The Types of Disability Benefits You Should Know About
August 12, 2022 · 13 min read
Why trust us?
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.
Millions of Americans are unable to work because of an injury, illness, or other medical condition. If that includes you, know that there are programs available to help you pay the bills and cover your medical expenses.
Whether you’ve worked for years or are applying for a child with disabilities, this article will explain seven common types of disability benefits programs available in the U.S. We’ll also cover who qualifies and how much you can get so that you understand your options once you’re ready to apply.
7 types of disability benefits in the U.S.
The United States has six different types of disability programs, plus a potential seventh option for people who are injured because of someone else. These programs include state, federal, and private benefits. Many U.S. residents with an injury or long-term medical condition can qualify for one or more of these programs.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): SSDI is a federal disability program that covers Americans who have worked and paid taxes for years. Workers can qualify if they have a medical condition that leaves them unable to work for at least one full year. You’re more likely to be eligible for SSDI if you’ve worked at least five of the last 10 years. Recipients receive Medicare health insurance.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI): SSI is also a federal disability program, though it’s reserved for Americans who have little to no income, savings, or other assets. Children with disabilities can qualify for SSI, as can adults who have either never worked or haven’t worked enough to qualify for SSDI. People aged 65 and over can also get benefits without having to meet any medical requirements. All recipients can get Medicaid health insurance.
Veterans disability benefits: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides benefits for active duty or retired veterans who can’t work because of an injury they sustained in the line of duty. You can receive VA disability benefits at the same time as SSDI or SSI benefits.
Workers’ compensation: Commonly referred to as workers’ comp, this insurance program offers benefits to people who sustained an injury in the workplace. No matter whose fault the injury was, if a worker needs to miss work because of it, workers’ comp can offer them weekly payments and coverage for medical expenses. Almost all companies have workers’ comp policies.
Private short-term and long-term disability plans: Many employers offer private disability insurance benefits, but you can also purchase a plan directly from an insurance company. You can file a claim for benefits if you stopped working after your policy took effect.
Personal injury: If you were hurt in an accident, you can take legal action to maximize your compensation from the responsible party’s insurance or your own. This isn’t an insurance program, but it is an option for some people who can’t work because of an injury. You can talk with a personal injury lawyer to learn more.
Skip the reading. See which benefits you qualify for in 2-minutes or less.
1. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
SSDI is a federal disability benefits program administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Workers pay into SSDI a little bit from each of their paychecks, which means it isn’t a welfare program and only people who have already paid into the system can qualify.
If you are approved for SSDI, you’ll receive a monthly benefits payment and free health insurance through Medicare. Some recipients can also get SSDI benefits for family members.
Who qualifies for SSDI?
Qualifying for SSDI depends on two sets of criteria: technical and medical.
Technical eligibility depends on your tax history because the program is available to workers who have already paid a certain amount into the Social Security system. You’re likely to meet the technical criteria if you’ve worked for years, including, at least five of the last 10 years.
How much SSDI pays is based on your income history and the amount of taxes you’ve paid. While the average SSDI benefit check is $1,358 per month, you can receive up to $3,627 per month for 2023. Where you live and your medical condition don’t affect the size of your SSDI check.
To apply for SSDI, you’ll have to complete the main application (Form SSA-16). There are also supplemental forms on your work history and how your medical condition affects your ability to work. The SSA will want to see all of your medical documents, and having more documentation is always better.
SSI is also available through the federal government and administered by the SSA, but the program is specifically designed for individuals who have little or no monthly income, savings, and other assets. People who get approved for SSI benefits will also receive free Medicaid health insurance.
Who qualifies for SSI?
There are two sets of criteria for SSI: technical and medical.
The technical requirements are strict and require less than about $1,000 of monthly income plus less than $2,000 in resources, which include savings, property, and other assets. (The limit is $3,000 for a married couple.) Some assets are excluded — like a home, one vehicle, and basic household goods — but almost everything else counts as a resource.
Medical requirements are the same as SSDI, which means you need a documented disability or medical condition that makes it impossible for you to work and that will last for at least a full year. If you’re 65 or older, you don’t need to worry about the medical criteria.
How much does SSI pay in 2023?
The maximum monthly SSI payment in 2023 is $914, though the average SSI check is $568. How much you get is that maximum amount minus your current monthly income. So if you have $500 of monthly income, you could qualify for $414 from SSI in 2023.
Can you get SSI and other programs at the same time?
Yes, you can get other benefits alongside SSI, but you need to meet each program’s requirements. Since a monthly benefit from another program would count as income, it would also decrease your SSI benefit.
Many conditions are eligible for disability benefits. See what you qualify for instantly.
3. Short-term disability benefits
If you live in California, Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, or Rhode Island, you may be eligible for short-term disability benefits. Usually called short-term disability insurance (SDI) or temporary disability insurance (TDI), these benefits programs can offer support on their own or act as a supplement to SSDI and SSI.
In most states employees and employers pay a little bit into the program’s fund with every paycheck. If you’re injured and can’t work, the fund pays part of your salary while you can’t work.
Who qualifies for state disability benefits?
If you live in one of the five states that offer disability benefits, you can qualify if you had to stop working because of an illness, injury, or pregnancy. You need to have worked at some point in the past year, and work injuries do not qualify since they can qualify for workers’ compensation.
States commonly award benefits for long-term illnesses like COVID-19 or pneumonia, pregnancy or childbirth, and recovery from an accident or surgery. As a general rule of thumb, if you can’t work for at least a week, you can qualify for state disability benefits. (If your symptoms will leave you unable to work for a full year, you also could qualify for SSDI or SSI.)
How much do state disability benefits pay in 2023?
How much state benefits pay varies. Every state does have a maximum weekly payment, but there are also maximums and you can typically expect payments worth up to 60% of your previous paychecks.
Note that if you do get SSDI or SSI checks, they’ll be offset based on your state disability amount.
State disability benefits typically last only three to six months, though they last up to one year in California. Benefits are easier to qualify for and you’ll get your first check faster than SSI and SSDI. That means state benefits could help you while you wait on Social Security disability.
How to apply for state disability benefits
How you apply for benefits depends on which state you live in, and you’ll have to apply directly through the state. The application process varies slightly by state, but you can generally expect to fill out an application that asks for details about you, your work history, and the nature of your injury or illness.
Can you get state disability benefits and other programs at the same time?
You can apply for state benefits alongside other disability benefits, but it’s unlikely you will receive multiple at the same time because of the timing of the programs. Social Security and VA benefits applications last months or years, so any state disability benefits you get will probably end by the time you get approved for another program.
The main exception is that work injuries don’t qualify for short-term state programs.
4. VA disability benefits
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers disability benefits to active or retired veterans with a medical condition caused or made worse by their military service. Your condition doesn’t have to keep you out of work, either. The VA uses a scaled system with disability ratings up to 100, and that the more serious your condition is, the greater your benefits payment will be.
Active duty and retired veterans can qualify for VA disability benefits if they sustained an injury or illness in the line of duty. Your condition must impact your daily life in some way, although it doesn’t necessarily have to keep you from doing full-time work.
The VA commonly awards disability benefits for conditions like chronic back pain, hearing loss, PTSD, breathing problems associated with lung disease, and more. Note that the same conditions can qualify you for SSDI or SSI, so it may be worth applying both for VA and Social Social Security disability.
How much do VA benefits pay in 2023?
The size of your VA benefits check depends on the severity of your condition. The more your condition impacts you, the greater your benefits payment will be. The VA uses disability ratings — that is, the percentage that someone is disabled or unable to function at their previous full capacity — to determine monthly payments.
Your monthly payments may be higher if you have dependents, but that does not apply to people with disability ratings below 20%. All payments are tax free.
How to apply for VA benefits
To apply for VA benefits, file a claim through the VA website. You can also submit any supporting documents — like VA or private medical and hospital records — at the time you submit your application, which helps the VA process your claim more quickly. As of September 2023, it took an average of 103.3 days for the VA to complete a disability-related claim.
Can you get VA benefits and other programs at the same time?
Yes, but you need to meet the qualification requirements for each program. Unlike VA benefits, Social Security disability benefits require that you can’t work. That means not everyone can qualify for both programs simultaneously. That said, if you do qualify for both programs, you can use the same medical documents you help you qualify for both programs.
5. Workers’ compensation benefits
Workers’ compensation is an insurance program that most companies are required to have. So if you’re one of the millions of workers injured in the workplace every year, you can most likely qualify for weekly payments and medical care until you get better.
Most full-time and part-time employees who were injured while doing their job can qualify for workers’ comp. It doesn’t matter whose fault the injury was. Illnesses, including exposure to harmful substances, also qualify for workers’ comp.
You’ll also receive medical coverage as part of workers’ comp. Any necessary medical care related to your injury will be paid or reimbursed by your employer’s insurance company.
How to apply for workers’ comp
Applying for workers’ comp starts with reporting your workplace injury to your employer — your boss, manager, supervisor, or someone in a similar position. Then depending on where you live, either you, your employer, your doctor, or your employer’s insurance company will need to file an official claim.
Can you get workers’ comp and other benefits at the same time?
Yes, you can absolutely receive workers’ comp at the same time as other benefits. You can also get disability benefits after a workers’ comp settlement. You’ll need to meet the requirements for the other program, and your disability payments may be lowered since you’re already getting payments from workers’ compensation.
Maximize your workers' comp benefits today
6. Private disability insurance
Private disability insurance works like many other insurance plans: you pay for a policy and then when you need it, you have access to it. There are two types of private disability insurance: short-term and long-term. Both are available from many employers and insurance companies, but you need to have a plan in place before your condition requires you to miss work time. Exact details also vary by plan and insurer.
Who qualifies for private disability insurance?
To qualify for private disability insurance, you need to have bought a plan before you become disabled or unable to work. Most people get it through their employer (some employers provide it for free), but you should check with your company to see what benefits they offer. Even if they offer a short-term plan, they may not offer you a long-term plan.
How much does a private disability plan pay?
Short-term disability insurance plans usually pay up to 80% of your average earnings and last for three to six months. Long-term disability insurance plans usually pay between 40% to 60% of your average earnings for years (likely until you reach retirement age).
The exact terms will depend on the policy you bought, so it’s important to check with your employer or insurance company for more details.
How do I file a private disability benefits claim?
You can file an insurance claim through your disability insurance company. If you have the plan through your employer, you’ll still file through the insurer. You don’t need a lawyer to file, but if you’re denied coverage then you can find one to fight the decision.
Often, the insurance company will ask you to visit a doctor (which they choose or approve) to evaluate your condition. We suggest that you keep seeing your own doctor as well if possible.
Can I get private disability and Social Security disability?
You can get SSDI, SSI, short-term disability, or VA benefits on top of private insurance payments. However, the size of your check for the other programs will usually be reduced.
If you have long-term private disability, your insurance company may even require you to apply for SSDI, and decrease your payments if you don’t.
7. Personal injury claims
Personal injury claims have been part of U.S. law since 1620 and the basic idea is that if someone hurts you, they should have to bear the cost. So if you’re injured in an accident, you can work with a personal injury lawyer to file a personal injury claim.
Personal injury claims aren’t a true disability benefits program, but they are an important way for people who can’t work because of an injury to maximize the medical and financial help they’re entitled to. Winning a claim usually means getting compensation to cover medical care and any lost wages.
Who can make a personal injury claim?
Personal injury claims are an option for anyone injured in an accident who needs additional compensation from the responsible party’s insurer — even if you’re the responsible party. It’s important to note, though, that not everyone who’s been injured has a case.
There is no “typical” personal injury claim, but people who’ve broken a bone, had thousands of dollars of medical bills, or been left unable to work often have a good case for additional compensation.
How much do personal injury claims pay?
How much personal injury claims pay varies widely and will depend on your specific injury, how much medical care it required, and how much income you’ve missed out on as a result. A lawyer can help you win a settlement amount that covers the cost of your medical care and any wages you’ve lost due to missed work.
How to file a personal injury claim
Before filing a personal injury claim, make sure you’ve already sought medical care. Winning a case often requires extensive medical records that detail your injury and how it impacted your personal and professional lives.
Your next step is to contact a lawyer. It’s possible to file a personal injury claim on your own, but this area of law is complex and counterintuitive. We know a lot of personal injury lawyers seem sketchy and untrustworthy, but there are good ones and it’s critical to consult one. Having someone who knows what they’re doing will make the process much easier to navigate and win.
The only set of circumstances where you should consider handling a claim yourself is when your injuries are so serious that the insurer is already offering you the “policy limit” (maximum) of the other party’s insurance.
Can you still get other benefits if you file a personal injury claim?
If you win a personal injury claim, you can still qualify for other types of disability benefits. The exception is that if your payment is big enough, it could leave you ineligible for SSI since the settlement is considered income.
Can I get unemployment benefits for a disability?
Very few people can qualify for both unemployment insurance and disability benefits. Unemployment benefits are exclusively for people who are “physically able to work” and “actively looking for work.” That usually excludes people who can qualify for Social Security disability.
Now that you understand the types of disability programs, the next step is to apply. Applying for can be challenging enough, but the reality is that the odds of approval for most applicants aren’t very high at first. Atticus connects people with trustworthy advice from qualified lawyers who can help give them the best chance at winning benefits. Applicants with lawyers are three times more likely to win benefits.
Start with our 2-minute disability benefits quiz and our team will reach out to learn more about your situation and connect you with a qualified lawyer to help you through the application process.
Ready to get benefits today?
See what you qualify for
How long has your condition made it hard to work?
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.
At the bottom of many websites, you'll find a small disclaimer: "We are not a law firm and are not qualified to give legal advice." If you see this, run the other way. These people can't help you: they're prohibited by law from giving meaningful advice, recommending specific lawyers, or even telling you whether you need a lawyer at all.
There’s no disclaimer here: Atticus is a law firm, and we are qualified to give legal advice. We can answer your most pressing questions, make clear recommendations, and search far and wide to find the right lawyer for you.
Two important things to note: If we give you legal advice, it will be through a lawyer on our staff communicating with you directly. (Don't make important decisions about your case based solely on this or any other website.) And if we take you on as a client, it will be through a document you sign. (No attorney-client relationship arises from using this site or calling us.)