeals.

The good news is that, once you are approved, your first SSA check will include months or even years of back pay benefits that you missed out on while waiting for a decision.

Related: How to Find a Good Disability Lawyer Near You

How much are disability benefits in Illinois?

Disability benefits in Illinois vary based on whether or not you receive SSDI or SSI. It’s also possible to receive benefits from both programs 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 Illinois

The maximum possible SSDI payment in 2024 is $3,822, but Illinois residents receive an average SSDI payment of $1,372.64, based on the most recent SSA data.

Payment amounts do vary from state to state, but the largest determining factor in how much you’ll receive each month is your personal income and work history. Your exact medical condition doesn’t affect your benefit amount.

To determine how much your SSDI check will be, use your SSA.gov account:

  • Visit the SSA’s mySocialSecurity page.

  • If you don’t have an account, create one using your Social Security number (SSN).

  • Scroll down to the section titled “More Benefits.”

Average SSI payments in Illinois

The monthly average SSI payment in Illinois is $640.58, though the maximum amount you can receive from SSI in 2024 is $943 per month.

Your current monthly income will figure heavily into your personal payment. The SSA calculates the money that comes in each month — including SNAP benefits, part-time work earnings, and stock earnings — and subtracts that from the maximum amount. That means your SSI checks would be $943 if you have no other income.

Still have questions? Read more about how SSI and SSDI benefits are calculated.

How to find a disability lawyer in Illinois

A disability lawyer can take the time and stress of applying for SSI and SSDI off your shoulders. They’ll communicate with the SSA, file your appeals, and handle any court proceedings, which can make the application process much more manageable. If you do need a hearing in front of a judge, your lawyer will help you deliver the strongest case possible — including by cross-examining witnesses. For these reasons and more, working with a lawyer can increase your odds of approval.

Consider these factors as you search for a disability lawyer in Illinois:

  • Reviews: Look out for negative comments or concerns. One bad review might be a fluke, but a pattern of dissatisfied customers is probably a sign that they aren’t a good fit.

  • Primary area of practice: Disability benefits cases are unique, and lawyers that primarily work in other legal areas may not have the right background to tackle your case. Focus your search on lawyers who specialize in this area, and ask them about it during your initial conversations.

  • Location (to an extent): Illinois has multiple hearing offices, so a lawyer local to your hearing office can help because they’ll know the judges. A remote lawyer who you consult with over the phone can still be helpful, though, so don’t rule them out. After all, the Social Security disability rules are the same for residents of every state.

  • Communication: The application process and waiting periods are long, so it’s important to get updates when you need them. Look for a lawyer who is responsive and reliable. If you have questions, they should always be willing to connect.

  • Practice history: You want a lawyer with proven positive outcomes. The longer they’ve practiced, the more confident you can be that they have the skills to win your case. New lawyers have a lot of valuable skills, too, it can just be harder to determine how qualified they are.

The reality is that finding a good, qualified lawyer isn’t easy. Atticus can help by matching you with someone who’s a good fit for your claim — and all for free! We’ve been vetting disability lawyers for years, which means we’ve already tapped the best people who will treat you with priority and respect. If you want help finding a lawyer, fill out our disability quiz to get started.

Get paired with a top lawyer. Pay nothing until you win your case.

Frequently asked questions about benefits in Illinois

How do I qualify for disability in Illinois?

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 Illinois?

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 Illinois?

It takes an average of 6.1 months to get an initial disability decision in Illinois. 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 Illinois?

The average SSDI payment in Illinois is $1,413.31 per month. The average SSI payment is $651.63 per month. 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 Illinois?

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 Illinois have a state disability program?

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

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Related resources:

Everything You Should Know About Disability Benefits (SSDI and SSI)

By Sarah Aitchison

An Easy-to-Follow Guide to Applying for Disability Benefits

A hand drawn image of the lead disability lawyer.
By Jackie Jakab

See what you qualify for

How long has your condition made it hard to work?

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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