10 Signs You Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits

These signs could pave your way to Social Security Disability benefits.
Updated April 11, 2024
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Injuries or illness can strike at any age, but if you’ve worked for years, you may expect the government to help you. That’s where Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) comes in. 

You’ll want to find out if you qualify for SSDI and what goes into the application process before you retire and any health issues arise.

Here’s what you need to know to be approved for Social Security Disability benefits.

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What is SSDI?

H_Ko/Adobe disabled woman filing employment form

SSDI, often referred to as just "disability," is a type of payment made to qualified individuals by the Social Security Administration (SSA). This monthly payment can help provide for many of the needs of qualified individuals.

Since this type of financial aid is only available to those who have a disability that limits or even eliminates their ability to work, it's critical to understand if you meet the SSA's definition of disabled.

You can't work at all

Drazen/Adobe african american nurse helping patient walk

You may qualify for SSDI if you can't work. Under the SSA guidelines, this means you have some condition that limits you from earning enough money above "substantial gainful activity."

This figure differs from year to year. In 2024, if you can't earn more than $1,550 per month, you may qualify for SSDI.

You're legally blind

Halfpoint/Adobe senior blind man using public transport

For those who are legally blind, as determined by an optometrist, you may also qualify for SSDI without any other medical limitations.

If you are blind and cannot earn more than $2,590 per month, which is the threshold for substantial gainful activity for a blind person, then you may qualify.

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You can support your disability claim

Nina L/peopleimages.com/Adobe senior couple with therapist at clinic

Here's the key to being eligible: You have to be able to prove it, and the SSA requires that proof include extensive medical documentation showing your disability and the degree to which it prevents you from earning an income.

To determine if you meet these requirements, you'll need to look at the SSA's Listing of Impairments for adults. You may qualify if you have medical documentation of one of these conditions and can show licensed medical doctor records.

You've worked enough years

Nicholas Felix/peopleimages.com/Adobe disabled female web designer using tablet

You have to have enough work history to qualify. This means you've worked for at least five of the last 10 years. If you're under 24, you may be eligible if you've worked for a shorter period.

This is defined as the number of work credits you have. To qualify for SSDI, you must have at least 40 work credits, and 10 must be within the last decade.

You paid into Social Security during your work history

.shock/Adobe diverse colleagues collaborating in modern office

If you worked but didn't pay into the Social Security system, you may not qualify for SSDI. Most people pay into SSA with every paycheck they earn, much like paying federal or state taxes.

If you worked an under-the-table job or your employer didn't report your earnings to SSA, you may have difficulty proving you meet the work eligibility requirements.

You're not going to get better

Valerii Apetroaiei/Adobe woman undergoing radiation therapy besides nurses

SSDI is only provided on a long-term basis. If you're unable to work during a period of illness, you can't apply for SSDI.

Instead, if you can't work and the condition is expected to last for a year or longer or result in your death, you may qualify.

Your condition is severe

auremar/Adobe occupational therapist helping patient to walk

SSDI is meant for those with serious conditions that make it impossible for a person to work.

SSA defines severe as conditions where you can't do activities necessary for work, such as walking, sitting, standing for long periods, or lifting. You may also qualify if you can't remember things due to a mental defect.

You meet the compassionate allowance requirements

Gorodenkoff/Adobe senior patient resting in geriatrics ward

There's typically a waiting period to determine if your condition will improve. However, if you meet any of the SSA's compassionate allowances, you can apply for and get SSDI immediately.

Compassionate allowances are for those who have particular conditions like pancreatic cancer, Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS), or acute leukemia.

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You can't do other types of work

Nomad_Soul/Adobe veteran shifting on wheelchair from car

Disability often focuses on a person's ability to do the job they've been doing in the past. However, if you can't do any work due to your medical condition, that could indicate you're eligible.

If you have transferable skills that could be used in another industry that would be possible to manage your medical impairment, you may not qualify for SSDI.

You see a specialist routinely

Tyler Olson/Adobe female physiotherapist helping senior patient walk

If you are unsure if you meet the requirements for obtaining SSDI, consider the type of doctors you visit.

If you see a specialist consistently, such as for multiple sclerosis, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, or Huntington’s disease, you likely qualify for SSDI if your condition is debilitating.

Bottom line

Nomad_Soul/Adobe disabled military man using laptop

If you meet these criteria, applying for SSDI is straightforward. You can start the process online or visit your local SSA office.

Even if you don't qualify, the SSA can help you explore other programs, such as Supplemental Security Income, to help you supplement your income.

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Author Details

Sandy Baker Sandy Baker is a has over 17 years of experience in the financial sector. Her experience includes website content, blogs, and social media. She’s worked with companies such as Realtor.com, Bankrate, TransUnion, Equifax, and Consumer Affairs.

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