Government Programs

Applying for SSI, SSDI & Disability Benefits

Receiving free money after you suddenly become disabled is quite unnerving after a spinal cord injury. Some of us like it, while others want to go back to work as soon as possible. There is no right or wrong answer to this question. You should only go back to work when you feel ready to. After all, a spinal cord injury can be a shock to the mind and body. It can take awhile to heal.

If you are opting to not return to work right away, or if you're newly injured, one of the first things you'll want to do is apply for SSI or SSDI, which you can be online from the comfort of your own hospital room. You will find the link below in our "Resources" list. Chances are, you're new to the world of disability benefits.  Whether you're curious about SSI or SSDI, both are explained in detail below.

When you apply for benefits online, you should apply for both if possible. Many receive both benefits, but only if you've paid into the system for at least 5 years directly before your injury. For more information on these life-saving benefits for millions of people with spinal cord injuries, read on.

What is SSI?

Also known as Supplemental Security Income, SSI is a Federal benefit that is paid for by the general tax revenue system. Many young people with spinal cord injuries who've not worked before typically receive this benefit (as they get older and work they can switch to SSDI benefits).

What makes SSI unique is that a previous work history where you paid into the system (if you've received a paycheck, you've likely noticed the small amount given to Social Security each month) isn't a requirement. Instead, the requirements to receive this benefit must be the following: 1) Financially in need 2) Over 65 and 3) Blind or disabled. This benefit is intended to pay for basic needs like food and rent.

If you make too much, you cannot receive SSI. Being on SSI however automatically makes you eligible for both food stamps (except in California) and Medicaid. If you're interested in working part-time or more than that, check out the other helpful disability benefit available to people spinal cord injuries - SSDI - below.

What is SSDI?

Known as Social Security Disability Income, SSDI is available to people with spinal cord injuries as a monthly benefit to help pay for basic needs like food and rent, as well. To be eligible for this benefit, you must have worked at least five years, i.e., paying your portion of the Social Security tax with each paycheck. If you have done this, you can apply for SSDI. This is also a flexible benefit for anyone who wants to work and still receive a portion of their monthly benefits.

SSDI can also be applied for via the same Federal government website we've listed below. And be prepared for a waiting list. Some people wait 3 to 4 months before hearing on a decision on their case. The good news is that to be classified as "disabled," you must have a disability that is expected to last longer than 12 months. In your case, because you have a spinal cord injury, your paperwork will likely be processed quicker.

Please review the following video on how to successfully apply for SSI/SSDI, and checkout our Takeaway Points below.

Video #1: SSI vs SSDI - What is Supplemental Security Income?

Video #2: Balancing Work & Benefits after Spinal Cord Injury

Takeaway Points:

  • You can apply for both SSI and SSDI online
  • Anyone is eligible for SSI as long as they are financially in need or disabled
  • When you become approved for SSI, you're automatically eligible for food stamps and Medicaid
  • To be eligible for SSDI, you must have at least paid your FICA taxes and have worked 5 years before your injury
  • SSDI will allow you to work and still receive a portion of your benefit

Helpful Resources:


Table of Contents
  1. What is Medicaid?
  2. Applying for Medicaid (MA)
  3. What is Medicare
  4. Applying for SSI, SSDI & Disability Benefits
  5. ADA and Disability Laws to Know