Most investors today are taking steps to provide for their own retirement income, since they understand that relying solely upon Social Security retirement benefits is a prescription for poverty. But many seem more than willing to count on Social Security's disability program if something happens to them during their careers. However, they may not realize just how little is covered -- or how difficult it might be to get benefits.

Social Security does provide valuable benefits to those who become disabled. But the process of getting those benefits can be labyrinthine. In general, to qualify, you need to have worked a certain amount; be injured beyond a certain level; and have little prospects for obtaining any future work at all.

Breaking the backlog
Even if you meet all the requirements, it's tough just to get a hearing. There's already a backlog of 750,000 pending requests for disability hearings at the SSA's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. That backlog equates to about one in every 300 American adults. It's a long line you'll be standing in if you're expecting government insurance to carry you through. And that backlog is expected to keep growing.

Jim Allsup, a disability claims expert and president of Allsup Inc., has seen a 168% increase in the number of people seeking out his assistance in navigating the minefield of the disability application process. Some experts suggest that statistics show as many as 70% of all disability claims are initially denied by Social Security. With that in mind, Allsup has offered 10 ideas to break through the backlog, including timely filing of your application, preparing an accurate medical record, and reducing your spending.

We cover our houses, our cars, our lives -- even our pets! -- with insurance, yet often neglect to protect our ability to provide our families with an income. Without money coming in, where will your family live?

The Mortgage Bankers Association says the rate of foreclosures this year is the highest in more than two decades. While subprime mortgages are often fingered as the culprit, statistics suggest that disability is a factor in as many as half of all foreclosures, and the National Safety Council says the odds of mortgage foreclosure due to disability are 16 times greater than the risk of foreclosure due to death.

A prime solution
Disability insurance is some of the most important protection you can get. Here are just a few ideas The Motley Fool's Insurance Center suggests you consider as you weigh the need for disability insurance:

  • Does your employer provide coverage? Probably not, or at least not enough.
  • Do you need short-term or long-term coverage? Although most of us can scrape by for a few months, a protracted illness or injury can devastate our finances.
  • What benefits does long-term coverage provide? Look for non-cancellable policies with "loss of income" riders and a flexible exclusionary period.

A disability is bad enough without having Social Security disable your chances of recovery even more.

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Fool contributor Rich Duprey does have a disability insurance policy. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.