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SSDI Eligibility: Social Security Disability Qualifications Explained

Jackie Jakab, Attorney
By Jackie Jakab, Attorney
A woman with a scarf around her head being comforted by a friend while having coffee at home.

Right now, 10 million Americans receive Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits—and many more are eligible. If you’re struggling with a serious illness or injury, and your condition prevents you from working, Social Security Disability could help you get the medical care and financial support you need. The first step, however, is determining whether you qualify. Let’s take a quick look at what makes you eligible for SSDI, and what you should do next if you are (hint: the team at Atticus can help).

Am I eligible to receive SSDI benefits?

To be eligible to receive SSDI benefits, you must:

  • Be under age 67
  • Have a medical condition expected to last at least 12 months (or result in death)
  • Be unable to work because of that medical condition
  • Have worked for a minimum amount of time in the past (we’ll explain this below)

While this seems pretty straightforward—in practice, applying can be tricky. For many, the government’s definition of work eligibility, or “minimum work requirements,” is confusing. To qualify to SSDI, you need to have worked, and paid into the social security program, a minimum amount of years—depending on your age when you became disabled. After age 40, the general rule of thumb is that you need to have worked at least five of the last ten years. It varies if you are younger than this, but less time worked is expected.The legal team at Atticus can help you determine (for free) what your work history requirements are, depending on when you became disabled.

Do some conditions automatically qualify for SSDI (and what’s the Social Security Listing of Impairments)?

Most people who receive SSDI benefits qualify based on the specific facts of their case—very few qualify automatically. Most likely, your condition is one that may be eligible, but is not always eligible for benefits. If this is the case, you’ll need to show how serious your condition is based on medical proof. To demonstrate that your condition or symptoms stop you from working, Social Security will expect you to include all relevant medical and work history documentation in your application. This generally includes medical tests and doctor’s notes; your lawyer can help you cover the bases. There are, however, some exceptions. To streamline the application process, the Social Security Administration created a list of health conditions that nearly always qualify a person for SSDI benefits. This is called the Social Security Listing of Impairments. If you have a condition such as ALS, which is on the list, you’ll qualify as long as you meet the minimum work requirements. Other such conditions include:

  • Stage IV Cancer
  • Kidney failure requiring dialysis
  • Amputations

The most common reasons people get benefits are less clear and less extreme—like back issues or IBS. Again, an attorney can help you evaluate, and make the case for, your eligibility.

To qualify for SSDI, are there limits on how much money I can have?

SSDI doesn’t look at how much money you earned before becoming disabled, how much money your spouse has, or how much money you have saved in any accounts. It does, however, look at how much you’re currently making by working. Recipients of SSDI cannot make any more than $1,260 per month by working. Any amount you earn near or above could cause Social Security to re-evaluate whether you can work. This holds true both while applying for SSDI benefits, and at any point while you are receiving SSDI benefits. (Small aside: This eligibility criteria differs from Social Security Insurance—which has no former work requirements, but does have income limits. More on SSI here).

Once I have SSDI benefits, how often does the Social Security Administration review my case?

If the Social Security Administration believes your medical case might get better, they may review it every three years. If they don’t expect your condition to change, they may only revisit your case every seven years.

I’m wondering about my spouse or my child. Are they eligible for SSDI benefits?

If your spouse or children become disabled, they may be eligible for SSDI benefits based on your historical work eligibility. If you meet the minimum work eligibility requirements described above, they may qualify. For instance, if your spouse did not work and pay into Social Security, but stayed home to take care of young children, they may qualify. However, if your children are older or reach adulthood and your spouse continues not to work, their application may be rejected. SSDI, on the other hand, does not cover minors. (However, if your family is low income, your minor children may be covered by SSI).

I think I might be eligible. What should I do next?

If you are confused about the SSDI application process, you’re not alone. The team at Atticus can help you understand your rights. We’ll listen to the details of your case, offer advice, and pair you with a helpful attorney who specializes in SSDI. Our services are always free, and the help of a vetted lawyer increases the odds of winning your case (Studies show that at the appeal stage, people with an attorney are three times as likely to qualify for benefits.).We look forward to helping you every step of the way so you can focus on your health and wellbeing.

Ready to get benefits today?
Jackie Jakab, Attorney
Jackie Jakab, AttorneyJackie 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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