The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the United States government each administer a program intended to provide significant financial benefits for people afflicted by various kinds of illnesses and injuries. The two programs are often misunderstood or confused. The differences between the two programs are significant, and anyone considering applying for benefits should understand these differences.

The workers’ compensation program operated by the Commonwealth’s Department of Industrial Accidents provides benefits for anyone who suffers an illness or injury at work. The injury must cause a disability that is either permanent or temporary and either total or partial. Benefits are paid according to a schedule established by the legislature and adjusted by the Department of Industrial Accidents. A claimant must prove that the illness or accident is related to their employment and must also prove the extent of the injury or illness. All claimants have the right to appeal an adverse decision on their application. The injury or illness need not be permanent, and the disability can be partial.

The federal program, called Social Security Disability Insurance, has many crucial differences from workers’ compensation. First, the illness or injury need not have been suffered at work; it can result from any cause. However, the injury or illness must cause total disability, that is, the applicant must be totally unable to perform the duties of their job. Moreover, the disability must be permanent. Permanent means that the illness or injury is expected to cause a disability that lasts at least 12 months or that is expected to result in death. Disabled means that the applicant is unable to perform substantial gainful activity. The SSDI system also provides the opportunity to appeal an adverse decision.

Both programs can provide crucial financial aid when families are experiencing desperate need. Questions can often be answered by a lawyer who is experienced in handling claims under the two programs.