One of the most significant stressors experienced by those living with debilitating chronic pain is how to pay for the treatment and health care they need—and those concerns are multiplied for individuals unable to work any longer because of their pain.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) may alleviate some of that burden.

If you have worked at least five of the last 10 years in a job in which you and your employer paid Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes, you may qualify to receive SSDI benefits if you are unable to work for at least 12 months.

Here’s how to apply

Qualifying for SSDI requires providing documentation surrounding work history and medical records, including specific forms such as an Activities of Daily Living questionnaire.

“People often make mistakes in this part of the process, perhaps because they’re not specific enough in their answers or they don’t want to admit their struggles,” says T. J. Geist, a principal advocate with Allsup, a company that helps its clients through the SSDI approval process.

There are several levels of appeals after an initial rejection. An appeal must be submitted within 60 days of receiving a denial letter. Reconsideration appeal forms include Form SSA-561 and a Reconsideration Disability Report, Geist says. Forms and additional information are available at

Throughout the sometimes years-long process of applying and appealing, an average of only one-third of applicants eventually are approved for SSDI benefits.

How SSDI helps

Qualified recipients receive a monthly income based on how much they paid into the system through their Social Security taxes when they were working. Those approved for SSDI can also receive benefits for dependents under the age of 18.

SSDI offers return-to-work incentives for those whose health improves (learn more at The program also offers Medicare benefits 24 months after the date when Social Security has determined you were eligible for SSDI.

Effective communication with your health care providers is key to getting SSDI benefits as quickly as possible, Geist says.

“It’s a medical records-based program, so you need to make sure that you are seeking treatment and getting it documented,” he says. “If your doctor feels like you can’t work, you should apply [for SSDI] sooner rather than later, because it can take an extremely long time to process.”

To learn more about SSDI, visit

Calli Barker-Schmidt