People of any age can file for disability benefits Social Security offers benefits to children with disabilities through a program called Supplemental Security Income.
Fortunately, the federal government can help.
The Social Security Administration offers benefits to people who become disabled for long periods of time. The average monthly disability benefit check in 2010 was $1,065.
Diana Varela, an agency spokesperson, explains the process of applying for Social Security disability benefits and offers some tips on the best way to apply. Listen to the full interview (mp3 file, 5MB).
What is Considered a Disability
The Social Security Administration defines disability as a physical, mental or emotional medical condition that prevents an individual from working for more than 12 months. The disability can be caused by an injury or an illness.
While there are some programs that offer benefits to individuals who are partially disabled, Social Security only extends benefits to individuals who are completely disabled.
Who Qualifies for Disability Benefits
People of any age can file for disability benefits. Social Security offers benefits to children with disabilities through a program called Supplemental Security Income, which does not consider the applicant's work history.
For adults, requirements can vary depending on their age but generally the agency looks at the following when considering an application:
Time worked for most recent employer
Whether the applicant has earned enough credits to qualify for Social Security benefits
Social Security offers more information about who can get Social Security disability benefits on its website, SSA.gov.
How the Approval Process Works
The approval process can be different for every applicant, but generally it takes an average of four months to make a decision.
The agency recently began using a fast-track approval process for people with the most severe disabilities. It's a computerized model that identifies cases with higher probabilities that the applicant is disabled. This new process can quickly determine if there is sufficient medical evidence for the person to receive benefits. A decision can be made in just a few days.
"In any case, our agency is committed to speeding up the process as much as possible to improve our current waiting time," said Varela.
The Best Way to Apply for Benefits
Varela says the best way to apply for benefits is by going to the agency's website: SSA.gov. The individual needs to fill out a secure application and provide certain medical information such as a diagnosis, medical tests results and current medication.
The second best way to apply for benefits is by calling 1-800-772-1213. The caller will be asked to make an appointment and to fill out the application in person at a local Social Security office.
"Even when the person has an appointment we recommend that he or she try to complete the disability application online," said Varela.
USA.gov and GobiernoUSA.gov are the U.S. Government's official web portals in English and Spanish, and part of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). This article was made in collaboration with the Social Security Administration.