Benefits and Insurance for People with Disabilities

Find information about health care coverage including Medicare and Medicaid. Also, learn about workplace disability insurance, compensation benefits for disabled veterans and Social Security benefits for people with disabilities.

Short-Term and Long-Term Disability Insurance

If you can't work because you get sick or injured, disability insurance will pay part of your income. You may be able to get insurance through your employer. You can also buy your own policy.

Types of Disability Policies

There are two types of disability policies.

  • Short-term policies may pay for up to two years. Most last for a few months to a year.

  • Long-term policies may pay benefits for a few years or until the disability ends.

Employers who offer coverage may provide short-term coverage, long-term coverage, or both.

If you plan to buy your own policy, shop around and ask:

  • When do benefits begin?

  • How long do benefits last?

  • How much money will the policy pay?

Federal Disability Programs

Two Social Security Administration programs pay benefits to people with disabilities. Learn about Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI).

Social Security Benefits for People with Disabilities

If you have a disability, two programs from the Social Security Administration (SSA) may be able to help.

Understand the SSDI and SSI Programs for People with Disabilities

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is for people who have become disabled after earning enough Social Security work credits within a certain time. 

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is for people with disabilities or who are 65 or older with little to no income and resources. SSI is not Social Security. Although the names sound similar and the Social Security Administration runs the program, it does not fund SSI. 

Definition of Disability

To qualify for either program, you must meet SSA’s definition of disability

  1. You can’t work

  2. Your disability is expected to last for at least one year or result in death

  3. Your impairment is on Social Security’s list of disabling medical conditions

Social Security uses a step-by-step process to decide if you have a disability. Partial and short-term disabilities do not meet SSA’s standard. They're not eligible for benefits.

Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool

Use the Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool to find out if you may qualify for SSDI or SSI.

Learn More and Apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Work Requirements

When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn Social Security “work credits.” You earn up to four a year depending on your income. To be eligible for SSDI, you must have earned a certain number of work credits, some of them recently. The number of work credits you need depends on your age when you stopped working due to your disability.

Benefits for Family Members

Your spouse or former spouse and your children may be eligible for benefits when you start getting SSDI.

Applying for SSDI

You can apply for benefits online, by phone, or in person.

  • If your application is denied, you can appeal the decision.

  • If it's approved, you’ll have a five-month waiting period for benefits to start. You’ll receive benefits for the sixth full month after the date SSA finds your disability began.

  • You’ll be enrolled in Medicare two years after you begin receiving SSDI payments.

Returning to Work

You can usually return to work without losing your SSDI if you earn less than a “substantial” amount. In 2019, the SSA considered average earnings of $1,220 or more per month "substantial."

You can try out your ability to return to work for at least nine months. You won't lose your SSDI benefits or Medicare coverage. See the booklet Working While Disabled: How We Can Help to learn more.

Learn More and Apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI benefits are for adults and children with a disability and little income or resources. Seniors 65 and older without a disability may be eligible if they meet the income limits. People who are eligible to receive SSDI may be eligible for SSI too.

In most states, people who receive SSI also receive Medicaid coverage. Many states also provide supplemental payments to certain SSI recipients.

Defining Disability for SSI

Adults under 65 must meet SSA’s definition of disability.

For a child, disability means:

  • Having a physical or mental impairment that causes marked and severe functional limitations

  • The disability is expected to last for at least one year or result in death

Applying for SSI

Adults can apply for SSI by phone, in person at a local Social Security office, or in some cases online. To apply for SSI for a child, you can start the process online but will need to complete it either in person or by phone.

  • You can appeal if your claim is denied.

  • Explore a listing of SSI topics to learn more detailed information.

Going to Work

SSI work incentives help you go to work by reducing your risk of losing your SSI or Medicaid coverage. You can earn $65 a month without it affecting your cash benefit. Beyond that, your SSI payment will go down $1 for every $2 you earn.

When your earnings plus any other income exceed your state’s SSI income limits, you won't receive SSI. Your payments will start again for any month your income drops to less than the SSI limits. You can learn more in the booklet Working While Disabled: How We Can Help.

Health Insurance and Health Resources for People with Disabilities

Health Coverage for People With Disabilities

If you have a disability, you have a number of options for health coverage through the government. 

Health Resources for People With Disabilities

Federal, state, and local government agencies and programs can help with your health needs if you have a disability. 

Visit USA.gov’s Government Benefits page to learn more about government programs and services that can help you and your family.

VA Disability Compensation Benefits

Veterans who have a service-related injury or illness may be entitled to VA disability compensation. It’s a tax-free monthly benefit.

Visit VA.gov to learn:

  • Which conditions qualify you for benefits

  • How the claims process works

  • Where to file your claim

  • How to appeal a decision you disagree with. The process changed in February 2019.

Survivors of veterans may receive compensation benefits in certain situations.

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Last Updated: September 12, 2019