The process you encounter when you decide to apply for Social Security disability benefits may seem confusing at first. When should you apply for disability benefits? Who do you see first? What do you do first? Do you need a Social Security disability lawyer to help you get disability benefits or can you make an appointment on your own? Can you work while you are waiting for your appointment?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) advises you to apply for disability benefits as soon as you become disabled. You can make your application online or you can call the SSA by telephone. You can complete the application online, by telephone, or in person. Contact information is available at the SSA's website.
In order to find out what disability benefits you may be eligible for, the SSA suggests you visit their website and use the Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool (BEST). BEST is a quick screening test that takes about 10 minutes of your time. It is entirely automated and does not ask for any identifying information like name or Social Security number. BEST is not an application, it will not tell you whether or not your application will be approved, and it will not estimate the amount your disability benefits might be. It will help you decide whether to apply for benefits under
- Social Security Disability (SSDI)
- Social Security Retirement (OASDI)
- Social Security Survivors
- Special Veterans or
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Once you have determined which branch of Social Security to contact and have made your application, SSA will review your application to see if it has been filled out correctly and whether you have met the eligibility requirements for the program you are applying to. For example, in order to qualify for SSDI, you will need to have worked the required number of years. Some people find that it is extremely helpful to hire a Social Security disability attorney or other professional who is familiar with Social Security to help them walk through the application process, but professional help is not required by the SSA.
If your application does not need to be amended, the SSA will then send it to the Social Security office in your state. Your state agency will determine if you meet the SSA’s criteria for disability. The state agency will request information about your medical condition from your doctors, hospitals, clinics, and/or institutions where you have been treated. This information will be reviewed by disability specialists at the state agency. If they are unable to make a decision based solely on your records, they may ask you to go for a special examination. This exam is sometimes performed by your own doctors and sometimes by someone else. Any special exam is paid for by the SSA.
It is at this point in the process that you may find professional assistance invaluable. Medical conditions that are considered disabling by the SSA are listed in its “Blue Book”. The tests and medical records required to prove each disabling condition often make for tedious and complicated reading. Not only that, there are many disabling conditions that are not listed in the Blue Book.
A professional can help you sift through the information that pertains to your case. He or she can sort out the most helpful information to be requested from your doctors. A professional can help you decide how to present your case to the Social Security medical specialists. If you have more than one medical condition, a professional can show you which condition should be emphasized for your disability case to be most effective. He or she can show you how to apply if your disabling condition is not included in those listed in the SSA Blue Book. Finally, an experienced professional can give you good advice regarding working and continuing treatment while your disability case is being considered, and what to do if your application is rejected.