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Is a terminal diagnosis necessary to claim SSDI benefits?

If you are considering applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, a terminal diagnosis is not required to qualify. SSDI benefits are broadly available to individuals who have developed a medical condition that prevents them from working and is expected to last at least one year or result in death. The focus of SSDI application criteria is on the severity and duration of the condition at issue. 

With that said, to qualify for SSDI benefits, you must meet specific criteria as determined by the Social Security Administration (SSA). These criteria include:

  1. Medical condition: Your medical condition must significantly limit your ability to perform basic employment activities. The condition should either meet or equal one of the SSA’s listed impairments or be of comparable severity.
  2. Duration: The impairment must have lasted or be expected to last for at least 12 continuous months or result in death. This means that even non-terminal conditions can qualify if they are long-lasting and debilitating.
  3. Work credits: SSDI is based on your work history. You must have earned enough work credits, which are accumulated based on your earnings and contributions to Social Security through payroll taxes. The number of credits required depends on your age and when you became disabled.

While a terminal diagnosis is not a prerequisite for SSDI benefits, it can expedite the application process. The SSA has a Compassionate Allowances program that fast-tracks applications for individuals with certain severe and terminal illnesses, such as advanced cancers, ALS and other rapidly progressing diseases. This program allows for quicker approval, ensuring that individuals with terminal conditions receive benefits more promptly.

Many non-terminal conditions do qualify

Many non-terminal conditions can qualify for SSDI benefits if they meet the SSA’s criteria for severity and duration. These can include chronic illnesses such as severe arthritis, mental disorders like major depression or schizophrenia, cardiovascular diseases and other significant impairments. The key is proving that the condition is disabling and long-term. Those who have questions about whether their situation is likely to qualify for benefits can seek personalized feedback at any time.