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How To Apply For Social Security Disability Benefits

If a disability limits your ability to work, Social Security disability benefits can relieve financial stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, people hear or read about how difficult it is to qualify for disability benefits and do not apply or delay applying. Either way, they miss out on monthly payments and assistance with medical expenses through Medicare or Medicaid.

It's not difficult to apply for disability benefits through the Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance programs as long as you know how the process works and what to expect. First, gather the documentation and information needed to complete an application for Social Security disability benefits. A consultation with a disability lawyer can help with answers to questions about the application process and inciteful tips about how to qualify for disability benefits.

Understand disability benefits programs

Two federal programs offer disability benefits: Supplemental Security Income, commonly called SSI, and Social Security Disability Insurance or SSDI. You must have worked at jobs or self-employment and contributed to the Social Security retirement system through the taxes paid on your earnings to be eligible for SSDI.

Someone without a sufficiently long work record to qualify for SSDI may be eligible for SSI. The purpose of SSI is to help people of limited financial means by providing a monthly benefit payment for food, shelter, and other essentials. Individuals applying for SSI cannot have resources or assets with a total value greater than $2,000. The program imposes limits on an applicant’s monthly income.

Medical requirements to qualify for disability benefits through SSI and SSDI are the same. You must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that prevents you from engaging in substantial gainful activity. The impairment must have lasted or be expected to last for at least 12 continuous months or be expected to cause death.

Completing an application

The best way to avoid feeling overwhelmed and frustrated is by gathering the documents and information you’ll need before filling out an application for disability benefits. An excellent place to start is with the Adult Disability Checklist available from the Social Security Administration. It lists the documents and information you’ll need to complete an application for disability benefits.

There are three ways to complete an application for SSI and SSDI:

  • Online application: The online application process starts by having you create a “My Social Security” account or sign in to your existing account.
  • Applying by telephone: The application process can be accomplished over the phone by contacting the SSA at 1-800-772-1213.
  • In-person application: You can complete an application at any local Social Security office.

You cannot apply online for disability benefits unless you meet the following requirements:

  • At least 18 years of age or older.
  • Not currently receiving disability benefits.
  • Have not received notification of a denial of benefits within the past 60 days.

If you have questions about how to start the application process, a disability lawyer can review your claim and assist you.

What happens next

Your application for disability benefits goes through a process that begins with the SSA reviewing it to confirm that you meet the non-medical requirements. For SSI, that means determining that you have limited income and resources. SSDI applications must reflect a work history of long enough duration to meet eligibility guidelines for the program.

If you meet the non-medical requirements, the application goes to Disability Determination Services, an agency in your state. The DDS reviews the application and decides whether you have a qualifying disability.

Advantages of using a disability lawyer to apply for SSI and SSDI

A disability lawyer knows the law and regulations to guide you through the process to apply for disability benefits and, depending on your situation, help to increase disability payments. If you receive a denial of claim notification, an experienced disability lawyer can challenge it through an appeal process. Learn how a lawyer can make a difference by scheduling a free consultation.