Social Security - Disability


B. Disability
Individuals who cannot work because of a physical or mental condition expected to last at least one year or result in death may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits.

1. Definition - Social Security uses a strict definition of disability. The condition making an individual unable to work must be "severe" and the condition must prevent the individual from doing any type of work, not just the person's current occupation. An individual may qualify to collect benefits under a private disability policy but be ineligible to collect Social Security disability benefits.

2. Eligibility - There are two earnings tests to qualify for Social Security disability benefits:
  • A "recent work" test based on age at time of disability.
  • A "duration of work" test to show an individual worked long enough under Social Security.
Rules for work needed for the "recent work test"
If you become disabled... Then you generally need:
In or before the quarter you turn age 24 1.5 years of work during the three-year period ending with the quarter your disability began.
In the quarter after you turn age 24 but before the quarter you turn age 31 Work during half the time for the period beginning with the quarter after you turned 21 and ending with the quarter you became disabled.
Example: If you become disabled in the quarter you turned age 27, then you would need three years of work out of the 6-year period ending with the quarter you became disabled.
In the quarter you turn age 31 or later Work during 5 years out of the 10-year period ending with the quarter your disability began.
3. Benefits - Payment of benefits begins are paid upon the sixth full month after the disability begins. The amount of benefit depends upon the worker's average lifetime earnings.
    • Benefits for family members - Members of a family may qualify for disability benefits based on another family member's work. They include:
      • A spouse, if he or she is 62 or older;
      • A spouse, at any age if he or she is caring for a child of the worker's who is younger than age 16 or disabled;
      • The worker's unmarried child, including an adopted child, or, in some cases, a stepchild or grandchild. The child must be under age 18 or under age 19 if in elementary or secondary school full time; and
      • The worker's unmarried child, age 18 or older, if he or she has a disability that started before age 22. (The child's disability also must meet the definition of disability for adults.)
4. Medicare - Recipients of Social Security disability benefits are eligible for Medicare benefits after collecting disability benefits for two years.

5. Work incentives - There are rules that allow recipients of Social Security disability benefits to test whether they are able to return to work without losing their disability or Medicare benefits.

6. Supplemental Security Income - A benefit paid to low-income individuals with disabilities, including children.
Survivor and Family Limitations
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