The faces and facts of disability

Disability is something most people do not like to think about. But the chances that you will become disabled probably are greater than you realize. Studies show that a 20-year-old worker has a 1-in-4 chance of becoming disabled before reaching age 67.

Perhaps the most misunderstood Social Security program is disability insurance, often referred to as SSDI. Some people mistakenly think that beneficiaries are “on the dole” and getting easy money for minor impairments. That’s not the case. There are two ways to understand the truth about disability. One is by looking at the facts. The other is by getting to know some of the people who make up the many faces of disability.

We have some of the strictest requirements in the world for disability benefits. The Social Security Act sets out a very strict definition of disability. To receive a disability benefit, a person must have an impairment expected to last at least one year or result in death. The impairment must be so severe that it renders the person unable to perform any substantial work in the national job market, not just their previous work. SSDI does not include temporary or partial disability benefits. Because the eligibility requirements are so strict, Social Security disability beneficiaries are among the most severely impaired people in the country and tend to have high death rates.

In addition, Social Security conducts a periodic review of people who receive disability benefits to ensure they remain eligible for disability. Social Security also aggressively works to prevent, detect, and prosecute fraud. Social Security often investigates suspicious disability claims before making a decision to award benefits—proactively stopping fraud before it happens. These steps help to ensure that only those eligible have access to disability benefits.
Americans place a high premium on self-sufficiency, but it is reassuring to know that Social Security disability insurance is there for those who need it the most.


Kirk Larson, who wrote this article, is a public affairs specialist for Senior Security in western Washington.