Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Mar 12, 2019

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When most people speak of “disability benefits,” they are referring to a United States government disability insurance program. It is a set of benefits similar to social security retirement benefits. Like retirement benefits, disability benefits only pay out to United States workers who meet certain qualifying criteria, and only under certain qualifying circumstances.

Disability Insurance Programs

Social Security disability benefits are paid out through two federal programs: the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Program and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Both programs pay insurance benefits to people whose medical conditions prevent them from working their normal work schedules.

Qualifying for Disability Benefits

To qualify for social security disability benefits, you must have “a physical or mental impairment that is expected to keep you from doing any substantial work for at least a year” – or a condition that is expected to result in your death. Generally, $1,220 or more of monthly earnings are considered to be “substantial.”

You should file a claim for disability benefits as soon as possible. Although in most cases the monthly disability benefits do not begin until the sixth full month of your disability, you can get the process started so that when the waiting period is satisfied, the benefits can be paid.

For some types of disabilities, it is also possible to obtain something called “presumptive social security benefit payments.” These are monthly benefits that are paid out on the presumption that your application (as it appears on the surface) will be approved for disability payments. Only very serious cases of disability will generally be approved for presumptive payments.

Reductions in Disability Payments or Disqualifiers

Social security disability benefits can be reduced if you get workers’ compensation or other government disability benefits. The sum of all disability payments to you and your family is not supposed to exceed 80% of your averaged earning before you became disabled.

Social security disability benefits continue unless your condition improves or you return to substantial work. There are special rules which offer incentives to disabled persons to try working without the risk of a sudden loss of the monthly benefits and the Medicare coverage.

Getting Help

There are services available that assist people with applying for (or even just understanding) the many types of social security programs – especially social security disability insurance programs. If you need further assistance, you should view the federal government’s social security services site at www.socialsecurity.gov.