Top 10 disability myths

10 Disability Myths You Shouldn’t Fall For (2022 Update!)

We see a lot of disability myths people believe that aren’t true, especially in Facebook memes posted online. Here are the top 10 disability myths that people think are facts, and the data that prove what the truth is for our readers.

5 Disability Myths About Getting Approved for Benefits

Myth #1: Everyone who applies for disability benefits gets turned down the first time

We don’t know why people believe this, but here’s the Social Security Administration’s Annual Statistical Report data shows:

  • 20% of initial applicants in the past year got awarded disability benefits on their first try (1 in 5)
  • From 2010-2019, the SSA approved 21% of initial SSD applicants, on average

Myth #2: It takes years to get approved for SSD benefits

Unlike most disability myths we’re busting today, this one’s partially true. If you’re denied the first time you apply and lose your first appeal, then yes – SSD approval could take years. But that’s definitely not true for most people, according to SSA data:

  • It takes 111 days, on average, for successful first-time SSD applicants to receive approval (3.5 months)
  • 147 days if you’re approved on your first disability appeal, which is called reconsideration (just under 6 months)
  • 418 days if you have to appeal twice before your disability claim’s approved — more than a year!

Myth #3: Alcoholics/drug addicts can get on disability instead of working

Funnily enough, the SSA has a specific policy that states alcoholism and drug addiction alone don’t qualify for disability. Congress passed a law in 1996 that removed any alcoholics or drug addicts off the disability rolls. That law covers people applying for both federal benefit programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). However, if someone has a qualifying disability in addition to substance or alcohol abuse, that person may qualify for benefits. For example: If you’re an alcoholic with cirrhosis of the and stage 4 pancreatic cancer, you may qualify for disability.

Myth #4: People who’ve never worked can get disability benefits for life

Like #2 above, this is one of those disability myths that’s partly true for some people. But the truth is a little more complicated than most people realize. You must have worked 5 in the last 10 years full-time for jobs that withheld FICA taxes to get SSDI. If you haven’t worked recently or long enough to earn 40 Social Security work credits, you can only get SSI. SSI payments in 2022 max out at $841/month. In addition, only blind or disabled applicants can qualify before their 65th birthday.

Myth #5: It’s easier for illegal immigrants to get approved for disability than U.S. citizens

This is one of those disability myths that people get incredibly angry about and argue about constantly on Facebook. But it’s absolutely against federal law for illegal immigrants to receive Social Security disability. If you think you know someone who’s here illegally and now receives SSD benefits, please report it! Call 1-800-269-0271 to report suspected Social Security fraud (you can do this without having to identify yourself).

5 Other Disability Myths You Shouldn’t Believe

In addition to the most common disability myths we listed above, there are a few others that people keep sharing. If you see someone posting fake news about these disability myths, feel free to correct them!

Myth #6: People can just say they have depression, anxiety or PTSD and fool the disability doctors

Disability myths about mental illness are upsetting to people struggling with these issues every day. And while it’s true that a lot of people on disability have mental health issues, the truth is more complex. In reality, about 69% of people getting disability qualified because they have more than one disabling condition. Just 13.7% of people receiving Social Security disability have a mood-related disorder, like depression or anxiety. In addition, you must prove your mental health issue stops you from working at least 12 months to get disability. It’s almost impossible to get disability just for depression, anxiety or PTSD unless it severely impairs your ability to function. You must prove your mental health limits your ability to do daily living tasks to qualify on that basis alone. In other words, you can’t bathe, dress, prepare food for yourself or do basic household chores due to mental illness.

Myth #7: Social Security is running out of money for retirees because of people on disability

This is another one of those disability myths that won’t die. In reality, the Disability Insurance Trust Fund pays for SSDI benefits. Regular retirement payments come out of the Old-age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund. In other words, it’s impossible for people on disability to deplete Social Security benefits for retirees! Federal law keeps both trust funds separate from each other.

Related: Can You Inherit Social Security Payments After Someone Dies?

Myth #8: You don’t need a disability lawyer to get approved if you’re truly unable to work

In reality, having a disability lawyer almost triples your likelihood to get approved for benefits. The only people who have an easier time getting disability benefits without an attorney have a newly diagnosed terminal illness. Plus, most people have no idea how to fill out the claim forms or what medical evidence to include. Lawyers understand how the system works – and what the government needs to see that proves you qualify for disability benefits.

Myth #9: Your benefit payments should go up if your symptoms get worse

Your symptoms, illness, injury or condition have no influence on how much disability money you get. If you meet all the eligibility requirements, the SSA uses the same formula to calculate everyone’s benefit payment. Your SSDI payment amount should equal about 40% of your average monthly paychecks in the 10 years you last worked. In 2022, the average SSDI payment is $1,358/month. If you qualify for SSI because you cannot meet SSDI’s work history requirements, your max disability payment is $841/month.

Myth #10: Most people on disability don’t speak English/aren’t American citizens

The typical person on SSDI is 55, lives in the South and never attended college (64%). Most are white (75%); beneficiaries are 50% men and 50% women. But that’s for SSD beneficiaries; what about SSI, which also pays disability benefits? According to the SSI Annual Statistical Report, 5% of SSI beneficiaries in 2020 were not U.S. citizens. These people must prove they’re here legally or belong to a specially protected refugee category to qualify for SSI.

If you haven’t applied for benefits because you believed these myths about Social Security disability, ask a lawyer to help you. Having an attorney file your claim makes you nearly 3x more likely to receive benefit approval right away. All disability lawyers offer free, no-obligation consultations over the phone. The attorneys in our network always work on contingency. That means unless your case wins, you’ll owe $0 in legal fees. And if you do win, then you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee.

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Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity,, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.