10 Disability Myths You Shouldn’t Fall For

Disability Benefits

Important: We updated this article in May 2023 to make sure all info below is both current and correct. 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 what the Social Security Administration’s Annual Statistical Report data shows:

  • 20% of initial applicants in the past year got SSD benefits on their first try (1 in 5)
  • From 2011 to 2020, the SSA approved 21% of initial disability 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 – getting benefits could take years. But that’s definitely not true for most people, according to SSA data:

  • It takes 184 days, on average, to approve successful first-time SSD applicants (i.e., a little more than 6 months)
  • 224 days if you win your first disability appeal, which is called reconsideration (about 7.5 months)
  • 475 days if you win benefits at an appeals hearing after 2 denials — that’s 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 from active payment 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 and mesothelioma, then 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 work 5 in the last 10 years while paying Social Security payroll 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 2023 max out at $914 per month. In addition, only blind or disabled applicants can qualify for SSI before their 65th birthday.

Myth #5: It’s easier for illegal immigrants to get 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 SSDI. 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 Social Security doctor.

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 SSDI have more than one disabling condition. Just 14% of people getting SSDI 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 benefits just for depression, anxiety, or PTSD unless it seriously 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 Social Security 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 benefits if you’re truly unable to work.

In reality, having a disability lawyer almost triples your likelihood to get benefits. The only people who have an easier time getting SSDI 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 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 SSDI money you get. If you meet all program requirements, then the SSA uses the same formula to calculate everyone’s benefit amount. Your SSDI payment amount should equal about 40% of your average monthly paychecks in your 10 highest-paying working years. In 2023, the average SSDI payment is $1,483 per month. If you qualify for SSI because you cannot meet SSDI’s work history requirements, then your max monthly payment is $914.

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 people on SSDI. What about SSI, which also pays disability benefits? The SSI Annual Statistical Report shows less than 5% of SSI beneficiaries in 2021 were not U.S. citizens. These people must prove they’re legal immigrants or belong to a specially protected refugee group to qualify for SSI.

How to Get Free Expert Claim Help Now

If you haven’t applied for benefits because you believed these myths about Social Security disability, ask a disability lawyer for help. Having a Social Security attorney file your claim makes you nearly 3x more likely to receive benefits right away. All disability lawyers are happy to answer your claim questions by phone. Plus, all the attorneys in our network accept cases on contingency. That means if the SSA doesn’t award you benefits, then you pay $0 in legal fees. And if you do win, then you’ll only pay one small fee.

Want free expert claim help without leaving your home? Click the button below now to start your free online benefits quiz to see if you may qualify:

Get Your Free Benefits Evaluation

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 Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, 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.