If you are no longer able to work because of an injury or serious illness, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. Through this federal program, also called SSDI, you may receive monthly payments that cover your living expenses and medical costs.

These are the answers to the most common questions about applying for SSDI.

Who is eligible for SSDI?

Applicants must pass both the medical and earnings requirements. Your doctors must expect your medical condition to last at least one year or eventually result in death, and you must be unable to perform your job duties because of the effects of the condition. You are not eligible for disability benefits if you are currently working.

Earnings requirements depend on how long you have worked and your age at the time you became disabled. In general, individuals who become disabled in their 30s must have worked for two to four years, individuals in their 40s five to six years, in their 50s seven to nine years and in their 60s at least nine years to receive SSDI benefits.

How do I apply?

You can either apply for benefits online or visit your local Social Security office for a disability claims interview. You must provide comprehensive information about your medical and work history, including the following:

  • Medical records from all health care providers who treated you for the disabling condition, including test and lab results
  • A complete list of the prescription medications you take and their dosages
  • Information about your previous employment
  • Your most recent federal tax returns
  • Your Social Security number
  • Release forms giving your doctors permission to send information to the Social Security Administration

What happens after I apply?

The agency processes most SSDI applications within three to five months. Doctors and disability experts who work for the SSA will review your case and may request follow-up documentation.

If the agency denies your application, you have the right to appeal this decision. Often, it takes several attempts to receive SSDI approval.