What the Social Security Administration (SSA) Means by “Disabled”
SSA’s definition of “disability” is very strict. SSA pays benefits only for total disability, meaning when a person cannot engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA). No benefits are paid for partial or short-term disability. (Please read How Do I Apply for Temporary Benefits?” for more information.)
SSA pays monthly cash disability benefits through two programs:
- Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): SSDI benefits are for people who have worked for a certain amount of time and paid Social Security taxes during that period.
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI): SSI benefits are for people who are low income and are age 65 or older or blind or have a disability.
- Not be able to do the work that you did before;
- Not be able to do other kinds of work because of your medical condition(s); and
- Have a disability that has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.
Even if your doctor says that you have a disability, you cannot get Social Security disability benefits unless your medical records show that you meet SSA’s requirements. Read more about this definition of disability and how SSA makes a decision on disability claims.
Disability payments cannot begin until you have been disabled continuously for five full calendar months; payments are made starting with the sixth full month after the date your disability began. After you receive disability benefits for 24 months, you are automatically enrolled in Medicare. You will not receive Social Security benefits for any month in the waiting period.
The Compassionate Allowances program lets SSA quickly make decisions and pay benefits on claims filed by individuals with serious diseases and medical conditions, which automatically meet SSA’s disability standards.
For more information, visit Disability.gov’s Qualifying for Social Security Disability Benefits section.