Applying for Short-Term Disability Through Social Security

How do you apply for short-term disability through Social Security when the program does not cover temporary illnesses and injuries?

As always, the devil is in the details.

Temporary, short-term, long-term, and permanent are relative terms with no uniform measure tied to a specific time.

Meanwhile, the Social Security Administration (SSA) provides a hard and fast rule: 12 months. If you expect to be unable to work at least this long, it makes sense to file a claim for benefits.

Also, you may want to explore the alternatives because Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) has a five-month waiting period before benefits begin.

Does Social Security Have Short-Term Disability?

The government will tell you that Social Security does not have a short-term disability program, and this statement is valid. However, do not let this stop you from applying for benefits without parsing their legal definition first.

Legal Definition

A precise reading of the Social Security legal definition tells you that they cover specific short-term disabilities and that filing a claim for benefits is not a fruitless exercise, provided you include the proper evidence on your application.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) publishes the following legal definition.

“The law defines disability as the inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”

Let’s pick apart the definition to clarify its true meaning in this context.

  • Death is permanent and lasts for eternity, but benefits cease when you die
  • A temporary condition that lasts less than 12 months does not qualify
  • A short-term impairment that lasts 13, 24, 36 months or more is eligible

The issue that confuses many people is that temporary, short-term, long-term, and permanent standards are malleable and often overlap. There is no uniformity or clear distinctions except in the legal definition (the only benchmark that matters).   

Application Process

The secret to applying for short-term disability through Social Security is to present evidence showing that your medical condition makes you unable to perform any work for at least 12 months.

Start Your Application for Temporary SSDI Online at

A two or three-year work absence may be temporary in your eyes, but not according to the standard set by the SSA in its legal definition. Do your homework in advance to increase the odds of approval.

  1. Review the adult disability checklist
  2. Complete the disability benefit application
  3. Complete the medical release form

SSA will not ask your doctors to decide if you are disabled or estimate the time needed for recovery. Your job is to provide medical evidence supporting your inability to perform any work.

  1. What are your illnesses, injuries, or conditions?
  2. When did they begin?
  3. How do they limit your activities?
  4. What did medical tests show?
  5. What treatment did you receive?

Alternatives to Social Security Disability Insurance

It helps to identify alternatives when applying for short-term disability through Social Security because underwriting decisions can take a long time, and most initial applications get rejected.

Plus, you do not receive any money during the first five months you cannot work, meaning you might need financial assistance while waiting for SSDI approval to survive.  

State Disability

State-based programs are a viable alternative to applying for short-term through Social Security. However, this option only helps people working in specific regions.

State temporary disability insurance is available to individuals working in the seven states with a mandatory program: California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington.

In theory, you could collect state disability and Social Security simultaneously, but the concurrent benefits would not last long. The five-month SSDI waiting period minimizes the overlap.

StateBenefit Duration in Months
New Jersey6
New York6
Rhode Island7

Private Disability

Private insurance programs are a second good alternative to explore when applying for short-term disability through Social Security because the legal definition is more lenient: unable to perform the job duties or your occupation versus any job.

Of course, you would need to have this coverage already in force.

Private short-term disability payments last up to 24 months, illustrating our earlier point: the definition of temporary is malleable. Policyholders choose the benefit period when buying the coverage.

  • 3 months
  • 6 months
  • 12 months
  • 24 months

Policies lasting three months cost less than those with more extended benefit periods. People pick the option that fits their budget since they pay the premiums.