Should I Get Unemployment or Disability?

Submitted by Deanna on

When you’re out of work with a serious medical condition, it can be difficult to know just how to proceed. Disability benefits are one option and provide qualified workers and their families a level of financial security, even when income from employment is limited or nonexistent. Another option, dependent upon your specific circumstances, is to apply for unemployment benefits instead and decide later whether your disability is so severe that it will stop you from finding a new job.


SSA Benefits and Length of Disability


Basic eligibility for disability requires you have a severe, medically determinable impairment that has or will stop you from earning a substantial living for at least 12 months. And “medically determinable” just means that you have to prove your disability with appropriate medical records and using the Blue Book. There is usually a waiting period of at least three months, during which you must be disabled by your condition before you can qualify for benefits.


The Disability Waiting Period


If you do not know if your condition is disabling enough for disability benefits, you may be able to file for unemployment.

Although three months is the minimum waiting period, with some medical conditions, it may be longer. This is because the SSA may need to see how your recovery goes before they’re able to determine if you will have long-term impairments that stop you from working.

It may take awhile before doctors know if you’ll improve and if you’ll be able to return to employment before the 12-month mark. Even when a longer wait is necessary though, the Social Security Administration (SSA) usually only requires four to six months before benefits can be granted. And once you’re approved, you can receive back benefits that date back to the onset of your disability.

It is also important to note that the SSA sometimes waives the waiting period and grants benefits under “presumptive eligibility.” This means they assume you’re going to be disabled long-term and therefore qualify for benefits. An advocate or disability attorney can help you understand the waiting period with a condition like yours or how the SSA usually handles claims for your specific disability.


Deciding if Employment is No Longer an Option for You


When a disability initially appears, it is an uncertain time for many people. You may not know if your medical condition(s) will stop you from working entirely or if you’ll be able to find another job in which your limitations don’t keep you from earning a living. You can apply for unemployment and continue to seek out new jobs during this time. Just keep in mind that you cannot be on unemployment and apply for disability, because these two programs contract one another.

Unemployment eligibility requires you are actively seeking a job, and disability benefit eligibility hinges on the idea that you can’t find gainful employment due to your mental and/or physical limitations. So if you are getting unemployment and apply for disability, the SSA will dismiss your claim and send you a denial notice.

You can however, go on unemployment and give yourself some time to decide if disability is the right move for you. If you find you’re unable to get and keep a job after a few months of searching because your medical condition prevents it, then you can stop unemployment and apply for disability benefits instead.


Submitting a Disability Application


Even if you get unemployment and later discover you can’t go back to work, you can apply for disability when the time comes. A disability attorney or advocate can help you determine when the time is right for you to stop unemployment benefits and submit your disability application. A lawyer or advocate can assist you throughout the application and review stages, and if the SSA turns you down, he or she can help you file an appeal too.

Blog comments

Perla (not verified)

i became disabled and applied

i became disabled and applied for social security benefits in 2014 and was denied i did my taxes in for 2015 now is 2016 for this year i havent worked and finally got a hearing notice. Will the taxes i filed in 2015 make trouble for me getting approved for disability

Wed, 10/12/2016 - 14:00 Permalink

In reply to by Perla (not verified)

Hi Perla,

Hi Perla,
They may not, but it's a good idea to contact a disability advocate or attorney in this case. If you fill out the form on the left, we can have one reach out to you.

Wed, 10/12/2016 - 14:46 Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I wouldn't recommend

I wouldn't recommend using your unemployment. I was let go because my boss said I seemed distracted, wasn't working to standards & absenteeism, nothing done malicious by me, so it was granted... couple yrs later when I finally agreed to file for disability I told my attorney they said it shouldn't matter. Now 7 years later still going through appeals process, the judge asked about unemployment. I answered honestly, I have nothing to hide I just don't remember how long I received benefits...however that's not the issue, she's questioning my answers on unemployment form are you willing, able and ready to accept employment if offered? I answered yes, cuz I was, I dint even file for disability for a couple of years as I was in denial of the severity of my medical issues! Now she seems to want to dig up all the records and for what? I don't believe I did anything wrong... just FYI may not end well to use your own money you pay in....

Sat, 02/11/2017 - 13:05 Permalink

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Hi there,

Hi there,
There may have been some confusion regarding that, if you allege your disability was ongoing before your applied for unemployment, that may be regarded as proof that you were able to work even after the onset of your disability.

Mon, 02/13/2017 - 15:11 Permalink
Perla G (not verified)

I'm going to loose my

I'm going to loose my job on the next month and half and I'm pregnant with Twins not sure if I should apply for disability or unemployment?

Mon, 07/31/2017 - 20:09 Permalink

In reply to by Perla G (not verified)

Hi Perla,

Hi Perla,
You may want to apply for disability if you have a condition that will keep you out of work for 12 months or more (unfortunately, pregnancy/motherhood are not included in this definition), and unemployment if you are able to work but have lost your job.

Tue, 08/01/2017 - 12:19 Permalink
April (not verified)

Hi, I was diagnosed w/

Hi, I was diagnosed w/ diabetes in 2014. I had temp. Lost my eyesight for 7 weeks and then it came back. I got my sugars under control and things seemed to be ok- only troubles were from migraines and infections that popped up but I worked. the trouble started this past July. I got sick and my blood sugars were super high and the drs didn't know why. It took til mid August when I was admitted to the intensive care via ER for multiple blood clots in both my lungs and my leg. I was in hospital for 3.5 weeks...I came home but my health hasn't gotten better. My blood sugars are between 325-415 and I am on a different blood thinner med bc I am not therapeutic yet. I have super blurry vision in both eyes which happened when I was in hospital and hasn't improved ...I was told my vision won't get better until my blood sugars are under 145. My Fmla expired Sept 2 2017. My work called and told me I'm now a displaced worker bc they cannot hold my job for me. I was devastated bc no one from my company cld me to let me know my status... what options do I have ? Can I apply for unemployment and ssi ? I was told I am still under short term disability until Nov 15th but they had to replace me and there is nothing at my job comparable for me... just trying to figure out my options.

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 16:20 Permalink

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