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Disability in Iowa: How to Qualify, Apply, and Win Benefits

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
December 16, 2022  ·  6 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

About 74,000 people in Iowa currently receive Social Security disability benefits. Getting approved for disability is often easier said than done, but the monthly payments can help make ends meet during a difficult time.

To better understand if you qualify for benefits, we’ll explain what disability programs are available in Iowa, how the application process works, and how much benefits could be worth for you.

Federal, private, and state disability programs 

Five states in the U.S. offer a statewide disability program, though Iowa isn’t one of them. Residents in Iowa can still qualify for benefits through other federal and private insurance programs.

Here are the four programs that people with disabilities in Kansas are most likely to qualify for:

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): SSDI is a federal program run by the Social Security Administration (SSA). It’s available to people who have paid taxes for years but have to stop working because of a medical condition.

  • Supplementary Security Income (SSI): SSI is also a federal program administered by the SSA. It even uses the same application as SSDI. However, SSI is available to people who have little to no income and maybe don’t have much recent work history.

  • Private disability insurance: Short-term and long-term insurance policies are available through some employers and for individual purchase. You need to already have a policy before you experience an eligible illness or injury, so these aren’t an option after the fact. Payments are worth a percentage of previous paychecks and pay for a certain number of months.

  • Veterans disability benefits: Current and retired service members can receive disability benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). People are eligible if they suffered an injury that left them unable to work. Learn more about how the Atticus can help you qualify for VA benefits.

The remainder of this guide will focus on SSDI and SSI. They’re the most common type of disability benefits available to people in Iowa.

In fact, even if you have a private insurance policy, your insurer may still require you to apply for Social Security disability (and decrease your benefits if you don’t).

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

Qualifying for Disability in Iowa 

There are specific medical and technical requirements you must meet to qualify for SSDI  and SSI. The medical requirements are the same for both programs but the work and income requirements are different.

Below is a breakdown of the most important information you should know about qualifying for disability.

Conditions that qualify for disability in Iowa

You can qualify for disability benefits if you have a medical condition that leaves you unable to work and is expected to continue for at least one year. SSA data released in 2022 shows the most common conditions among people who receive disability in Iowa: 

  • Congenital anomalies: 0.7%

  • Endocrine, nutritional, and metabolic diseases: 2.7% 

  • Infectious and parasitic diseases: 0.5% 

  • Injuries: 3.2% 

  • Mental Disorders: 38.7% 

  • Cancers: 3.2% 

  • Diseases of the blood and blood-forming organs: 0.2% 

  • Diseases of the circulatory system: 6.1%

  • Diseases of the digestive system: 1.3% 

  • Diseases of the genitourinary system: 1.1% 

  • Diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue: 26.6% 

  • Diseases of the nervous system and sense organs: 10.3% 

  • Diseases of the respiratory system: 3.2% 

  • Diseases of the skin and subcutaneous tissue: 0.2%

  • Other types of mental or physical disorders: 0.2% 

  • Unknown: 2.0%

Mental health conditions also qualify for benefits. A few of the most common mental health disorders reported by benefits recipients are:

  • Intellectual disorders: 11,881 people

  • Depressive, bipolar, and related disorders: 9,053 people

  • Schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders: 4,206 people

Learn more about what conditions qualify for disability benefits.

Technical SSDI qualifications

To qualify for SSDI, you must:

  • Be under 67 years old.

  • Meet work credit requirements that are based on age. Find your work credits through your SSA.gov account. Generally, people qualify if they have worked at least five out of the last 10 years.

Learn more about SSDI eligibility.

Technical SSI qualifications 

To qualify for SSI, you must:

  • Have little to no income, meaning less than $1,000 per month in most cases.

  • Have very few assets, including personal savings and retirement investments — usually less than $2,000 for single applicants and $3,000 for married individuals.

Learn more about SSI eligibility.

How do I apply for disability in Iowa?  

To apply for disability benefits, you’ll first need to fill out the main application (Form SSA-16). Then there are additional forms where you have to provide information on your day-to-day functioning, work history, and the treatment you receive for your health condition.

Filling out these forms on your own is certainly possible, but a disability lawyer can also complete the application for you.

How can I submit my application?

There are three ways you can file your disability benefits application:

  1. Apply online through the SSA website

  2. Apply over the phone by calling (800) 772-1213

  3. Apply in person at your local SSA office

If you are filling out the application on your own, consider applying in person. The SSA staff can’t provide legal advice but they can offer tips on how best to answer the application questions.

How should I prepare my application? 

The application process can take longer than you might think — especially if you’re applying without a lawyer’s assistance. Meanwhile a lawyer can help you keep track of all the deadlines, necessary paperwork, and other requirements.

Here are some key things you need to do if you’re applying on your own. 

  • Gather your records. Put together all the required information for an application, including medical records, contact information for doctors or medical providers, work history, education records, bank account information, and more.

  • Submit the application and include supplemental documents and forms. After you finish gathering your records, you can complete your application. It’s important to be specific and realistic about your mental or physical limitations and the pain levels you experience. Make sure your answers are consistent across all application forms because the SSA will look for inconsistencies.

  • Follow up with the SSA after you submit. Reach out to the SSA soon after you submit your application. Get confirmation that they’ve received and are beginning to process it.

  • Respond to any requests from the SSA immediately. As the SSA is processing your application, it might request additional documentation. It might also ask you to see a disability doctor. Normally, you have 10 days to provide documentation or to follow up with them. Waiting longer to respond could delay your application.

Another perk of working with a lawyer is that after they fill out the application for you, they’ll confirm that the SSA has received it. For more free legal advice on the application or finding the right lawyer, Atticus can help. Fill out our 2-minute disability quiz to get started

What happens after I apply? 

Unfortunately, only about 20% of initial applications are approved. At that point, you can file for a reconsideration. More than 90% of reconsiderations are still rejected but then your odds go up. The next step is to request a hearing before a judge.

You have the highest chances of acceptance if you endure to the hearing stage. Nearly 50% of hearings end in approval. Your chances of approval are also three times higher if you have a lawyer throughout the process.

You can learn more in our overview of the disability process.

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

It can take a long time — even years — to get a final decision from the SSA about your disability benefits applications.

In 2022, it took an average of 5.5 months (165 days) for a person to receive an initial decision about their application. Applicants had to wait another 4.9 months for a reconsideration request to be processed. The average wait time for a hearing in Iowa was 14 months, bringing the whole process to just over two years.

Hearing office

Wait time for hearing

West Des Moines

14 months

The only ways to potentially speed up the process are to send in all requested documentation as quickly as possible and to meet the SSA deadlines. Your lawyer can help with both of these, along with calling the SSA to check on your application status.

How much does disability pay in Iowa?

The amount of your disability checks is based on the type of benefits you receive and your income or work history.

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 Iowa

According to the most recent SSA data, the average monthly SSDI benefit for Iowa residents is $1,291.55. However, the exact amount of your SSDI benefit check will depend on your work history. The maximum possible SSDI benefit is $3,822 per month in 2024.

To figure out your potential SSDI paycheck, go to SSA.gov and make an account. Here’s how:

  • Visit SSA.gov

  • Click “mySocialSecurity”

  • Create an account using your Social Security number (SSN)

  • Scroll down to the section titled “Disability”

Average SSI payments in Iowa 

The maximum anyone can receive from SSI is $943 per month in 2024. The average monthly SSI payment in Iowa is $555.95, slightly lower than the national average.

To determine the value of your SSI check, the SSA subtracts all other monthly income you have — such as money from part-time work, stock earnings, and even SNAP benefits — from the maximum amount.

Disability lawyers in Iowa: how to find the right attorney

Working with a disability lawyer is a major help throughout the application process. They will fill out the application forms for you, stay on top of deadlines, communicate with the SSA, prepare you for a hearing, cross-examine witnesses at your hearing, and help you make the best possible case for disability benefits. In fact, you’re three times more likely to win benefits if you have a lawyer than if you don’t.

Consider these five essential points as you look for a disability lawyer in Iowa:

  • Reviews: Don’t just read reviews, but look for patterns. A few negative reviews aren’t necessarily bad but several negative comments are a sign the lawyer might not be right for you. You’ll also get a better idea of how the lawyer works. For example, if many reviewers say the lawyer’s very nice but slow with communication, then you know what to expect if you hire them.

  • Primary area of practice: You want a lawyer that specializes in disability benefits to ensure they have enough knowledge and experience to help you win your case. 

  • Location (to an extent): You don’t need a lawyer who lives in your immediate area. A local lawyer may be a benefit because they’re more familiar with the local judges, but a qualified disability lawyer anywhere in the country can help you win benefits.

  • Communication: Look for a lawyer who communicates well and gives you reliable ways to contact them, whether through email, over the phone, or in person. You also want a lawyer that keeps you updated on your case and answers your questions clearly.

  • How long they’ve practiced: The longer a lawyer has practiced, the more experience they may have working on cases similar to yours. New lawyers can be just as good as seasoned ones — they’re just harder to vet.

Searching for a lawyer is difficult, but Atticus is here to help. We’ve done the hard work of vetting disability lawyers from across the country, and we can match you with a qualified attorney for free. Fill out our disability eligibility quiz to get started and our team will follow up with next steps.

Ready to get benefits today?

Frequently asked questions about benefits in Iowa

How do I qualify for disability in Iowa?

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 Iowa?

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 Iowa?

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

The average SSDI payment in Iowa is $1,291.55 per month. The average SSI payment is $555.95 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 Iowa?

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 Iowa have a state disability program?

No, Iowa 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 Iowa 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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