Disability Benefits Claims 101: How to Get Started

Submitted by Elizabeth on

In the United States, many people who are unable to work because of disabilities qualify for disability benefits through the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA). The two main types of Social Security disability benefits for which you might qualify are Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). 

Both programs may help you cover the cost of basic needs like food and housing if your disability prevents you from earning an income. The following guide will explain the basics of how to apply for disability, answering questions you may have about what can be an overwhelming process. 

Further Reading: 

Understanding Social Security Disability Benefits  

SSI and SSDI are two different Social Security benefits with different eligibility requirements. To apply for SSI benefits, you must show that you have a condition that qualifies as a disability per the SSA’s Blue Book. You must also offer proof of financial hardship. 

Applying for SSDI benefits requires showing the SSA that (1) you have a disability, and (2) that you have: 

  • Worked in the past
  • Paid into Social Security through your work
  • Earned sufficient work credits 

You’ll likely need to gather substantial medical and financial documents as you start the process to get disability. Be aware that it may be easier to put together a thorough SSA disability claim if you have assistance from a legal professional experienced in these matters. 

Further Reading: Social Security Disability Age Chart (for Work Credit Purposes) 

Initial Steps 

“How do I start the process of applying for disability?” Even simply asking yourself this question may trigger feelings of anxiety. 

The Social Security disability application process is much less overwhelming when you break it down into these steps: 

  • Assessing your situation: You need to evaluate your medical condition, your financial circumstances, and your work history to determine if you are eligible for SSA disability. You must also determine what type of Social Security disability benefits you may be eligible for.
  • Online resources: The Blue Book linked to in the above section provides information regarding whether your medical condition meets the SSA’s definition of a disability. If you’re not sure how to file for Social Security disability, you can easily access the application forms online as well.
  • Consulting with professionals: Strongly consider meeting with a lawyer to discuss your application. Their expertise can help you submit a strong claim. 

Along with enlisting an attorney’s help, there may be non-profit organizations in your area offering assistance to those applying for Social Security disability benefits. Look into this option as well. 

Completing the Application 

The basic information you will need to provide when completing an application for SSA disability benefits includes your: 

  • Social Security number
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Names and birth dates of any children under the age of 18
  • Your bank account information 

You may also need to provide similar personal information for your spouse. Along with this personal info, you’ll also have to include the following information about your disability: 

  • Contact information of individuals who know about your condition
  • Contact information for all relevant healthcare providers
  • Information about any medications you’re taking
  • Information about any medical tests you have undergone 

Remember that the more medical and financial documentation you can provide, the better. Some don’t realize the SSA denies most initial applications. Lack of sufficient documentation is among the most common disability claims issues that result in getting initially denied for benefits by the SSA. 

Those submitting SSDI claims also typically need to provide information about their work. This may include information about your earnings, how long you’ve worked for a given employer, and more. 

Further Reading: Best Way to Apply for Social Security 

Submitting Your Application 

You have the option of submitting your application online through the forms linked to above. Or, you may visit your nearest SSA office to submit your application in-person. Use the SSA’s Field Office Locator tool to find the office closest to you. 

Call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY: 1-800-325-0778) to contact the SSA with any other questions you may have. For example, you may want to know about deadlines for your applications. Additionally, upon submitting an application, it’s wise to call the SSA to confirm they have received it. 

Further Reading: Social Security Office Near Me 

Medical Evaluation 

The SSA almost always requires applicants to undergo special medical exams before they receive approvals for benefits. Your own doctor may complete this exam and help you fill out the relevant paperwork accordingly. 

The SSA can also connect you with a doctor to perform the exam. This might be an option to consider if your doctor is unable to perform the exam themselves for any reason. 

Legal Assistance and Appeals  

You have sixty days to ask for a reconsideration if the SSA denies your initial application. During a reconsideration, the SSA will review your application once more. 

Reconsiderations typically don’t result in approvals. If yours doesn’t, you may move to the next steps in the appeals process: 

  • Hearing: An administrative law judge will hear your case and render a decision. You can proceed to the next step if they still decide against you.
  • Appeals Council review: To request an Appeals Council review of your application, complete and submit this form.
  • Federal court: If you still receive a denial, but you believe it to be unfair or unreasonable, you can file a civil action to bring the case to court. 

It’s helpful to have legal representation from the start when initiating Social Security disability claims. However, even if you didn’t hire a lawyer at the beginning, an attorney could still offer valuable assistance during your appeal. 

Further Reading: Disability Appeal Lawyer 

Resources and Support 

Many resources and organizations offering support to those applying for SSA disability benefits are state or local programs. Visit your state’s website for more information. Additionally, medical professionals and your attorney can help you access various resources and other such forms of support. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Along with “How do you start the process of filing for disability?,” other questions you might have include the following: 

How long does the process of receiving an approval take? 

The answer to this question can vary depending on numerous factors. Often, the more medical documentation you provide, the more quickly the SSA will be able to process your application. It generally takes an average of three to five months to receive a decision. 

Further Reading: What Documents Do I Need to Apply for Social Security Disability 

How does the SSA inform me of their decision?  

The SSA will typically inform you of their decision via mail. Keep an eye out for any SSA mail during the process, as the SSA might also contact you to ask questions about your application. 

Does a disability need to be a physical condition? 

Not necessarily. You may qualify for benefits if you have a mental health condition as well. 

Help is Available When Applying for Disability Benefits  

The process of applying for disability benefits may intimidate you, but it’s important to remember that this isn’t a task you need to complete on your own. A disability lawyer could unburden you by handling tasks such as gathering documentation, filling out paperwork, etc. while you focus on your health.

Perhaps more importantly, a lawyer’s expertise could play a significant role in whether the SSA ultimately approves or denies your application. For more information, take our Free Case Evaluation on this page right now to get connected and speak with a disability attorney who can help you today—all at zero cost to you. 

Additional Resources  

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