SSDI, or Social Security Disability Insurance and SSI, Supplemental Security Income, are the two largest Federal programs offering financial assistance to those with disabilities. They are two unique programs that the Social Security Administration manages, and in order to qualify for either, you must first have a disability and meet specific medical criteria.
Both pay benefits, but SSDI requires that you worked long enough before the disability to have earned coverage, while SSI pays based on financial need.
The SSA will allow anyone to apply, and at that time, they gather medical information in order to begin determining whether or not a person qualifies. It is important to note that disability under the SSA is defined differently than other programs in that it is a total disability rather than any sort of short-term disability.
In other words, the medical condition must make it impossible for you to do work you did before, that you can no longer work because of the disability, or that it has lasted longer than a year and may result in your death.
The SSA maintains a formal List of Impairments that apply to each major bodily system, and which are deemed severe enough that they will effectively prevent someone from doing a gainful activity (i.e., earn money). As already noted, most are deemed permanent and/or likely to result in death. Some are deemed a total disability because of the length of time they are anticipated to last.
The official list of impairments, frequently described as the Disability Blue Book, is divided into two segments – one for those over the age of 18 and those under the age of 18. There are fourteen categories under which conditions are evaluated, including musculoskeletal, special senses and speech, respiratory disorder, cardiovascular, digestive, genitourinary, hematological, skin, endocrine, congenital, neurological, mental, cancer, and immune system disorder. Those are the major bodily systems, and within each is further listings of conditions that will be used to determine disability.
If your condition does not appear on the list, does it mean your disability is not going to be deemed sufficient to establish total disability? No, the individual tasked with the evaluation (known as the adjudicator) may move on to the next step in the qualification in order to resolve whether or not an applicant is disabled.
The individual doing the evaluation has to decide whether your specific disability is as severe as a listed medical condition. This requires basic questions such as “can the individual do the work they did before?” If they are prevented from performing any past work, or any other kind of work.
Typically, if the individual cannot do any sort of work and has no further transferable skills, they will be deemed disabled. There are also special situations that qualify, such as those who are blind, the widow or widower of a disabled person, benefits for disabled kids, and benefits for veterans.