Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

Social Security Disability: A Beginners Guide

There are some questions about Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) that I would like to clear up. The first question is: When should I apply or file for SSDI?1 Although this may appear to be a simple enough question, the answer lies within you but the definition according to the Social Security Administration (SSA)2 is more defined. By definition, in order for you to be applicable for SSDI, you must meet certain criteria in accordance with SSA rules. In my younger days when I was in the insurance game and before I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (PD), I used to teach a continuing education course on Social Security. Part of that course included how someone qualifies for SSDI. SSA looks back at your employment and does an assessment of how long you were working and how much you contributed or was deducted from your gross pay.

Qualifying for SSDI


  • A “qualified worker” must generally be fully insured to receive this benefit. Fully insured means that you have worked the sufficient number of quarters in past years.
  • You must expect for your disability to be permanent or last at least a year or result in an earlier death.
  • You cannot perform substantial employment. Basically, you can’t work!
  • As a qualified worker, you must have been contributing (out of your paycheck) deductions for SSDI.

I know these rules are complex and hard to understand and personally, I recommend consulting with an attorney that specializes in Social Security Disability. In my own experience, I interviewed three different firms before choosing until I felt comfortable. Remember, the SSA is a vast government agency and once you file it may take up to 5 months or more before your case comes up. Then there is the personal side of when to file for benefits. This is where I would like to draw from my own experience on when to pull that trigger.

When You Should File for SSDI

The timing of filing:

  • Timing for filing for SSDI is everything. Whether it’s in person at the SSA local office or by phone, timeliness is of utmost importance. Filing takes about an hour.
  • File when you are ready not when you think you are ready. The SSA will award benefits to those who can no longer work due to a handicap or disability. (illness or injury lasting long term)
  • Eligibility vs Benefit – Just because you’ve contributed to the system through payroll deductions does not automatically qualify you for benefits.

Naturally, the benefits you receive is not equal to your previous earnings. It is usually less than 60 percent of your income. This is to avoid everyone from going on disability. No one would work. The government would just pay workers their regularly scheduled salaries to stay at home and play sick. That is the nature of any insurance company. To get you working again so as not to drain the benefit pool but having a chronic illness like PD is different altogether. In my case, I worked full time up until I could no longer work. Fatigue and annoying dyskinesia got in the way of work. I had done my homework, consulted with attorneys and the day after I left work for good, called SSA and applied over the phone for SSDI.

What to Expect

Here are a few things you can expect throughout the process:

  • Lots and lots of paperwork coming your way. SSA is getting better at being paperless but for every e-document, there is a guaranteed paper copy. Come on!
  • Appointments with SSA Medical Providers. They will request your personal medical records and compare to their own findings.
  • Many requests for information. Do respond within the timeframe provided. This will avoid delays.
  • Expect to be rejected at first. Don’t worry, you can appeal with the help of an attorney.
  • Abstain from any work, even if you think you can otherwise, it may count against you. (see point #2 under “Qualifying for SSDI”)

This is only cursory information and only touches the surface of when and how to apply for SSDI benefits. I urge anyone who is thinking of going onto the disability rolls to talk to a disability attorney. Most initial consultations are free and they will advise you of your rights and that will allow you to get a feel for their abilities handling other claims. Also, ask about applying for Social Security Income (SSI). It is an additional benefit you may qualify for even if you are denied SSDI. These programs are available to those with PD and other chronic conditions where there is no cure yet but timeliness in the filing is based on our abilities to provide for and contribute to ourselves and families. In any case, I hope I shed a little sunshine on the SSDI and that you understand the basics. As usual, I encourage your experiences and questions and always keep battling my friends.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.