What is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

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Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal program that gives monthly payments to people who have worked, paid Social Security taxes, and now have disabilities that limit their ability to work. After you get SSDI benefits for 24 months (two years), you automatically get Medicare health coverage.

Some people call SSDI by other names, such as "DI," "Title II," or "Social Security disability benefits."

What is the difference between Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

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Social Security has two disability benefits programs with very similar names:

Some people qualify for both programs at the same time. If you get benefits from Social Security, but aren’t sure which ones you get, order a free Benefits Planning Query (BPQY) at your local Social Security office or by calling 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY).

What are Childhood Disability Benefits (CDB)?

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Adults who have a disability that began before they turned 22 can get Childhood Disability Benefits (CDB) benefits based on the taxes their parents paid into the Social Security system. CDB is similar to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), but you do not need to have worked to qualify for CDB. Note: Childhood Disability Benefits (CDB) are also called Disabled Adult Child (DAC) benefits.

Learn more about CDB.

Whom can I call to ask questions about Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

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If you have questions about Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and need to talk with somebody, call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY) or visit your local Social Security office.

If you want to ask about how work might affect your SSDI benefits, try contacting:

Who can get Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

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To qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Social Security must decide that you have a disability. You also need to have worked a certain amount of time and paid enough in Social Security taxes.

Social Security uses a series of tests to decide if you qualify. Generally, you qualify if you've got enough work credits and your disabling condition is severe enough to limit your ability to work.

It can take a long time for Social Security to decide if you qualify. Sometimes, it only takes a month or two, but sometimes it takes more than a year. The average is around six months.

Note: If you are a military veteran, let them know when you apply. Social Security may review your case faster.

How do I apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

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You can apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI):

What information do I have to give Social Security when I apply for SSDI?

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You may need to give this information when you apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI):
  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of doctors, therapists, hospitals, clinics, and others who have treated you
  • Prescriptions and results of medical tests
  • Copies of medical records
  • Your Social Security number and the Social Security numbers of your spouse and any children under the age of 18
  • A certified copy of your birth certificate
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or of legal residency, if you were born outside the U.S., like naturalization papers, your U.S. passport, or your green card
  • A certified copy of your military discharge papers (Form DD 214), if you were in the military
  • Copies of recent tax records or W-2 forms
  • Information on any Workers’ Compensation you’ve gotten
  • A list of the types of jobs you've done for the past 15 years

How much will I get in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits?

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Your Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits amount is based on how much you’ve earned from work over your lifetime. After you start getting benefits, you usually get a small increase in your benefits amount each January to account for changes in the cost of living.

You can check your Social Security earnings and benefits information online. Your online statements say how much you might get in SSDI benefits.

Note: Your SSDI benefits amount may be lower if you get certain types of income, such as Workers' Compensation or government pensions.

Does Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) come with health coverage?

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You automatically qualify for Medicare after you get Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits for 24 months (two years). Medicare coverage continues as long as you’re getting SSDI benefits.

Learn more about Medicare in DB101's Medicare article.

What is Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)?

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Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) is a level of earnings Social Security uses to figure out if you have a disability. If your monthly countable earned income is greater than the SGA level ($1,220 per month in 2019; $2,040 if you’re blind), Social Security says you don't have a disability.

For SSDI, your countable earned income is your gross monthly earnings minus your sick leave pay, vacation pay, wage subsidies, and Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs). Learn more about these deductions.

Note: If you are self-employed, Social Security looks at more than just your income, because the amount of money you actually get from your business depends on many things. Learn about the three tests Social Security uses to see if a self-employed person is working at the SGA level.

Does the money I have in the bank and my other assets affect whether I can get SSDI?

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No. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) does not have a resource limit. No matter how much you have in resources, you may still qualify for SSDI.

Does my disability qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

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It depends. Social Security follows a five-step process to see if your condition meets their standards for disability. This process can take anywhere from a couple of months to a year to complete.

Learn more about the disability determination process.

What is the Trial Work Period (TWP)?

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The Trial Work Period (TWP) is a period of time during which you can earn any amount and keep getting Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. The TWP ends when you use nine Trial Work months within five years.

During this five-year window, any month where your gross earnings are over the Trial Work level ($880 in 2019) is considered a Trial Work month. Your nine Trial Work months could be in a row or could be spread out over the five years. During your Trial Work months, you continue to get full SSDI benefits.

If you earn less in a month than the Trial Work level, you still get SSDI benefits and do not use up a Trial Work month.

Note: The Trial Work level changes every year.

What is the Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE)?

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After you use up your Trial Work Period (TWP), a three-year Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) begins. The first time your monthly countable earned income (your gross monthly earnings minus deductions) reaches the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level during the EPE, there’s a three-month Grace Period during which you keep getting SSDI benefits no matter how much you make. (SGA is $1,220 per month in 2019; $2,040 if you’re blind.)

Once your Grace Period ends, you do not get SSDI benefits in any month when your countable monthly earnings go over the SGA level. If your countable earned income drops back under the SGA level, you can call Social Security and get your benefits reinstated. During the EPE, you can keep getting SSDI benefits for any month during which your earnings are at or below the SGA level.

What is Expedited Reinstatement?

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If you used to get Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and your benefits ended within the last five years, Expedited Reinstatement means you can get up to six months of temporary SSDI benefits if your countable earned income drops below the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level. During your period of Expedited Reinstatement, you can deduct Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs) and employer subsidies from your gross monthly earnings to help you qualify for SSDI benefits.

During the six months of temporary benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) does a medical review to see if you have medically improved. If Social Security decides that you still have a disability, you keep getting benefits and don't have to reapply for SSDI. If they decide that you don't have a disability anymore, your SSDI benefits stop.

Do I need to let Social Security know if I go back to work?

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Yes. For Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you must tell Social Security right away if:
  • You start or stop work
  • You reported your work, but your duties, hours, or pay change; or
  • You start paying expenses for work because of your disability.

You also need to let Social Security know if your address changes, if you get any other disability benefits, such as Workers’ Compensation, or if you use any SSDI deductions when figuring out your income. If you don’t report your earnings, you may have to pay back the SSDI benefits you get to Social Security.

To report changes, contact your local Social Security office and ask how and when you should report your earnings. You may be able to report:

If you get Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and also get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, you must report your income to SSDI and SSI separately. Learn more about SSI income reporting in DB101's SSI article.

If you get AHCCCS coverage or get other state benefits, like TANF Cash Assistance or Nutrition Assistance (formerly Food Stamps), report changes in your income to your local DES/Family Assistance Administration office.

Get a binder for your records

Sometimes, Social Security reviews your situation. That’s why you should get a binder and keep copies of all of your records from the last five years in it, including:

Take your binder with you whenever you go to a Social Security office, and take notes in it every time you communicate with Social Security.

If Social Security denies my application for SSDI benefits, can I appeal the decision?

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Yes. If your application is denied, you can appeal the decision. More than half of appeals are successful.

An appeal may take several months. If your application is denied for medical reasons and you want to appeal, submit an Appeal Request and Appeal Disability Report. The report asks you for updated information about your medical condition and any treatment, tests, or doctor visits you've had since Social Security made their decision.

If your application is denied for nonmedical reasons, contact your local Social Security office to ask for a review or call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY).

For help with your appeal, contact the Arizona Center for Disability Law (ACDL).

Learn more about appeals.