First Steps When Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits
If you’re hurt on the job or otherwise become disabled, you may be eligible for supplemental income from the Social Security Administration thanks to the taxes you’ve paid during your career.
The Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income programs can help you continue to live your life in comfort as you make adjustments to your daily routine and cope with your disability.
The government bureaucracy and red tape doesn’t have to prevent you from getting the benefits you deserve if you’ve got a strong case. You can strengthen your claim by having the right disability lawyer on your side.
How To Apply for Social Security Disability
It’s best to apply for Social Security disability benefits as soon as you believe you’ve become disabled and anticipate being unable to return to work for at least 12 months. The disability application process can take quite some time—the SSA estimates three to five months of processing time for consideration of just the initial application , but people often report longer delays—and it does require some leg-work on your part.
When figuring out how to apply for Social Security disability benefits, first visit the SSA website and download the disability kit because it will walk you through the documents you need to gather. If you chose to apply on your own, you can either complete an online application for benefits or call 1-800-772-1213 to make an appointment at your local SSA office.
Completing your Social Security disability benefits interview in person or over the phone can be a little easier because the SSA agent will assist you in completing the application forms and can immediately let you know if a document hasn’t been completed correctly. However, the wait time to get an appointment date to have an application taken can be lengthy – often several weeks to a month – so it’s best to call first and see what the wait time is like. If you decide to apply online you don’t have to spend the time or money to go to an SSA office and you can use your own computer. However, the questions on the application can be difficult for many people to understand or know how to answer correctly, and you will not have any assistance.
You may also chose to have an attorney file a claim for Social Security disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits for you. In this case, you will not have to navigate the complicated application forms on your own, but will have your attorney handle these intricate legal issues for you. Your application can also be filed quickly because you will not have to wait for an appointment with the Social Security office.
After you’ve set your appointment or started your application online, you will want to start building your document list and information needed to strengthen your disability claim. This information will be used to finish your Disability Benefit Application and your Adult Disability Report. You don’t have to fill out everything in your first session because some of these items are harder to get than others.
Information needed to meet Social Security disability requirements includes:
That’s a big list and it’ll take some time to get things together. As stated above, get the process started and then start to gather all of these documents. However, if you fail to obtain enough information in a timely manner your claim may be closed or denied due to insufficient information.
In this disability kit, you’ll also see documents that relate to other aspects of your disability. Some documents will have you write about your disability to note how it impacts your work, and others need to be given to your doctor or hospital to allow them to release your information to the SSA.
If the person applying for benefits is blind, contact the SSA right away and ask for “If You Are Blind Or Have Low Vision—How We Can Help (Publication No. 05-10052).” This document will help you understand the specific information and other exceptions that the SSA applies for blindness.
What to Do With Your Disability Benefits Documents
A lot of documents that you need in order to apply for Social Security disability benefits, whether you’re doing your application online, over the phone or in person, are expensive to get copies of or to replace. For all of these items, you’ll want to deliver whatever you can through the electronic forms, such as fax, or in person. Hand delivery still meets Social Security disability requirements.
Forms like your birth certificate, especially if you were born in another country, can be difficult to get a copy of, so you’ll want to bring that in to the SSA office in person. The SSA staff can make a copy of your document and return it to you, but they can’t accept faxed birth certificates in many cases and may not return items that you send through the mail.
One form you need to fill out and sign is the Authorization to Disclose Information to the Social Security Administration. This allows the SSA to request your medical records to support your claim, and to discuss your case with others, such as your doctors and former employers, to check on both your disability and your mental capability to manage potential Social Security benefits.
The Authorization to Disclose Information allows the SSA to look far past your disability and ask any third party (i.e. employers, doctors, co-workers, etc…) about your overall health and mental wellbeing. They can ask about any history of alcoholism, drug abuse, mental health concerns, learning disability, education or significant illness like HIV or AIDS. Thus, you may want to discuss your case with a lawyer if you have concerns about signing this form.
The Earnings Tests
To qualify for benefits under the SSD program, you also need to meet certain earnings requirements. The SSI program does not have an earnings requirement.
The first test is the “recent work” test that is based on the age you were when you became disabled. The second “duration of work” test is required to show that you’ve worked long enough under Social Security to qualify. Different rules apply for blind individuals.
The “recent work” test lets you figure out how long you’ll have needed to work based on your age. It uses quarters of the year around when you turned or will turn a certain age and lets you know when you’ve needed to work. The “duration of work” test talks about total years that you’ve worked during your entire life.
A quick review of the two tests looks like this:
Recent Work Test
Duration of Work Tests
Social Security Disability Requirements: The 5 Step Evaluation Process
Once you’ve met the earnings test, the SSA will then evaluate the severity and impact of your disability. The Social Security Administration uses a five step evaluation process to evaluate each claim and see if you’re eligible for Social Security disability benefits. Let’s look through these questions to get you started, because the SSA has some very specific qualifications that you must meet in order to have your claim approved.
1. Are you currently working?
If you’ve worked and your earnings were more than an average of $1,070 each month (for 2014) then you will typically not be eligible for SSA disability during those months. If you’ve worked and earned less than that, you’ve passed the first step.
If you haven’t worked at all since the date you are claiming your disability began, a state agency called Disability Determination Services will evaluate your claim and review medical records from your doctors to determine what health impairments you have and the extent of your disability. This includes questions about your medical condition, when it started, how it limits your daily life, any medical tests you had to establish/diagnose the health condition and what treatments you’ve received for your disability.
2. Is your condition severe?
Your disability qualifies as “severe” if it even slightly interferes with your ability to perform activities related to your work. Your claim must spell out how your disability interferes with your ability to work and it’s best to get your doctor to explain that to you clearly so you can properly articulate the interference.
3. Is your condition on the current SSA list of disabling conditions?
The Social Security Administration has a list of medical conditions considered severe enough to automatically make you disabled in terms of Social Security disability benefits. Disabilities differ for those above or below the age of 18, so you’ll want to first make sure you are looking at the correct list. If your condition is on this List and you or your doctors can supply the required medical documentation your claim will be approved. If your condition is not on the list, the SSA will review your individual situation. If they feel your individual disability is comparable in severity and in the limitations it causes to that of the illnesses on this list, you can be disabled through steps four or five.
If you feel your disability is on Social Security’s Listing of Impairments you should mention this in your application, as it could potentially speed up the processing of your claim. In very special circumstances a quick, compassionate allowance is made when someone has a confirmed diagnosis of a very severe illness, such as ALS or pancreatic cancer, and has the required medical documentation.
4. Can you still do the work you used to?
If your disability is preventing you from working but doesn’t rise to the debilitating nature of the medical conditions on the previous list, you’ll have to prove that the limitations of your disability prevent you from working. If the SSA determines that your disability prevents you from performing any of the types of jobs you have performed within the last 15 years, you’ll move to question five. If they find that your disability or illness doesn’t interrupt your ability to perform your past work, then your claim will be denied.
5. Can you do other work?
You may not be able to perform the tasks of your previous jobs, but can you do other work, that is possibly less physically and/or mentally demanding? The SSA will look at your medical condition as well as your age, education, and skills gained from prior work experience to see if you can perform significant work in another field. The SSA will not consider whether or not you want to perform other types of work, or if you have transportation to get to a job. If the SSA determines you cannot perform any other significant work activity, then your claim will be approved.
Social Security Benefits: Focus on Your Disabilities
The one thing to remember as you’re filling out all of your Social Security disability requirements is that you need to advocate for yourself and focus on your disability as you make your case.
In the Social Security disability benefits paperwork, you need to emphasize the things you cannot do anymore and why you can’t do them. The inability or limited ability to perform your regular daily activities can be translated in to why you can no longer work.
If you’ve had to change your lifestyle, from going to the store alone and cooking for yourself, to taking a shower or getting down the stairs, make a note of these changes. All of those daily activities will also impact your working life because you’re doing a lot of the same activities such as walking, bending over, lifting objects and more.
Don’t lie on your application for disability benefits, but also don’t sugarcoat the things you’ve had to change in your life. If you depend on your spouse or children to help you perform regular activities, make a note of that. Also ask the people in your life what has changed since your injury because they may give you a new perspective on things. You may not realize that you no longer get up first to make coffee or have switched from reading the paper standing up to sitting down.
Little things count, especially because they can help explain how your life has changed and why you deserve your Social Security disability benefits.
Getting Your Results
If your disability isn’t on the instant-approval Listing of Impairments, it could take a few months for the SSA to get back to you about your case.
During this waiting period, it’s smart to discuss your case with a lawyer specializing in this area. You want to get an idea of what to expect and learn what steps to take while you wait. A consultation with a Social Security disability lawyer is often free, on the hopes that they get your business if you need to appeal a denial of your claim for Social Security disability benefits.
When your claim is approved the SSA will send you a letter noting your application’s approval status, monthly benefit and effective date, and any retroactive benefits owed on your claim. Read this letter carefully and speak with your lawyer if you’re not satisfied or have questions.