Retirement, Survivors, Disability Insurance (RSDI)

A. Definition

Retirement, Survivors, Disability Insurance (RSDI) is a federally funded program designed to ensure the continuation of income to those who are disabled, have reached retirement age, or are the surviving dependents of those who qualified for Social Security Disability Insurance. Another name for this Social Security program is, “Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance Program,” or OASDI. Eligibility for any RSDI or OASDI benefit requires that you worked for a certain number of years and paid FICA taxes into the Social Security system. If you are not eligible for RSDI, then you may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is another program administered by the Social Security Administration.

B. General Information

The RSDI program, or Title II of the Social Security Act, is the largest income continuation program in the United States. It was enacted in 1935 as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal during the Great Depression. The insurance program took the form of Social Security payments for widows with a family to support, the handicapped, and others in need of money, who were not able to support themselves.

RSDI encompasses three types of benefits, which the Social Security Administration provides:

  • Retirement Benefits — People who have worked and paid into the Social Security system for the requisite number of years are eligible for retirement benefits when they retire. A worker can opt for early retirement benefits at age 62, or wait to receive full retirement benefits at a later age (66 for most people retiring today). If you wait until your full retirement age, your retirement benefit will be higher, permanently.
  • Survivors’ Benefits — Minor children, widows, and surviving divorced spouses of workers who qualified for Social Security retirement or disability benefits are eligible for survivors’ benefits, and sometimes, a small one-time death benefit, as well.
  • Disability Insurance — Disability insurance is synonymous with Social Security Disability. If the Social Security Administration agrees you are unable to sustain full time work for a year or longer, and you are younger than full retirement age, then you can receive disability benefits roughly equal to what your full retirement benefits would be. Disability insurance is like an early retirement plan for people who become ill or injured before reaching full retirement age because Social Security retirement benefits aren’t decreased, as they would be if you started collecting retirement benefits before your full retirement age.

If you are the minor child of a retired or disabled worker who qualifies for Social Security retirement or Social Security disability benefits, you are entitled to receive benefits until you are age 18, based on your parent’s earnings record. If you are the spouse of an “insured worker,” you are entitled to collect benefits in certain conditions, such as if you are caring for a child age 16 or under. In some circumstances, this applies even if you’re divorced.

Social Security Administration Disability benefits and RSDI

If a severe physical disorder, mental disorder, or both prevent you from sustaining any full time work for a year or longer, then you may be eligible for RSDI. You can apply online at You also can enlist the services of a qualified disability representative, who can assist you with the application process.

The determination of whether you are disabled is made by your state’s Disability Determination Services (DDS), which contracts with the Social Security Administration. Although DDS’s are state agencies, they follow federal rules.

If you are disabled before your full retirement age, according to the Social Security Administration, you may qualify for RSDI, depending on when you last worked and how long you paid into the Social Security system.

Your representative can help you determine if your physical or mental impairment is severe enough to qualify for disability benefits under the Social Security Administration. He or she also can advise you whether to apply for RSDI benefits, SSI benefits, or both.