Understanding Social Security Disability Insurance

By: Jenn  von Stoops, MA Special Needs Advocate and Care Manager

Help with Applying for Social Security

Navigating the process of tapping into government benefits can be confusing and daunting, especially when one is already facing life challenges. As complicated as it might seem, applying for Social Security benefits can be a manageable task, particularly with an expert LifeLinks Care Manager and Advocate by your side to provide education, support and guidance. She can assist you and/or a loved one with special needs with gathering all necessary documentation, walk you through the process, and help you to gain a better understanding of benefits offered as well has how to qualify and apply for them.    


If you’re trying to determine whether Social Security benefits are appropriate for you or a loved one with disability, here is some information to get you started. This article will provide a basic explanation of Social Security Disability Insurance to dispel some common misunderstandings.

SSDI Program

While Social Security exists solely to support retired citizens (you must be 62 or older), the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program is specifically designed to assist people with disabilities. SSDI is a Social Security program that pays monthly benefits to people who have become disabled before reaching retirement age. In order to qualify, one must have worked a certain amount of time, usually ten years, at a job covered by Social Security, and must have worked recently enough to earn the minimum amount of “work credits” required. This generally means having worked at least five of the last ten years. Please see the Social Security Administration’s official government website for a detailed explanation of how work credits are earned, as well as the formula to determine whether you have earned enough credits to apply:  https://www.ssa.gov/planners/disability/qualify.html.


In addition to meeting the above criteria, the applicant must have what is determined to be a physically or psychologically restrictive disability for at least one year. The Social Security Administration website contains an online manual, referred to as the “Blue Book,” that lists impairments or conditions that would qualify a person as disabled. For further reference, please see: https://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/AdultListings.htm.

The Blue Book is not entirely exhaustive. It is possible to have a qualifying disability not listed in its contents, so if you are impaired to the degree that you are unable to work, do not be discouraged from applying for benefits.


Some SSDI recipients are only temporarily disabled and are eventually able to return to work on a regular basis. For those people who are severely and permanently disabled, SSDI benefits will continue and there is no expiration date for their disability benefits.


All other beneficiaries must undergo a “continuing eligibility review” periodically, and the time frame per review is anywhere between 6 months to 7 years, depending on the severity of the injury/condition and the likelihood of improvement. Medical and psychological documentation is key to determining whether a person is capable of working regularly again, so it is crucial to continue seeing all care providers on an ongoing basis while receiving SSDI. If a recipient is receiving SSDI benefits when he reaches retirement age, the benefits automatically convert to retirement benefits. When this transition occurs, the monthly benefit amount remains the same.

Applying for SSDI

If you or a loved one has been or expects to be out of work for more than a year due to a qualifying disability, it is worth applying for SSDI. You may apply online, by mail, over the phone or in person. If you have some technological ability, the most expedient means for completing and submitting an application is online. To apply online, go to the Social Security website at https://www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability/ to begin the process. Remember, an expert LifeLinks Care Manager and Advocate can be especially helpful with the application process and with gathering all necessary medical records. In addition, due to her objectivity and experience, a Care Manager might observe things or be aware of information that should be included in the application that perhaps you have not noticed or thought of. Applying for benefits can be an emotional and exhausting process for the potential recipient and family, but an Advocate has expertise with navigating such processes and has an outsider’s valuable perspective.

An important tip: Make sure to gather all available documentation and medical records from every provider you currently see or have seen in the past. The more information you can provide the better. These records will provide concrete evidence of your disability and inability to work. Some providers are even willing to write letters to that effect. LifeLinks works with providers who are familiar with the disability application process and can be an asset during this trying time. We would be honored to walk alongside you as you begin this endeavor.


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