Frequently Asked Questions about Social Security Disability

By / March 3, 2016 / Social Security Disability & SSI Basic Facts / 11 Comments

Answers a range of questions about the Social Security Disability application process, eligibility, what medical records are needed, and which conditions can be Fast Tracked.

What is a “disability,” as defined by the Social Security Administration?
It’s a physical or mental condition – one that’s expected to last at least 12 months or result in death – that prevents a person from working. The disability does not have to be work-related forv you (or a family member) to receive SSDI benefits, but benefits are not paid for short-term or partial disabilities.

Is a letter from my doctor, stating that I’m disabled, good enough for the SSA?
Not by itself. You’ll still need to complete an application (claim) for SSDI benefits and also provide the SSA with personal data, medical records, etc. You may also be asked to go for a physical exam, paid for by the SSA.

What information about my medical condition and my work experience do I send to the SSA?
You’ll need medical records from the doctors, hospitals, clinics, caseworkers, therapists, etc., involved in diagnosing or treating your disability. You’ll also need to provide a copy of your most recent W-2 tax form or federal tax return.

How does my work history affect my qualifications to receive SSDI benefits?
You’ll need to have worked long enough and recently enough under Social Security (i.e., you’ve paid into the system) to earn the required number – it changes annually – of work credits. If you haven’t met these requirements, you’re not eligible for SSDI benefits. But you may be eligible for other types of benefits.

How long does it usually take the SSA to process a typical application for SSDI?
It usually takes from three to five months to process an application, or longer if any required data is incomplete or missing. If your application is denied, it will take additional months if you appeal the decision. Then, if your appeal is denied and you ask for a hearing, you can figure there will be an additional wait time of about 442 days!

I heard there’s a “Fast Track” that speeds up the process if someone has a serious medical condition that’s listed?
Yes. Another 25 medical conditions were recently added to the list of 200 – compiled in 2008 and 2012 – that clearly qualifies applicants for Compassionate Allowances. Applications for persons with any of these 225 conditions can usually get approved in just days – if they meet other requirements for SSDI benefits.

What’s involved when the SSA reviews my application for benefits?
Your application is studied to determine if you’ve provided all the information required and you have enough work credits to qualify. If so, it’s sent to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) office in your state. Their disability specialists ask your doctor(s) about your condition and how it limits your ability to do work-related activities. Then a five-step process is used to make a determination as to whether or not you qualify for SSDI benefits.

If my application is denied do I get a second chance to apply?
For one reason or another, about 70% of all SSDI applications are denied the first time they go through the system. If yours is denied, you can submit it again – after you’ve corrected any errors, provided any missing information, etc.

What if I resolve whatever it is that caused them to turn me down, I apply again, and they turn me down again?
If you do so within 60 days, you can request a hearing before a federal administrative law judge. If an SSDI-qualified attorney has not helped you up to that point, you may want to hire one – perhaps at no out-of-pocket expense – to represent you in court. It’s really not a do-it-yourself procedure.

Can disabled children get government benefits?
Perhaps. If they are no older than 17 and they and their family meets specific requirements, they may qualify for SSDI or Supplementary Security Income (SSI) benefits. Their disability must have lasted, or is expected to last, at least one year or is expected to result in death.

If my application is approved, how soon will I start receiving benefits?
It depends on the SSA’s determination as to when your disability began. Your first benefit will cover the sixth full month after that date. For instance, if your disability officially began on July 15, 2016, your first benefit would be paid for the month of January, 2017, and you’d receive it in February, 2017. Payments are sent in the month that follows the month they’re for.

How long can I continue to get benefits for a particular disability?
If your case is typical, you’ll continue to receive benefits until your disability lessens (if that’s possible) and you’re able to resume work on a regular basis.

When I reach “retirement age,” can I still receive SSDI benefits?
Every year or so, the SSA revises their official “full retirement age.” If you’re still receiving SSDI benefits when you reach this age, your benefits will be automatically converted to SSA retirement benefits of the same dollar amount.

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  • You are welcome, Cassandra.

  • Dear Cassandra,

    It is possible that it does have to be listed; however, the pension will not affect her Social Security as long as the wages on which her pension is based were taxed for Social Security.


  • Dear June,

    You need to report the self-employment work to Social Security now and give a monthly estimate of how much you will earn. Then, as you suggest, at the end of the year file your tax return and give a copy to Social Security to finalize your earnings for the year. Keep all your work records permanently in case questions ever arise again in the future.


  • nancy

    hi Kay…I posted this somewhere else but I don’t think it went thru. I am currently renting a room from a friend, but due to finances they need to move. In the area we need to be in, the lowest rent we can hope for is $1250 per month. I receive $739 from SSI. After splitting the rent, that will leave me with $114. From that I will have to find a way to pay my share of utilities…I will be getting food stamps and I am assuming a govt allowance toward my half. Still not great. If I paid $50 less toward the rent, would I lose some of my SSI ? Also, are my parents allowed to pay car insurance for me? Also, my friend and I are finding it very hard to find apt due to bad credit and low income. Am I allowed to have my parents cosign a lease for me or us so we can pass a credit check?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Nancy,

      If you and your friend share expenses in your new apartment, your paying $50 less than your share of rent and shelter utilities will cause your SSI to go down by $30. If you both go on the lease or rental agreement, you will be construed as sharing.

      On the other hand, if your friend (with or without your parents as co-signers) is the only one on the lease and you continue to rent a room from him or her, there is no requirement that the room rental be half of the householder’s rent or half of the rent and utilities. In a room rental situation, you just have to pay fair market value (FMV) for the room, which could include all utilities. FMV for room is the amount such rooms are renting for in your geographic area. Social Security law does not specify an amount required to be paying fair market value because the economy is different in every location. You can figure out a fair market rental rate by looking at ads for room rentals in your area and/or by choosing state and county on the federal HUD website at It will not list rooms, but it will list studio or efficiency (one-room) apartments. A room in a house would probably cost about half of that amount.

      The amount you pay for housing is considered in determining your eligibility for SNAP (food stamps). Your parents can pay for your car insurance or any expense other than food, rent and shelter utilities and their help will not affect your SSI as long as they make the payment directly to the provider and do not give you money to make the payment or purchase.



  • Pat

    My 33 year old daughter receives SSDI. She has no other earned income. As her surviving parent, I continue to support most of her household needs such as food an shelter. She requires approximately 90 hours of care per week to help with medical issues, cooking, laundry and transportation needs. I as her parent I do not take any financial help for these supports, but do consider the value of these service at minimum wage when calculating the 50 % support test. She pays for clothing, entertainment, and trips plus medical expenses not covered by Medicare. Approximately 2/3 of her funds go her savings to purchase a property for her in the future where she would be able to live with the help of support staff. Does my paying more than 50% affect her benefits is any way? I am still claiming her as a exemption.
    Thank you,

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Pat,

      I cannot comment on whether or not you can use in-kind support in the form of services to claim your daughter on your taxes. However, such services do not affect her eligibility for Social Security benefits whether or not you claim her as a dependent on your taxes. Just a note: you might check with your state or county social services office to see whether you qualify for compensation under the In-Home Support Services (IHSS) program that under some circumstances will pay a wage to individuals caring for a severally disabled relative.



  • Arthur D Cox

    Im considered disabeled n frail but receive benefits of 1000.00 per month. Can i work odd jobs and have a job without affecting my benefits and if so how much extra income can i earn?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Arthur,

      If you are unable to perform Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), you can work and receive full Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits. Currently the SGA earnings benchmark is $1,130 gross per month so you would want to stay below that amount. If you earn $810 gross in a month, that month will count as one of your nine Trial Work Period (TWP) months during which full benefits are payable. In the thirty-six-month Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE), which follows the end of the TWP, you will be paid benefits only in months you do not perform SGA. You can read more about these work incentives in the Red Book, which is available online at


  • Robert Parnell

    My disability claim arrived at my DDS workers desk yesterday . And I checked today and it said a decision had already been made as of today. How can that be ? A descion that quick .

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Robert,

      If you submitted documentation of a clearly disabling illness or injury, an immediate decision would be possible. Or, if you have a terminal condition, a rapid compassionate allowance is possible.


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