Updated January 8, 2019
Why should you apply for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (either Social Security disability or SSI disability)? The monthly cash benefits are the main reason disability claimants apply. But you'll also qualify for medical benefits. SSI recipients get Medicaid right away, and SSDI recipients get Medicare two years after their disability began. A good percentage of disability applicants apply for disability benefits just so they can get medical care.
As to when it might make sense for you to file disability claim, and have a reasonable chance of getting approved, here are two lists that should help you decide whether to apply.
If all of the following apply to you, you should file for disability benefits.
Social Security generally considers a substantial amount of work to be earning more than $1,220 per month (in 2019) for a disability other than blindness. For SSDI claimants (applicants) who are legally blind, the work limit is $2,040, and for SSI claimants who are legally blind, there is no dollar limit to what you can earn from work and still be considered disabled, but all SSI claimants need to qualify under the income limits of the SSI program.
Note that not being able to work includes when you aren't able to be productive 15% or more of your time at work or having to be absent 10% of more of the time. (This is because you'd be unlikely to be able to keep a job in either of these situations.) So even if you can work a full-time job, if you aren't able to remain on-task or productive for 90% of the time or if you'll miss more than a couple of days of work per month, Social Security should consider you disabled.
If you believe your physical or mental condition will last 12 months or longer and will prevent you from working a full-time job, you might want to talk to your doctor about what he thinks your physical or mental limitations are. If your doctor feels that you have significant limitations that could prevent you from working, you could contact your nearest Social Security office and initiate a claim, or file a claim online. Don't hesitate to do this because the time required to receive a decision on a disability claim can be lengthy, and your medical condition may worsen by then.
If you have a serious illness or disease and have trouble working, but aren't sure if you would qualify for disability benefits, consider the following to be red flags:
If any apply of these to your situation, you may not have a good chance of being approved for disability benefits. For instance, it's difficult to qualify for disability if you don't have a supportive statement from your doctor that show you have signs and symptoms of a severe impairment and serious functional limitations that prevent you from working. As to whether you are financially eligible for SSDI or SSI, you can contact Social Security for help determining this.
It's worth it to do some homework first, because the downside to applying for SSDI or SSI and getting denied is that you can't work while you're waiting for a decision—and it can take a year or two to get a final decision on your case. That's a long time to be without income.
Learn more about medical and financial eligibility for SSDI and SSI benefits.