There are two disability programs offered through Social Security, SSDI and SSI.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a program for people with a work history and enough quarters of work paid into Social Security. Generally, you need to have worked full time at least five out of the last ten years to be eligible for this program. A person receiving SSDI benefits will be eligible for Medicare, the federal health insurance program, after they have been disabled for two years. The determination as to whether you will be considered disabled by the Social Security Administration involves both a medical and vocational evaluation. First they look at whether you have a significant medical impairment that would prevent you from doing any type of work. If they find that to be the case, the analysis ends there. If they find that you have a medical impairment, but it might not prevent you from doing all types of work, a vocational analysis is done. This involves an evaluation of issues such as education level, age, ability to speak and read English and other factors. Your disability must be such that it will prevent you from working for at least a year. Social Security does not offer any short-term disability benefits.
Under the Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) program, people who have not had a work history, or enough of a recent work history, but are disabled can receive benefits if their income and assets are low enough. The same medical and vocational analysis, as described above, is used to determine disability. There are no Medicare benefits available to people receiving SSI and many recipients turn to state medical insurance benefits such as Medicaid and SAGA.