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How To Apply For Disability | [Comprehensive Guide]

Elderly Man Sitting In Wheelchair Signing Papers

If you suffer a disability that prevents you from working, then you probably know that you should apply for disability benefits (SSDI) as soon as you qualify. However, navigating the Social Security disability system can be intimidating and confusing. Applying for benefits does not have to be difficult, and it can be done in a variety of ways. If you need to apply for benefits, then keep reading as we will tell you exactly how to do so. We will even tell you what documentation you will need with your application and what happens once your application has been submitted.


Social Security Disability Benefits Overview

If you have suffered a disability and are unable to work, then you might be able to receive Social Security Disability benefits. The type of benefits for which you qualify will depend on how much work history that you have. If you have a sufficient earnings record, then you can qualify under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. The benefit payments that you receive on this program are typically higher than the alternative. Generally, you need to have worked for at least 10 years to qualify for these benefits. In addition, your disability must have lasted or be expected to last for at least 12 months. In some cases like a terminal illness, then you can qualify right away.

If you do not have the work history to qualify for SSDI benefits, then you might still be able to get Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This program is for people who are disabled and unable to work, yet they do not have enough work history to qualify for SSDI. The medical requirements for the two programs are the same; however, there are a few differences in other components. SSI disability benefits require that you have limited income and resources to qualify. Even though you are unable to work, if you have income from other sources or a large savings, then you will not be able to get these benefits. SSDI, on the other hand, does not have the low income requirement. The biggest differences between SSI and SSDI are the work requirements and limited resource requirements.


How To Apply For Benefits

Front Entrance To Social Security Office

There are a few different ways that you can submit your application to the Social Security Administration (SSA). In the past, people would typically visit their local Social Security office to complete an application. While that is still an option, it is not as popular as it once was. Here are the different ways that you can apply for disability.


​— Online Application

This is the quickest and easiest way to start your application for benefits. You simply need to visit and complete their online disability application. This will allow you to easily complete the application with all the necessary information. You will still need the same information and documentation that you would when completing a paper application. This includes your full name, your Social Security number, W-2 forms, a description of your medical condition, your medical records including test results, and other documentation that supports your claim of disability. You can even use your Social Security disability login to easily check on the status of your application.


— Apply By Phone

If you do not have a computer or access to the Internet but do not want to visit the Social Security office, you can complete your disability claim application over the phone. All you need to do is call the toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 between the hours of 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM on Monday through Friday. For the hearing impaired, you can access the TTY phone number at 1-800-325-0778. You can even call these numbers to schedule an appointment to complete your application.

— Apply In Person

Many people with disabilities choose to visit their local office to apply for benefits. However, you should note that local SSA offices are currently closed to the public due to the COVID pandemic. You can call to make an appointment though if your situation is considered a critical case. If you need to apply for benefits for the first time, you will likely be encouraged to apply online. However, if that is not an option, then you should be able to get an appointment at an office to complete your application. It might be several weeks before an appointment is available though.


SSI & SSDI Documentation Requirements

Applying for disability benefits requires quite a bit of personal information and documentation. It is recommended that you check out the SSA’s Adult Disability Checklist to make sure that you have everything ready before starting your application. You will need both personal information as well as information about your medical condition. Here are some of the things that you will need. You will need to provide your full name and your Social Security number as well as your date of birth and place of birth. Your spouse’s name will also be required during the application process. You will also need to provide your children’s names and dates of birth.

If you have military service, then you will need to provide information about the dates and branch of service. Direct deposit information will be required as well as information about your employer like last year’s W-2 form or self-employment documentation like tax returns or your Social Security record. If you are receiving workers compensation, then you will need to provide details about that.

When it comes to your medical condition, you will need to provide all medical records related to your impairment to be included in your disability report. Your health care providers can often send this information directly to the Social Security Administration. This can include test results, vocational reports, physician reports, or anything else that is necessary to help prove your case. Once you submit your Social Security disability application, then it will start flowing through the process.


What Happens After You Submit Your Application

Once you submit your application, then you will receive a confirmation of receipt. The Disability Determination Services (DDS) will then process your application to determine whether your impairment meets the definition of disability. Depending on your work and financial status, you might qualify for one of the disability programs available. However, many applications are initially denied even though the person might have a true disability. This is when the appeals process begins.

You can first ask the SSA to reconsider their denial. This is the point in the process where many people choose to hire an attorney or Social Security representative. If the reconsideration is unsuccessful, then you can request a hearing with an administrative law judge. The entire process from application to a hearing before a judge can take 12 to 24 months, so be aware that it is a lengthy process. Once approved for benefits, then you will begin receiving your monthly benefits via the direct deposit information you provided. Once you receive benefits for 24 months, then you will automatically be enrolled in Medicare coverage. Also remember that your child might be able to receive benefits if you are on disability. The amount that a child gets when a parent is on disability is usually 50% of the parent’s benefit amount.


The Bottom Line

Applying for disability can be a lengthy and complicated process, and it requires extensive documentation. Make sure that you have everything in order before you start your application process to increase your odds of getting approved. If your application is denied, make sure that you follow the appeals process to appeal that decision. Whether you apply for Social Security disability over the phone, through your local office, or over the Internet, the process is virtually the same once your application has been submitted.


Frequently Asked Questions


What conditions automatically qualify you for disability?

If you meet a listing in the Social Security “Blue Book,” then those impairments will automatically qualify you for benefits. Some examples of conditions that qualify for disability include COPD, sickle cell disease, congenital heart disease, and others. This differs from the Compassionate Allowances program. This program recognizes specific diseases whereby you are allowed to fast track your benefits because your life expectancy is very short.


Can you get disability immediately?

You can start receiving disability as soon as your SSI or SSDI application is approved. However, remember that your condition must have already lasted or be expected to last for 12 months. The application process also takes some time, so it is likely to be at least a few months before you start receiving benefits after your disability occurs.


What are the qualifications for disability?

Your impairment must prevent you from performing substantial, gainful activity. This basically means that you must be unable to work due to your disability. In addition, the disability must have already lasted or be expected to last for at least 12 months. For SSI specifically, you must have limited income and resources to qualify. For SSDI, you must have a sufficient work history and earnings records to qualify under Social Security Disability Insurance. From a medical standpoint, eligibility for SSI and SSDI programs is virtually the same.