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What is Social Security Disability Insurance?

When people think of Social Security Disability Insurance–often referred to as SSDI–they often think of government programs, not insurance. The truth is in the name. SSDI is a form of insurance, paid into by employees and employers.

For those who qualify, SSDI payments are based on your work history, specifically the history of how long you’ve worked in your lifetime and what your earnings have been. SSDI uses the term “quarters of coverage,” a government measurement based on your work history to calculate an SSDI payment. As you work, you pay into the system and earn quarters of coverage. All workers do this, whether in an office, a factory, a restaurant or self-employed.

Earning benefits

Like other insurance types, an applicant has to meet strict qualifications to draw benefits. SSDI is for long-term and serious disabilities, with a minimum qualification that the disability must restrict you from work for at least a calendar year. There is a five-month waiting period after the injury, in part to prove its severity. While Social Security Administration takes disability claims seriously, investigating applications thoroughly in that five-month period, certain conditions are eligible for a “Compassionate Allowance,” which grants priority processing.

It’s a strict approval process, one that makes sure those who get SSDI deserve it. They have legitimate disabilities that prevent work and they have paid into the system themselves, qualifying for benefits just like any other insurance policy.

Understanding benefit options

SSDI is often confused with Social Security Income (SSI), as the names are nearly the same. SSI is not insurance. It’s aimed toward lower income individuals and has different requirements, payments and qualifications. Unlike SSDI, SSI is not based on work history and earnings, but instead targets meeting basic needs of disabled individuals who cannot work.

There is a stigma that applicants are getting something for nothing. In truth, SSDI is an insurance benefit where the recipients have earned their benefits through years of contributing to the pot. SSDI is a method for disabled Americans to cover expenses after paying their dues. While it’s a service available to all working Americans, the application process can be confusing and complicated. An experienced attorney can help document your disability, compile paperwork and understand the nuances of the law.