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.

Some Wounded Warriors and Veterans who have a Compensation Rating of 100% Permanent and Total (P&T) may expedite the processing of their disability claims.


Social Security Disability Insurance pays 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 effect of military service can be profound and lasting. There are a number of financial, social, and health issues that result from military service.

The definition of disability under Social Security is different than other programs. 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. By law, Social Security has a very strict definition, to be found disabled:

  • You must be unable to do substantial work because of your medical condition(s); and
  • Your medical condition(s) must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least one year or to result in death.

While some programs give money to people with partial disability or short-term disability, Social Security does not (Disability Planner to determine eligibility).

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.


You may apply for disability benefits at any time while in military status or after discharge, whether you are still hospitalized, in a rehabilitation program, or undergoing out-patient treatment in a military or civilian medical facility. You may apply online at, in person at the nearest Social Security office, by mail, or by telephone.

You may call 1-800-772-1213 to schedule an appointment. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you may call our TTY number, 1-800-325-0778. We also have a "disability starter kit" available online to help you complete your application. Some of the documents you may need to provide:

  • Birth certificate or other proof of birth;
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the United States;
  • U.S. military discharge paper(s) if you had military service before 1968;W-2 forms(s) and/or self-employment tax returns for last year;
  • An Adult Disability Report that collects more details about your illnesses, injuries or conditions, and your work history;
  • Medical evidence already in your possession. This includes medical records, doctors' reports, and recent test results; and Award letters, pay stubs, settlement agreements or other proof of any temporary or permanent workers' compensation-type benefits you received

For a complete list of information that may be needed click here.

Expedited Claim:

Military Service members can receive expedited processing of disability claims from Social Security. The expedited process is used for military Service members who have a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Compensation rating of 100 percent Permanent & Total (P&T).

Benefits available through Social Security are different than those from the Department of Veterans Affairs and require a separate application. If you're a disabled Veteran rated 100 percent P&T, you must: Identify yourself as a "Veteran rated 100 percent P & T" when you apply for benefits. If you apply in person or over the phone, tell the Social Security representative that you are a Veteran rated 100 percent P & T. If you apply online, enter "Veteran 100% P&T" in the "Remarks" section of the application; and Provide Social Security with your Veterans Affairs notification letter which verifies our rating.

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. There is no online application for SSI.

To apply for SSI benefits:

  • Schedule an appointment with a local Social Security office to file an application. Call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday or contact your local Social Security office, or;
  • Find out if you are eligible to receive Social Security Disability Benefits. Learn more and start the disability process at our Apply Online for Disability Benefits page.
    • Although this is not a SSI application, the Social Security Administration can use most of the information you provide to start the disability process. Once you finish the online process, a Social Security representative will contact you for any additional information needed for the SSI application.

Additional Information:

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

Information for Wounded Warriors and Veterans Who Have a Compensation Rating of 100% Permanent & Total (P&T):

Social Security Disability Benefits Handbook (.PDF format):

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) 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: 11 May 2016