When a debilitating injury or illness makes it impossible to keep working, SSDI benefits may be available to help individuals continue supporting themselves and their families. However, the Social Security Administration has strict qualification requirements, and many applicants struggle to put together a strong case for their eligibility.

In 2018, the SSA denied 65% of first-time applications and 87% of claims under reconsideration. Those applying for disability benefits should first understand how the program defines disability and what type of information the SSA considers when deciding to approve or deny a claim.

Definition of disability

To qualify for SSDI, applicants must have a condition that is wholly disabling and expected to last for at least one year. Cases of temporary or partial disability are not eligible for SSDI benefits. In addition to being unable to perform the job they did before the injury or illness, claimants must show that they cannot maintain another type of employment. If an applicant meets these conditions, he or she must have a monthly income under a certain threshold. In 2019, those earning an average of more than $1,220 a month generally do not qualify.

Materials to include in an SSDI application

The SSA will look at a wide range of information when making a decision, from medical documents to non-medical testimony about how an individual’s condition has impacted their ability to work:

  • Medical History: Medical records that document the starting date and progression of a disabling condition are essential for making a strong claim for benefits.
  • Doctor Assessments: Medical professional diagnoses are also important. Applicants may want to seek an assessment from a specialist as well as their regular physician.
  • Non-medical evidence: Testimony from vocational experts, coworkers and even family members may also be a valuable source of support for a disability claim.

Creating a consistent, coordinated disability claim

Even when a claim seems straightforward, the likelihood of denial for SSDI benefits is high. From gathering necessary documentation to presenting a consistent account of the onset and effects of a particular disability, the process is often overwhelming—especially for individuals already under physical and mental stress. When in doubt, a representative experienced in SSDI claims may help those struggling to navigate the SSA’s strict eligibility criteria.