Does my Work History Matter When Qualifying for Social Security Disability?

Submitted by Deanna on

Benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) remove some of the financial strain from individuals and families when disability strikes. Eligibility depends on various factors though, including previous employment for adults who apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Work history, including the kinds of jobs you’ve traditionally held, can also play a role in how easily you’re able to you’re eligible for disability.

Available Disability Programs and Work History Requirements

Benefits may be available to you through the SSDI and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs.

  • SSI requires no work history at all, because it’s a program for the most financially needy among the disabled population.
  • For SSDI however, you must have a fairly recent work history and must additionally have paid Social Security taxes on your income.

Your work history translates to work credits with the SSA, and these credits make you a “covered” or “insured” person for SSDI as well as old age or retirement benefits.

How does my work history affect my claim?

SSDI Benefits, SGA Work, and MVA Qualification

Basic SSDI eligibility requires a disability so severe that you cannot participate in “substantial gainful activity” or SGA. This essentially means you’re unable to earn a living because of your medical condition(s).

You may qualify under one of the SSA’s Blue Book disability listings, which proves you cannot perform SGA work and are therefore entitled to benefits. Not all applicants qualify through the Blue Book though. Some must instead go through a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) evaluation and be granted benefits under a Medical Vocational Allowance (MVA).

To approve an MVA, the SSA must see:

  • you can no longer work in your traditional field of employment


  • you can’t succeed in any other field either.

To make this determination, they’ll review your age, education, job qualifications, and employment history, in addition to your medical records. These factors combined must show SGA level work isn’t possible for you. Because of this, older applicants and those with fewer transferable job skills are more likely to achieve benefits through an MVA.

For example, a machine operator has a physical disability that stops her from performing essential job duties in her traditional line of work. As a person with only factory work experience, she couldn’t easily get an office, even if her disability wouldn’t stop her performing sedentary job duties. The SSA may grant an MVA in a case like this because the applicant’s work history shows she can’t find and keep an SGA level job.

Getting Help with Your Disability Claim

No matter your work history, don’t be intimidated by the disability application or eligibility review processes, especially since you don’t have to go through it alone. A friend, family member, or someone else can help you apply. You may additionally seek guidance from disability advocate or hire an attorney to handle your claim.

An attorney can help you make a stronger argument for eligibility. If you must go through an RFC, a disability lawyer’s assistance increases the likelihood of an MVA approval as well. If you’re denied by the SSA, and must therefore appeal the decision, an attorney can increase your chances of winning disability benefits at the appeal hearing too.

Additional Resources

Blog comments

Robert federovitch (not verified)

I'm looking for someone

I'm looking for someone I know. She had and I seen her house was foreclosed in she left me a deposit on a vehicle and want to give it to her
My number is if you know her location or any info.

Sun, 10/23/2016 - 06:43 Permalink

In reply to by Robert federovitch (not verified)

Hi Robert,

Hi Robert,
Unfortunately we would not have any information on her whereabouts as we are not affiliated with the SSA and as such would not have that information.

Mon, 10/24/2016 - 09:55 Permalink
russell (not verified)

how can I work and pay off my

how can I work and pay off my back child support

Sat, 11/05/2016 - 15:16 Permalink

In reply to by russell (not verified)

Hi Russel,

Hi Russel,
If you're already receiving disability benefits, it may be a good idea to contact the SSA to find out how you might be able to work while on disability.

Mon, 11/07/2016 - 16:09 Permalink
Howard (not verified)

I have shoulder rotator cuff

I have shoulder rotator cuff tear, cervical spine nerve root compression, sleep apnea, carpal tunnel surgery done, PTSD, anxiety disorder. all these have been diagnosed by professional Doctors and I have a lawyer. What are my chance of winning in front of a administrative law Judge?

Thu, 11/17/2016 - 08:35 Permalink

In reply to by Howard (not verified)

Hi Howard,

Hi Howard,
I really couldn't say for sure, but all that seems pretty positive! It's really important to be prepared, and having a lawyer can go a long way.

Thu, 11/17/2016 - 08:55 Permalink
Tabitha (not verified)

In reply to by Howard (not verified)

I had stage 3 breast cancer

I had stage 3 breast cancer & one of my big surgeries 1 yr after my last chemotherapy treatment went a little wrong & a vein had to b removed from my right upper arm & it limited my range of motion & I had some mental issues nothing big. Well I was denied my first time & had to get a lawyer. Well 3 other people got it on there first try but they r older than me. My mom for a bone disease my grandfather for cancer in his brain, throat & lymphnoids & my x father in law for cancer. So it determines on all kinds of different factors for when or how soon u would or wouldn't get approved.

Sat, 11/19/2016 - 05:20 Permalink

In reply to by Tabitha (not verified)

Hi Tabitha,

Hi Tabitha,
It's true, some people may be more likely to be approved for benefits, if you still need those benefits it may be a good idea to contact a disability advocate or attorney, they can help you with your claim and can fight for you on appeal if need be. You can have one reach out to you if you go here:

Tue, 11/22/2016 - 11:43 Permalink
Bea (not verified)

I'm hoping to visit the

I'm hoping to visit the U. K. for a year or two. Will I be able to retain my disability benefits while there? I'm over 50 with RA and would like to travel while I still can.

Mon, 11/21/2016 - 17:34 Permalink
Crystal (not verified)

I have an adult child living

I have an adult child living with me who has Aspergers, OCD, and Depression. She is almost 20 years old. She has a part time job but can not seem to land meaningful employment, My question has 2 parts. 1). Should I help her apply for disability? I worry how she will take care of herself when I am gone. 2). Can she continue working her part time job if she is approved for disability, can she even apply for disability while she's working a part time job?

Tue, 11/29/2016 - 10:16 Permalink

In reply to by Crystal (not verified)

Hi Crystal,

Hi Crystal,
You can certainly help her, but her approval will depend on how much she is working. If she's earning more than $1,130 per month, she will not qualify for disability benefits. If she's earning less, feel free to schedule an appointment at your local SSA office to get the ball rolling.

Tue, 11/29/2016 - 12:21 Permalink
claudia (not verified)

In reply to by Crystal (not verified)

Hi crystal, I saw your

Hi crystal, I saw your comment and wanted to suggest that you look into programs for individuals with disabilities, through your state. In California the regional center provides multiple supports that help with obtaining and maintaining work, housing, as well as assistance with filing for disability benefits. Not all states are as generous but wouldn't hurt to ask.

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 00:00 Permalink
Mona (not verified)

My husband retired and is

My husband retired and is receiving Social Security Income. He recently had a stroke. Can he apply for the disability benefits?

Sat, 12/03/2016 - 18:24 Permalink

In reply to by Mona (not verified)

HI Mona,

HI Mona,
If he is receiving SSI based on his income, then he may not be eligible for SSDI benefits.

Tue, 12/06/2016 - 09:43 Permalink
Rhonda (not verified)

I am a 50 year old female who

I am a 50 year old female who left the workforce in 1999, but worked for 10 years prior to that making good money I know enough o qualify for retirement income from SS. I have herniated disks and degenerative disk disease in both my lower back and neck, I have HBP, Hypothyroid, carpel tunnel and multiple sclerosis. I show positive on the one test that definitely shows Lupus but I am not positive for ANA and my most recent lower back MRI shows bon edema indicative of RA and fibromyalgia and migraines as a result of neck issues spinal stenosis, crack in dens, and a host of other issues with the neck and lower back. I had a chlectomy last Nov to remove bone spurs from big toe and have bone spurs throughout spine. My question has to be what if any hope do I have at qualifying based on how long I have been out of workforce yet having earned enough credits but not in last ten years. We need me to return to work to offset college expenses and to hire a person to do household chores I am unable to perform anymore. Is it possible for me to qualify or am I completely without hope of being accepted and awarded disability based on my work history timeline? Is there another program/option for working women who left the workforce after working for several years to stay home and then find themselves too sick to return to the workforce.

Wed, 12/07/2016 - 17:54 Permalink

In reply to by Rhonda (not verified)

Hi Rhonda,

Hi Rhonda,
Unfortunately, you may not qualify for benefits as the SSA may require that you have worked at least five of the last ten years.

Thu, 12/08/2016 - 10:09 Permalink
Dianegingrich@… (not verified)

Psoriatic arthritis in flare

Psoriatic arthritis in flare up mode for 11 months, resulting significant pain and worsening symptoms, squamous cell carcinoma 9/16, uvietus leading to potential blindness 12/16, due to stress on job after approval of intermittent FMLA on 1/5/16. Even EEOC told me they are skirting the law and to get another job but I can't look for another job because of my medical condition and numerous doctors appts could cause me to get fired on a new job. I'm stuck and suffering. I've been told to look into workmans comp for stress related job injury and possibly disability. I have lots of documentation and can point to a specific incident (with the VP of the company-HR documented) that started my physical deterioration. Even my rheumatoloigist has told me I will not get better until my job stress gets better. My personal life is fine. No stresses. I'm depressed due to chronic pain and stress at work. I've got memory problems. Is it worth looking into workmans comp and disability? My annual income dropped from $69k in 2015 to $35k in 2016 doing the exact same job. I just was told the psoriatic arthritis inflammation is now affecting my vision and could potentially result in blindness. Am I a candidate for workmans comp, disability, and/or retaliatory action for going on FMLA? Management has made it much more difficult for me to make commissions since FMLA was approved... 50% less income. I await a reply. Feel free to email me.

Fri, 12/09/2016 - 21:52 Permalink

In reply to by Dianegingrich@… (not verified)

Hi there,

Hi there,
Yes, you may be able to receive disability benefits if your condition leaves you unable to work. You may want to contact a disability advocate or attorney about your case, they can help you through the process and fight for you on a disability appeal if needed. You can reach out to them by filling out this form here:

Tue, 12/13/2016 - 10:51 Permalink
Louise (not verified)

I have several medical issues

I have several medical issues affecting my ability to work. I just quit my job due to the fact unable to sit. I was employed for 3 years. Prior work as nurse 1987-1999. I also work doing a network marketing business. Does the network marketing business count as previous work history? Ido receive monthly check with my network business.

Tue, 01/10/2017 - 20:52 Permalink

In reply to by Louise (not verified)

Hi Louise,

Hi Louise,
If you've paid FICA payroll taxes for at least five of the last ten years, you may be eligible for SSDI benefits.

Wed, 01/11/2017 - 10:54 Permalink
Marie (not verified)

If a divorced parent on SSI

If a divorced parent on SSI disability, receives SSI child support for the children living in the home, and also receives child support payments from the other parent living outside the home, does he/she have to report those child support payments to SSI?

Tue, 01/17/2017 - 18:23 Permalink

In reply to by Marie (not verified)

Hi Marie,

Hi Marie,
If someone is on SSI benefits, they must report any earned or unearned income to the SSA.

Mon, 01/23/2017 - 14:18 Permalink
sara (not verified)

I am working now and would

I am working now and would like to continue. My Diabetes is progressing and I have concerns to how long I will be able to remain working. Also have a history of depression which I have battled for many years. Still in my early 50's so I am beginning to feel concerned about what my options are. A friend recommended that I look into the possibility of filing for disability. I would like to continue working part-time however. Can you work part-time?

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 01:37 Permalink

In reply to by sara (not verified)

Hi Sara,

Hi Sara,

I am very sorry to hear that. You can still work on SSI, as long as it doesn't go over the monthly SGA amount. SGA stands for Substantial Gainful Activity. In 2017, that amount is $1,170/month for non-blind disabled applicants.

Best Wishes,

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 16:41 Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a case manager in a

I am a case manager in a hospital and have a young woman as a patient. She had a stroke and is totally incapacitated. Husband was told by SSA that she did not qualify for SSDI due to work credits...short by 3. What can I do to assist him? Is there a possibility of getting approved with appeal

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 13:24 Permalink

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Hi there,

Hi there,
She may be eligible for SSI benefits, however those are means-tested, and have a different application process.

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 15:27 Permalink
Darlene Hall-Allen (not verified)

I have worked in the health

I have worked in the health field as a Unit Sec/CNA for over 40 yrs. I have had two hip replacements and need a right knee replacement. I am currently receiving disability in Milw. Wi. and my marriage is dissolving, I am 62 yrs. old and want to move back home to Bflo. N.Y. where I have family. I don't know what to do first in transferring my health and disability benefits back to Buffalo, N.Y......can you please help me?

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 18:02 Permalink
Michael (not verified)

I have a friend with mental

I have a friend with mental disabilities who has been living off a trust his parents set up for him. He is starting to panic and could probably use a social worker to find him work and help him keep his home. He is in Pasadena. Where should he start?

Sun, 02/05/2017 - 02:52 Permalink
GEORGE PETRITI… (not verified)


I AM AN NYS LICENSE HOLDER FOR COSMETOLOGY AND BARBER AND HAVE WORKED IN THIS FIELD INCE HONORABLE DISCHARGED FROM U.S. ARMY IN 1969 after three yrs. service and now after being in the business up to 2017 from 1970 the body cant stand behind a chair holding a blow dryer at one hour at a time for each coustomer. having trouble with right hip that may need hip replacement surgery from falling off a missle launcher in Germany in ice hospital has all documentation for meds prescribed for CPI, BRONCHIECTASIS , HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE ,ASTHMA CRONIC bronchiectasis hearing aid device and audiology reports an optometrist reports on eye glasses perscriptions. Will social security disability accept the va hospital dr. reports on my health conditions an eligibility to collect SSDI ? THANKING YOU IN ADVANCE.

Wed, 02/08/2017 - 11:31 Permalink

In reply to by GEORGE PETRITI… (not verified)

Hi George,

Hi George,
You may be eligible for SSA retirement benefits, however because you have been able to work up until now, the SSA may decline to award you SSDI benefits.

Mon, 02/13/2017 - 15:33 Permalink
ashley (not verified)

I was diagnosed with ptsd

I was diagnosed with ptsd every job I get will last no more than a week so I tried to enroll in school that didn't last long because I get sever anxiety in front of a lot of ppl im only 30 and I have two babies to care for by my self can I get disability

Wed, 02/08/2017 - 22:03 Permalink

In reply to by ashley (not verified)

Hi Ashley,

Hi Ashley,
You may be eligible for disability benefits, it may be a good idea to speak with a representative at your local SSA office.

Mon, 02/13/2017 - 15:34 Permalink
susan (not verified)

Hello, I broke, dislocated ,

Hello, I broke, dislocated , and had a plate inserted in my wrist 6 months ago. My wrist does not bend or turn correctly. Im 59 and worked 40 years . I applied for SSDI do you think Il get it? My profession was writing reports, and my dominant hand is the one injured, I can no longer write or pick up any objects over a few pounds

Wed, 08/23/2017 - 18:13 Permalink

In reply to by susan (not verified)

Hi Susan,

Hi Susan,

I am so sorry to hear that. You may be able to get SSDI because of that disabled condition.

Best Wishes,

Thu, 08/24/2017 - 09:15 Permalink
Breann (not verified)

I feel and hit my head

I feel and hit my head doctors said I have a concussion nothing shows up on Mir or ct scan now I have symptoms of post concussion syndrome it's been five months and I think I also am suffering from anxiety. Doctors have not let me go back to work since accident should I file for disability

Sat, 03/17/2018 - 03:27 Permalink

In reply to by Breann (not verified)

Hi Breann,

Hi Breann,

According to the SSA's Blue Book, Traumatic Brain Injuries do qualify for disability benefits under certain extremities. You can call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 to see if you qualify.

Mon, 03/19/2018 - 16:35 Permalink
Ed (not verified)

I have 2 bad knees and need

I have 2 bad knees and need replacement.I can do my job.I am a machinest

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 05:08 Permalink

In reply to by Ed (not verified)

Hi Ed,

Hi Ed,

Disability Benefits are available for those that will be out of work for a year. If that is possible given your condition I would recommend filling out this form to get a free evaluation on your case.

Don't hesitate to fill that out because an attorney will have a better idea of the time that you will not be able to work. I would also work with your doctor to get an idea of the recovery period.

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 16:08 Permalink
Tammy (not verified)

I was denied social security

I was denied social security disability. They sent me a letter stating they only looked at my work not my health problems and if I keep having my health problems I can file another application. I have Persistent Afib and Nonschemic Carditharpy was diagnosis in July 2019. I am very limited on what I can do. I had to wear a external defibrillator for 4 months my heart function went up to 45 % where it is at now it was 25%. I take 16 pills a day. Have to take same time everyday. I have to go for blood work and test on a regular bases along with my visits to my Cardiologist. I was just diagnosis with Arthritis on Feb 6th 2020 when they called me with my results with my test. I was off work over 4 months and when I told the dr I had to come back he wrote a letter no ladders only desk job which I am a painter. I did get paid from my job from people donating me hours. I don't even get any type of back pay cause I received money I did not make that money. I am a painter for the Government.

Fri, 02/07/2020 - 09:54 Permalink

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