Life with MS

SSDI: What is it? When to Apply

What happens to someone who becomes disabled and can no longer work? According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about one-third of American workers are covered by long-term disability insurance. If you have a diagnosis of MS, it may be difficult to qualify for private disability coverage, or it may be extremely expensive. Thankfully, though, there is a safety net to provide income for Americans who are disabled.

Though they are often referred to collectively as “Social Security Disability,” there are actually two Federal programs under the Social Security Administration that provide income and healthcare for people with disabilities:

Social Security Disability Insurance
SSDI is a program that provides income for people with disabilities expected to last more than 12 months who have paid into the Social Security trust while employed. The amount of SSDI income available is based on a person’s previous history of earnings and contributions (or, in some cases, those of a spouse or parent).

Supplemental Security Income
SSI assists people with disabilities expected to last more than 12 months who have limited income and resources, including both adults and children. The Federal government funds SSI from the general tax revenue. Some states offer further programs to supplement the income available through SSI.
In some cases, an individual may be eligible for both SSI and SSDI.

When to Apply
According to the Social Security Administration, it can take three to five months for your initial application to be processed. However, applications from people disabled by chronic illnesses such as MS are frequently denied, only to later be approved after an appeal.  Some applications may go through several appeals, taking months or even years.

For this reason, it is recommended that a person who has a disability that leaves them unable to work, which is expected to last more than one year, should file their application with the SSA as soon as possible after the onset of disability.

When approved for SSDI, payments begin with the sixth month after the established onset of disability. If it took longer than that to get approved, payments are retroactive.

What Does SSA Examine?
SSA will examine your medical and work history. They will seek to establish how your condition limits your ability to work and when those limitations began. In order to do so, they will examine which medical professionals you have seen, what symptoms you discussed with your doctor(s), the results of any tests your doctor(s) ordered, the treatments you have used or are using, and your work history.

While your medical records are a key factor in determining your qualifications, SSA considers several questions to determine whether you qualify for disability benefits. These may include:

• Does your condition limit your work? To qualify, a condition must substantially limit your ability to perform basic activities associated with your employment, such as standing, sitting, walking, lifting, or remembering.
• Can you do other work? Your disability may have left you unable to work in your chosen field, but is there other work for which you are qualified or have experience?
• Is your condition lasting? There must be valid reason to believe that your disability is not a temporary condition as a result of a relapse or injury, from which will recover in a year or less.  
• Is your condition manageable? Are there treatments or accommodations that would allow you to keep working? A qualifying condition must cause substantial limitations even when treatment and reasonable accommodation are utilized.

How Do I Apply?
Applications are taken in person at your local SSA office, online at, or over the phone by calling 800-772-1213. To learn more, visit
Be Proactive
If MS symptoms are interfering with your work, don’t wait until it becomes unmanageable to discuss it with your doctor. A record of troublesome symptoms and history of seeking solutions will be helpful to your case in the event that those symptoms become disabling in the future.

This is particularly true for the symptoms that are harder to quantify, such as fatigue and cognitive impairment. These are two of the most common reasons for individuals with MS leaving the workforce, yet some of the most difficult to document.