Getting Started: What’s Included with Social Security Disability Benefits?

What benefits does Social Security Disability provide?

Social Security Disability provides monthly income assistance and access to Medicare or Medicaid health coverage for people who aren’t old enough to retire but can’t work because of severe health problems.

Who are Social Security Disability benefits for?

Social Security has disability benefits programs for several kinds of people, including:

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) for people with substantial work backgrounds who no longer can work.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for people with little work history and financial resources who also can’t work because of bad health. 
  • Benefits for spouses of people who qualify for SSDI.
  • Benefits for adult children with disabilities who have a parent with enough qualifying credits under Social Security.
  • Benefits for survivors of a disability recipient who died.

How much does Social Security Disability pay?

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) uses your past earnings in part to decide the size of your monthly disability check—but it doesn’t replace your paycheck dollar for dollar.

As of 2023, the average monthly payment under SSDI nationally was $1,483. The top limit for how much you could receive was $3,627, though it’s rare to get the maximum amount.

While SSDI pays different amounts from person to person, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits pay a standard amount for everyone. In 2023, SSI was $914 a month for individuals and $1,371 for eligible couples. 

Typically, these payments go up each year.

Spouses and children of SSDI recipients, and survivors of SSDI recipients who died, can receive amounts that range from a portion of what their family member received to the full amount of their loved one’s benefit, depending on their own health and family situations.

How can you get Medicare along with disability benefits?

Normally, you can’t get your health care covered by Medicare until you reach retirement age.

But if you qualify for SSDI benefits, you can get Medicare sooner. First, you have to get through a waiting period that starts from the date Social Security determines you first were eligible for disability benefits.

You often have to wait close to a year to get an answer about your Social Security Disability, so by the time you are approved for benefits you already have credit toward the wait time.

With SSI, you automatically qualify for Medicaid health care, which is based on financial need.

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Aren’t disability benefits just some kind of handout?

This is one of the biggest myths about Social Security Disability.

People don’t realize that Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is set up like an insurance policy.

You’re only covered if you paid into the program through taxes withheld from your paychecks.

So you worked for it, you paid for it, and it’s definitely not a handout

Hardworking people understandably hate to ask for this kind of help. But there isn’t any shame in this. If you’re covered, you’re covered.

Disability benefits exist so you can survive financially when medical issues force you out of work through no fault of your own.

They only pay a basic amount. They aren’t luxurious. 

And they’re extremely difficult to get. You must prove using medical evidence and legal arguments that you should be approved. Most people—even deserving people—get denied and must appeal the decision through a complicated process.

Few cheaters can make it past this.

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Do I Have a Good Case for Social Security Disability?

How can I tell if I qualify for Social Security Disability?

If you have severe health problems that make it impossible for you to work, and there’s no sign that your situation will improve in less than a year, you probably have a solid case for Social Security Disability benefits.

And if you have worked for years and paid Social Security (FICA) taxes, you’re probably covered by Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which is the largest of the disability programs.

Does my age make a difference in my Social Security Disability claim?

Age is an important factor in how Social Security decides your disability claim.

One of the main standards for disability benefits is that you must be unable to continue working in your most recent job—and you must be unable to switch to another, less demanding job.

In deciding whether you can adjust to new work, Social Security looks closely at your age. 

Social Security considers younger people more able to adapt to other jobs. As you get over 50, Social Security may decide it’s less realistic for you to pursue a different kind of work from what you’ve done before.

Social Security will plug your age, education level, work experience and more into a system people call the “grid rules” to decide whether your disability qualifies as one that stops you from being able to do any kind of work.

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Can I work while I apply for disability?

Sometimes people see that their health is getting worse, and they’ll have to stop working soon, so they apply for disability benefits and plan to push through on the job until their benefits start.

That doesn’t work.

It’s too bad, but you’ll probably have a gap between your paychecks and your disability checks. Under the strict Social Security Disability rules, you must already be unable to work to qualify for benefits.

If you can still work, Social Security will just say, “Looks like you don’t need benefits”—and deny you.

It’s not entirely all-or-nothing. You can earn a small amount and still get disability benefits. Social Security calls this line “substantial gainful activity,” or SGA.

If you earn less than the SGA level, you can receive benefits. Make more than SGA, and you’re denied. As of 2024, an individual could earn up to $1,550 a month and still be eligible for disability benefits. The SGA amount typically adjusts upward a little every year.

Even if you’re earning less than SGA, it’s still risky to work and try to win disability benefits at the same time, because the work you’re doing could convince a Social Security Disability claims examiner or disability judge that you’re capable of more.

Here’s the big problem: It can take a year or more to get approved for disability benefits. How do you support yourself in the meantime?

It’s an incredibly difficult situation. At The Clarkson Firm, our disability attorney team is happy to share tips and community resources that could help hold you over while you wait for benefits.

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How Do I Apply for Social Security Disability?

What do I need to apply for Social Security Disability?

Applications for Social Security Disability require this kind of legwork: 

  • Filling out lengthy forms
  • Gathering and sending medical records and evidence
  • Telling the story of your work life
  • Collecting comments from people who personally know you 

It’s a big project, but a Social Security Disability lawyer can help.

An Alabama disability attorney from The Clarkson Firm guides you, so you answer Social Security’s questions correctly, avoid mistakes, submit the right information, stay on top of deadlines and more.

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How long does it take to get Social Security Disability?

Social Security says it takes three to six months for them to give you a decision on your initial application for disability benefits. In practice in Alabama, though, it often takes a year.

And that’s usually not the end of it.

A large majority of applications are denied. Then you file an appeal, which adds time.

One of the most important steps is testifying before a Social Security administrative law judge. In Alabama as of 2023, the average wait to reach a disability hearing was almost a year. 

When you’re finally awarded benefits, you’ll receive a lump sum of back pay to compensate you for the period when you were eligible but waiting for approval.

With a Clarkson Firm disability lawyer, you’ll have someone capable by your side throughout this difficult process. In addition to working on your claim, we can point you to resources to help during the long wait.

Are Social Security Disability benefits permanent?

Once you’re approved for Social Security Disability benefits, you can continue receiving them as long as your health problems qualify—until you reach retirement age and switch to retirement benefits.

If you have changes in your health or employment, you have to update Social Security. Once every several years, Social Security may check on whether you still qualify to receive benefits.

What happens if my Social Security Disability application is denied?

In a recent 10-year period, 80% of people who applied, on average, were denied.

You can appeal the decision—and probably should. Appealing is when many people are finally approved for benefits.

The appeals process is more complicated and legalistic than applying in the first place. 

It requires finding the flaws in your application and in Social Security’s decision, gathering more evidence, preparing to speak to a disability judge, going to your hearing, and possibly more.

An experienced Social Security Disability lawyer can get you through this. And you never pay a fee for a disability lawyer until you win benefits, no matter how much work it takes.

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What Is the Role of a Social Security Disability Lawyer?

Do I need an SSDI lawyer?

You can apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits on your own, but getting a disability lawyer is a way to go easier on yourself.

  • Your lawyer makes sure your application information is complete.
  • They can take care of filing your application online.
  • Your lawyer keeps in touch with Social Security to make sure your case isn’t being ignored.
  • When you’re signed up with a disability lawyer, they’ll get copies of the paperwork Social Security sends you, so they can make sure you don’t miss anything you need to answer.
  • Having a lawyer means you’re ready to appeal if you’re denied. You have a tight deadline to appeal.

When you go to a hearing with a disability judge, numbers from the government have shown that your chances of approval are almost three times higher if you have a representative—like a lawyer—with you.

You deserve to have the best chance at winning benefits you need.

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What kind of work does a disability lawyer do?

The job of a Social Security Disability lawyer includes:

  • Helping you collect the information Social Security requires
  • Guiding you in correctly filling out application forms
  • Coordinating with your doctors to get the medical records you need
  • Talking to family and friends to get statements about how your health affects your daily life
  • Strengthening the evidence and information in your Social Security file when you’re appealing a denial of benefits
  • Filing legal briefs before your hearing with an administrative law judge
  • Building legal arguments for why you should receive benefits
  • Helping you prepare to testify before the judge
  • Attending your hearing to guide you and handle the technical parts
  • Cross-examining witnesses Social Security calls to talk about your case


How much does a Social Security Disability lawyer cost?

 It costs you nothing up front to have a Social Security Disability lawyer work on your claim.

You only pay an attorney fee when you win benefits. Under Social Security rules, if you don’t win, your lawyer doesn’t get a fee.

And even when you do win, your lawyer’s fee must stay under certain limits.

First, the fee only comes out of your back pay, not your pocket or your monthly disability benefits going forward. 

Because it often takes a year or longer to get benefits, you receive a lump sum in back pay to cover the period when you were qualified for benefits but weren’t approved yet.

The amount of your back pay that can go to your attorney is also limited. Social Security allows your attorney to collect up to 25% of your back pay, but they can’t collect more than $7,200.

At The Clarkson Firm in Alabama, it’s completely free to have your first conversation with us to see how you want to proceed.

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