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Social Security Disability

July 13, 2024

Part 1—Introduction To Disability And Social Security

Disability is something most people don’t like to think about. But the chances of your becoming disabled are probably greater than you realize. Studies show that a 20-year-old worker has a 3-in-10 chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement age.

It’s a fact that, while most people spend time working to succeed in their jobs and careers, few think about ensuring that they have a safety net to fall back on should the unthinkable happen. This is where Social Security comes in. In general, we pay cash benefits to people who are unable to work for a year or more because of a disability. Benefits continue until a person is able to work again on a regular basis, and a number of work incentives are available to ease the transition back to work.

What Do We Mean By "Disability"?
It’s important that you understand how Social Security defines "disability." That’s because other programs have different definitions for disability. Some programs pay for partial disability or for short-term disability. Social Security does not.

Disability under Social Security is based on your inability to work. You will be considered disabled if you cannot do work you did before and we decide that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s). Your disability also must last or be expected to last for at least a year or to result in death.

This is a strict definition of disability. The program assumes that working families have access to other resources to provide support during periods of short-term disabilities, including workers’ compensation, insurance, savings and investments.

Who Can Get Disability Benefits?
You can receive Social Security disability benefits until age 65. When you reach age 65, your disability benefits automatically convert to retirement benefits, but the amount remains the same.

Certain members of your family may qualify for benefits on your record. They include:

Your spouse who is age 62 or older, or any age if he or she is caring for a child of yours who is under age 16 or disabled and also receiving checks.

Your disabled widow or widower age 50 or older. The disability must have started before your death or within seven years after your death. (If your widow or widower caring for your children receives Social Security checks, she or he is eligible if she or he becomes disabled before those payments end or within seven years after they end.)

Your unmarried son or daughter, including an adopted child, or, in some cases, a stepchild or grandchild. The child must be under age 18 or under age 19 if in high school full time.

Your unmarried son or daughter, age 18 or older, if he or she has a disability that started before age 22. These children are considered disabled if they meet the adult definition of disability. (If a disabled child under age 18 is receiving benefits as the dependent of a retired, deceased or disabled worker, someone should contact Social Security to have his or her checks continued at age 18 on the basis of disability.)

For more information about disability benefits for children, ask Social Security for the booklet, Benefits for Children With Disabilities (Publication No. 05-10026).

Note: The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program also pays benefits to needy disabled children under age 18.




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