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The Five Steps to Qualify for SSDI Benefits

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Many people assume that if you have a significant illness or injury, you can apply for and get Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. In reality, no matter how sick you are, your medical condition is only one part of the process. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will only pay monthly benefits, if you pass all the factors that they evaluate. Here is an overview of the five steps to qualify for SSDI benefits.

You must have worked in jobs that paid Social Security taxes to be eligible for SSDI benefits. As the name says, Social Security Disability Insurance is an insurance program. The money your boss takes out of your paycheck helps to fund the program.

If you are eligible to participate in Social Security programs, the SSA will ask you a series of questions.

Question #1 – Are You Making Too Much Money?

Usually, the SSA does not consider people to be disabled, if they continue to work and earn more than the SSDI earnings cap. The income limit changes every year. For the year 2019, if you earn more than $1,220 if non-blind or $2,040 if statutorily blind, the SSA will deny your application for SSDI benefits.

Question #2 – Does Your Condition Limit Your Ability to Perform Basic Work Functions?

If your injury or illness has impaired your ability to do standard work tasks for at least a year, the SSA might find you satisfy this requirement. For example, if your medical condition limits your capacity to walk, sit, stand, lift things, think, remember, or solve problems, you might not be able to maintain employment. If such is the case, the SSA will move on to the next issue.

Question #3 – Is Your Illness or Injury on the Listing of Impairments?

The SSA uses the Blue Book (also called the Listing of Impairments – Adult) to determine whether your medical condition is severe enough to justify getting disability benefits instead of working. Usually, you must have a condition in the Blue Book and meet the specific Blue Book requirements for that issue.

For example, a person who needs reading glasses only for close-up work would not qualify for SSDI benefits for visual impairment. Someone with 20/200 or less vision in the better eye after the best correction available would meet the Blue Book benchmarks for visual impairment.

If your situation does not meet the Blue Book rules or is not in the Blue Book, you might still qualify for SSDI benefits if you can prove your medical condition is as severe as one that is in the Blue Book. The SSA acknowledges that it is not possible to include every possible illness or injury that could cause disability.

Question #4 – Can You Continue to Do Your Current or Any Previous Job?

If you can still perform your current job or any job you had in the past, and earn more than the earnings threshold, the SSA will say you are not disabled. If your medical condition prevents you from performing any of these types of work, you must overcome one more hurdle before the SSA declares you eligible for SSDI benefits.

Question #5 – Is There Any Type of Work You Can Do?

Even if you cannot perform any kind of work you did in the past, the SSA will evaluate whether you can go into a different line of work to earn a living. Depending on your age, the SSA might decide you need to go back to school or get job training, instead of collecting SSDI benefits.


Social Security Administration. “Benefits Planner – Disability | How You Qualify.” (accessed August 29, 2019)

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