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

Most people know what Social Security is in the abstract. They know that their paychecks have had money deducted for Social Security, and expect to receive that money back in the form of Social Security checks when they retire. But Social Security also provides benefits for those who are disabled and find themselves unable to work or otherwise struggling to make ends meet because of their disability.

As discussed here, what constitutes a disability for purposes of eligibility for benefits is extremely technical and specific, and a determination that a claimant is not disabled as defined by the law is the most common reason claims for benefits are denied.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has two programs that provide benefits based on disability: the Social Security Disability (SSD) insurance program (Title II) and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program (Title XVI).

understanding disability law

Social Security Disability

The Social Security Disability program provides for payment of disability benefits to individuals who are insured under the Social Security Act by virtue of their contributions to the Social Security trust fund through Social Security taxes on their earnings, as well as to certain disabled dependents of insured individuals.

To be insured for SSD benefits, an individual must have paid Social Security taxes on their earnings for a certain number of quarters. Typically, an individual must have worked at least five of the previous 10 years immediately preceding the onset of their total disability  and paid taxes on those earnings. If you worked and were paid for your work but did not pay Social Security tax on those earnings, then those earnings are not credited for qualification for SSD benefits.

Supplemental Security Income

The Supplemental Security Income program provides for payment to individuals (including children under 18) who are disabled and have limited income and resources. If you have not paid in enough to be insured for SSD benefits, you may be able to pursue a claim for SSI. However, there are very strict limitations on your income and assets. As a needs-based program, SSI benefits are limited to individuals with little or no resources or assets. The medical criteria for SSI eligibility is the same as that used for disability insurance benefits — a physical or mental impairment which prevents you from working at a substantial gainful level, and which has existed or is expected to exist for at least a 12-month period.

Additional Benefits Available

Disabled Adult Child Benefits (DAC):
Disabled children between the ages of 18 and 22 may be eligible for benefits if their parent receives Social Security retirement benefits or SSD, or is deceased.

Disabled Widow/Widower (DWB):
These benefits are provided to widows or widowers over the age of 50 who develop a disability within seven years of their spouse’s death. The widow or widower is required to have been married to the deceased for a minimum of 10 years before their passing.


Medicare and Medicaid:
Once you are found disabled and entitled to Social Security Disability benefits, you may also be eligible for medical insurance though Medicare or Medicaid. If you filed a claim for disability insurance benefits, Disabled Adult Child or Disabled Widow’s/Widower’s benefits, you may be eligible for Medicare.

Disclaimer: The following language is required pursuant to Rule 7.2, Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct. No representation is made that the quality of legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers.

This website has been prepared by Green Disability Law for informational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. The information is not provided in the course of an attorney-client relationship and is not intended to substitute for legal advice from an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.


953 Dauphin St.
Mobile,  AL  36604
Phone:  251-433-1737
307 South McKenzie St., Suite 108
Foley,  AL  36535
Phone:  251-433-1737
201 Office Park Building, Suite 4
65 Pineville Road
Monroeville,  AL  36460
Phone:  251-575-3753
123 McIntyre Street
Evergreen,  AL   36401
Phone:  251-575-3753

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