Social Security pays benefits under two programs:

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

The disability program provides benefits and Medicare eligibility to workers with disabilities who paid into the Social Security trust fund through payroll taxes.  Under some circumstances, children and family members can receive disability benefits. SSI pays benefits to disabled persons of all ages with limited income and resources. SSI benefits are not paid out of the Social Security trust fund.

Under the Social Security Act, you are considered disabled if you can’t work due to a severe medical condition that is expected to last at least one year, or result in death.

Disability can happen to anyone. If you suffer from a serious medical condition that prevents you from working, time is of the essence when it comes to applying for Social Security disability benefits. Although Social Security is committed to processing disability claims as quickly as possible in all cases, the initial claims process typically takes three to four months.

In some cases, the Social Security Administration is able to expedite the application process through its Compassionate Allowances – a program that identifies people whose medical condition is so severe, they clearly meet the disability standards.

To date, almost 500,000 people with severe disabilities have been approved through the fast-track disability process, which has grown to include a total of 228 conditions.

Farber’s disease and Tay Sachs disease in children, and advanced pancreatic and ovarian cancer in adults are examples of the 228 conditions on the Compassionate Allowances list. Others include Huntington’s disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which cause rapid brain deterioration in otherwise healthy adults. Recently, three new Compassionate Allowances conditions were added to the list: CACH — Vanishing White Matter Disease-Infantile and Childhood Onset Forms, Congenital Myotonic Dystrophy, and Kleefstra Syndrome.

Many of the claims in the Compassionate Allowances Program are approved based on medical confirmation of the diagnosis alone; for example, pancreatic cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and acute leukemia.

“Social Security is committed — now and in the future – to continue to identify and fast-track diseases that are certain or near-certain to be approved for disability benefits,” said acting Commissioner Nancy A. Berryhill.

For a complete list of the Compassionate Allowances conditions, go to

The Compassionate Allowances initiative also provides grants to medical researchers to identify other conditions that may qualify for this list. This initiative is just one of many ways Social Security works to help provide you with peace of mind when disability happens.

Original text by Jim Borland, Social Security Administration Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications