August 23, 2019

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Determining SSDI Eligibility


According to the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) disability benefits handbook, your chances of becoming disabled are higher than you might think. Twenty-year old workers have a 25 percent chance of becoming disabled by the time they retire. So no matter how old you are, it’s a good idea to brush up on your social security literature to better understand the process for collecting benefits and the stringent requirements that might prevent you from gaining benefits.


The following will focus on one particular type of benefit offered by the SSA: Social Security Disability Insurance (or SSDI). Supplemental Security Income (or SSI) is another benefit offered to people with very little means to support themselves. It is funded via the US Treasury and is sourced in personal income taxes and corporate taxes. This means you don’t have to pay into social security in order to receive SSI.


By contrast, SSDI is funded directly through social security payments. Thus, in order to receive SSDI benefits you have to have worked for a certain period of time under Social Security. And your work experience must be recent enough for it to count toward your SSDI benefit.

How much work experience you need and how recent that work needs to be will depend on the timing of your disability. For instance, if you become disabled at age 31 then you will need five years of work experience during the 10 years leading up to your injury.

In short, Social Security will run two tests in the first phase of your review: one determining how long you worked under Social Security and another determining how recently you worked.


In addition, the SSA will consider the amount of Social Security credits (or Quarter of Coverage) you earned while working. A credit is a unit used to calculate a person’s eligibility for Social Security. In 2018, the QC will be equivalent to $1,320. You can obtain up to four credits every year and the amount of credits you need depends on your age. Broadly speaking, you must have 40 credits, 20 of which were earned during the 10 years leading up to your disability.

Disability Defined

After your work history checks out, the SSA will want to make sure you are in fact disabled. The SSA follows a pretty strict definition of disability.

In order to be considered disabled, you must have a medical condition that has lasted or will last for at least one year or that will ultimately result in your death. Most importantly your disability must stop you from working. To that end, your injury or condition must prevent you from engaging in your normal line of work. Similarly, your disability must prevent you from taking on a new kind of work.

It isn’t enough for you to just say you’re unable to work; the SSA (or more specifically, the Disability Determination Service) must decide that you are in fact incapable of taking on a job.

To do this, they will consider the criteria described above and cross-check your condition with their own list of pre-approved disabilities. If you are unable to work and your disability is severe enough, you will likely be approved. But you can’t be certain until you hear back from the SSA.


The amount of time it takes to receive a response from the SSA varies from case to case, but generally speaking, you can expect a response (affirmative or negative) within three to five months. And from the time you are disabled, you can expect a check in the mail after six months. Of course, your application may be denied, in which case you can appeal.

If you decide to appeal, it might be a good idea to retain an attorney who understands the intricacies of Social Security benefits and the appeals process. A little help could go a long way.


About Sean Lally

Sean Lally holds a BA in Philosophy from Temple University where he also studied theatre for several years. Between 2007 and 2017, he worked as a professional actor for several regional theater companies in Philadelphia, including the Arden Theatre Co., EgoPo Productions, Lantern Theater and the Bearded Ladies. In 2010, Sean co-founded Found Theater Company, an avant-garde artist collective with whom he first started to cultivate an identity as a writer.

Over the past few years, Sean has been working as a content writer, focusing primarily on the ways in which unequal power distribution can negatively affect consumers, workers and “everyday people,” more broadly. He writes for a number of websites including,, and others.