Before you can prove that you are disabled, you must first determine whether you are eligible for either SSD or SSI benefits.

SSD benefits

Your Work Record:  Eligibility for SSD benefits depends on your work history and how much you have paid into the Social Security system through your taxes.  If you have worked enough, and paid enough in taxes, you will be eligible for SSD.

Spouse’s Work Record:  You may also be eligible for SSD benefits through your deceased spouse.  If your spouse is deceased and you become disabled within seven years of his or her date of death, you may be eligible for disability benefits under his or her earnings record.

Parent’s Work Record:  You may also be eligible for SSD under your parent’s earnings record if you became disabled prior to age 22 and your parent is eligible for SSD, deceased, or retired.

SSI benefits

SSI is a need-based program.  It is based on your income and your assets. 


If you are eligible for SSD or SSI, you must then prove that you are disabled.  Social Security uses a five step process to decide whether you are disabled.

Step 1:  Are you working and earning over $1,170 a month?

This amount refers only to wages from work.  You can have income that is greater than this, such as interest from investments, so long as you are not earning $1,170 per month from work. If you are earning over $1,170 per month from work, you are not disabled under most circumstances.   Certain exceptions do apply, such as if you have medical expenses that enable you to work, or if you worked for a short period of time but were ultimately unable to maintain employment. 

Step 2:  Social Security will determine whether your medical condition is severe enough to keep you from working.

To be considered severe, your condition must have lasted for a period of 12 months or longer, or be expected to last for 12 months or longer, or be expected to result in death.   

Step 3:  Do you have a medical condition that is on a government list of impairments and meets a strict set of criteria, in which you would be found automatically disabled?

Although many conditions are listed on the government list of impairments, you must also meet a very strict set of criteria to be considered disabled at this step of the process.  Most people are not found disabled at this step, despite the fact that their condition is on the list.  If you do not meet a listed impairment, Social Security will go on to evaluate your condition at Step 4.

Step 4:  Can you do the work you did previously?

If you can do a job that you have done in the past 15 years, Social Security will determine that you are not disabled.  If you are unable to do your previous work, Social Security moves on to evaluate your case at Step 5.

Step 5:  Can you do any job that exists in significant numbers?

If you are able to perform another type of work and are under the age of 50, Social Security will find you not disabled.  (Certain exceptions apply for individuals age 45-49 who are unable to communicate in English.)

If you are 50 or older, certain criteria apply in which you may still be considered disabled even if you can do other work.  If you are 55 or older, the standard is even more relaxed.

The Social Security Disability process can be confusing.  If you have questions about the process, please contact me.

Social Security Disability (SSD) & Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits