What Is Social Security Disability Insurance?

Older adult woman sitting down smiling.

Social Security Disability Insurance, a payroll tax-funded, federal insurance program administered by the Social Security Administration, provides supplemental income to people who can't get or keep a job because of a disability. The SSDI can be paid on a temporary or permanent basis, depending on whether the disability is temporary or permanent.

Military families with a special needs family member or a family member with a military-connected disability may receive temporary or permanent supplemental income through SSDI.

Who's eligible for SSDI?


your installation Exceptional Family Member Program family support office or a Military OneSource special needs consultant if you have questions or concerns about insurance, Supplemental Security Income, Medicare and Medicaid.

Social Security Disability Insurance is available to the following:

  • People who can't work because of a medical condition expected to last at least one year or result in death (This may apply to disabled service members and veterans.)
  • People who are blind and insured by the workers' (yours, your spouse's or your parents') Social Security trust fund contributions, which are based on earnings
  • Disabled adult children based on their parents' work, if the child has a disability that started before age 22 (This may apply to military families with an adult family member.)

Unlike some programs, the SSA doesn't give money to people with partial or short-term disabilities. To be eligible for SSDI, a person must meet two different earnings tests:

  • A recent work test based on a your age at the time you became disabled
  • A duration of work test to show that you worked long enough under Social Security to qualify

Individuals who are blind must meet only the duration of work test.

The SSA's brochure "Social Security Disability Benefits" (publication number 05-10029, May 2014) provides a table of rules for work needed for the recent work test and a table with examples of how much work you need to meet the duration of work test if you become disabled at various selected ages. The SSA determines general eligibility for the program, and the Disability Determination Services office in your state completes the disability determination. Doctors and disability specialists in the state agency work with your doctors to evaluate your condition and your ability to do work-related activities.

How do I apply for SSDI?

The SSA provides two ways to apply for disability benefits.

  • Online through the SSA Disability Benefits online portal
  • By phone at 800-772-1213 (for appointments at your local office or a phone appointment) or the toll-free TTY number, 800-325-0778, for the deaf or hard of hearing, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on business days


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