Social Security Disability

Regular Army: Retired

Benefit Fact Sheet



Individuals who have a disability and meet medical criteria may qualify for Social Security Administration disability benefits under these two programs:

  1. Social Security Disability Insurance program, and
  2. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.


Social Security Disability Insurance may pay benefits to disabled Soldiers and certain members of their Family if the Soldier is "insured," meaning the Soldier worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes. While eligibility for Social Security disability is based on prior work under Social Security, SSI disability payments are made on the basis of financial need. Children may qualify for disability benefits under either the Social Security program or the SSI program.

Benefit Highlights:

The definition of disability under Social Security is different than other programs. Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or for short-term disability.

Disability under Social Security is based on an individual's inability to work. An individual is considered disabled under Social Security rules if the individual cannot do work that he or she did before and the Social Security Administration decides that the individual cannot adjust to other work because of his or her medical condition(s). The disability must also last or be expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

This is a strict definition of disability. Social Security program rules assume that working Families have access to other resources to provide support during periods of short-term disabilities, including workers' compensation, insurance, savings, and investments.

For most people, the medical requirements for disability payments are the same under both the Social Security Disability Insurance and SSI programs, and disability is determined by the same process.

Social Security Disability Insurance program. In addition to meeting Social Security's definition of disability, the individual must have worked long enough--and recently enough--under Social Security to qualify for disability benefits. In general, to get disability benefits, the individual must meet two different earnings tests:

  1. A "recent work" test based on the individual's age at the time he or she became disabled; and
  2. A "duration of work" test to show that he or she worked long enough under Social Security.

Certain blind workers have to meet only the "duration of work" test.

The table below shows the rules for how much work the individual needs for the "recent work" test based on his or her age when the disability began. The rules in this table are based on the calendar quarter in which the individual turned or will turn a certain age.

The calendar quarters are:

First Quarter: January 1 through March 31
Second Quarter: April 1 through June 30
Third Quarter: July 1 through September 30
Fourth Quarter: October 1 through December 31

Rules for work needed for the "recent work test"
If you become disabled... Then you generally need:
In or before the quarter you turn age 24 1.5 years of work during the three-year period ending with the quarter your disability began.
In the quarter after you turn age 24 but before the quarter you turn age 31 Work during half the time for the period beginning with the quarter after you turned 21 and ending with the quarter you became disabled.
Example: If you become disabled in the quarter you turned age 27, then you would need three years of work out of the six-year period ending with the quarter you became disabled.
In the quarter you turn age 31 or later Work during five years out of the 10-year period ending with the quarter your disability began.

The following table shows examples of how much work you need to meet the "duration of work test" if you become disabled at various selected ages. For the "duration of work" test, your work does not have to fall within a certain period of time.

NOTE: This table does not cover all situations.

Examples of work needed for the "duration of work" test
If you become disabled... Then you generally need:
Before age 28 1.5 years of work
Age 30 2 years
Age 34 3 years
Age 38 4 years
Age 42 5 years
Age 44 5.5 years
Age 46 6 years
Age 48 6.5 years
Age 50 7 years
Age 52 7.5 years
Age 54 8 years
Age 56 8.5 years
Age 58 9 years
Age 60 9.5 years

Benefits usually continue until the individual is able to work again on a regular basis. There are also a number of special rules, called "work incentives," that provide continued benefits and health care coverage to help disabled individuals make the transition back to work.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. SSI is a program run by Social Security that pays monthly checks to the elderly, the blind, and people with disabilities who have very limited resources and income. Individuals who receive SSI also usually receive food stamps and Medicaid.

Additional Information:

For more information, please visit the Social Security Disability webpage maintained by the Social Security Administration:

Social Security Disability Benefits Handbook (.PDF format):

Social Security Quick Calculator:

Social Security Calculators for Retirement, Disability and Survivor Benefits Estimate:

Online Resource for Americans with Disabilities:

Document Review Date: 12 May 2015