Attorney Dennis LiottaBy Dennis Liotta, Esq., Partner at Edgar Snyder & Associates

Caring for a loved one who is ill is tough enough. When your spouse can no longer bring home a paycheck, financial struggles make life even tougher.

Social Security disability (SSD) benefits offer you an option for cash payments and in some cases, medical coverage. However, applying for SSD benefits can be a long and complicated process. It pays to understand the system.


Who is Eligible

If you can answer "yes" to the following questions, your spouse may be eligible for SSD benefits:

  • Does your spouse have a severe physical or mental condition that makes them unable to work?  
  • Is it a disability that prohibits working in any capacity - not just their previous job?  
  • Has the disability lasted - or is expected to last - for at least one year? Or, is the disability life-threatening?  
  • Does your spouse have an earnings record that shows they paid into the Social Security system within the past five years?  People with a limited or nonexistent work history may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI).

Applying for SSD Benefits

To get started, contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) by visiting to file online, or make an appointment at a local Social Security District Office.

If approved, SSD payments are retroactive from the date Social Security feels your spouse is unable to work. This is often the date that your spouse stopped working." Money is based on average top earnings over the past 15 years of work history.

Nothing can happen without a diagnosis and proof that your spouse suffers from a disability severe enough to prevent him or her from working. It's critical that they attend medical appointments and follow through with their treatment plan.

Next Steps When Your Claim is Denied

Unfortunately, the government denies over 3/4 of claims. But this does not mean you should give up. While anyone can represent themselves at an appeal hearing, this is the time you should consider contacting an experienced attorney to help you navigate the system. You have only 60 days to appeal a denied claim. You can reapply after that time period, but the process starts all over again. The process for appealing the denied SSD claim includes a hearing, which can take up to two years. Typically it takes a judge several months to issue a decision. If you disagree with the judge's decision, you can move on to the Appeals Council. The last possibility is to pursue a case in Federal Court, which requires the assistance of an attorney.

Benefits for Children, Survivor's and Other Dependents

If your husband or wife is granted SSD, and you have children under the age of 18, often times they are eligible for children's benefits.

SSA would determine the eligibility for these cases as well once a person was granted medically. While it's unpleasant to think of a loved one passing away, family members may qualify for Survivor's Benefits. Widows and widowers, depending on their age, may be eligible. Under certain circumstances, children, stepchildren, grandchildren, or adopted children may be entitled to benefits as well as dependent parents age 62 or older.

Contact the Social Security Administration for details. The Area Agency on Aging can be another good resource to help you find ways to pay the bills, especially when your spouse was the primary breadwinner.

Being a caregiver can be overwhelming. So can applying for SSD or appealing a denied claim. If you need help, find an experienced SSD attorney. Many lawyers who handle Social Security Disability benefits claims do not charge you unless they "win" your claim. Be sure to ask if they work on a contingency fee basis.

Attorney Dennis Liotta, a partner at the law firm of Edgar Snyder & Associates, with offices in Pennsylvania has over 20 years of experience and helps people with physical and mental disabilities get Social Security disability (SSD) benefits. For a comprehensive overview of SSD, visit