How Hard Is It to Qualify for Disability Benefits?

More than 61 million Americans live with some type of disability, more than one-quarter of the population. Social Security Disability is a vital safety net that helps millions who are unable to work. But getting disability benefits involves a complex application and approval process, one that can feel overwhelming to navigate.

If you are a U.S. citizen who is unable to work due to an injury or ailment, you may be wondering, “How hard is it to get disability?” The answer is that it depends on your unique circumstances.

The good news is that, once you understand the criteria, you can determine the likelihood that you would qualify and have a grasp on the approval timeline. Keep reading to find out more.

What Is “Disability”?

“Disability” refers to a program run by the Social Security Administration. It assists people with a severe medical impairment who can no longer work.

The program began in 1956 to serve disabled workers between the ages of 50 and 65, and disabled children of retired or deceased workers. Today, about 8.2 million Americans receive the benefit.

How Hard Is It to Get Disability Benefits?

One of the biggest questions about this program is “How hard is it to get disability?” You may assume that merely proving that you are unable to work would be enough, but it is more complicated than that. There are four main criteria for gaining disability benefits.


Severe physical or mental impairment is one of the main criteria. You must demonstrate medical proof that the disability will last at least 12 months or result in death. Also, the Social Security Administration can conduct an extensive inquiry into the medical results and do its own examinations.

Income Capacity

The next standard is that the impairment must prevent you from performing “substantial gainful activity.” This means you cannot earn $1,090 in a single month. That demarcation is approximately the amount you would make working a minimum wage job full-time.

Note that the specifications for disability apply not to an inability to do the job you can when you became injured, but any job. It also is irrelevant if the type of job you could do is available where you live.

Work History

There are other requirements beyond those related to the disability. First, you should have a consistent work history. Applicants must have worked for at least a quarter of their adult lives and at least five of the previous 10 years to be eligible.

Waiting Period

Also, since disability benefits are not for someone who has a temporary impairment, there is a waiting period. Applicants must have suffered the disability and have been without work for at least five months before applying.

Assistance Is Available

Note that there are assistance programs available to help you navigate this complex process, such as They can help you determine your likelihood of being denied for disability, and walk you through the processes. Also, if you are denied disability, there is an appeals process with which they can assist.

Learn More About Disability Approval

Now that you have an answer to the question, “How hard is it to get disability?” you can better determine what kind of likelihood you have for qualifying and what timeline you may be facing.

We hope you found this information on disability benefit requirements helpful. If so, be sure to take a look at some of our other posts on health, technology, lifestyle, business, and many other topics.