How to Qualify for Social Security Disability in California

Do you live in California? Are you unable to work because of a medical condition? If you can’t work and cover the costs of basic needs, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits through the U.S. Social Security Administration. If you receive an approval, Social Security benefits can help you pay for basics like food and shelter.

The following guide will explain how to qualify for disability benefits in California. However, every case is different. You may benefit from speaking with a lawyer who can provide assistance that’s tailored to your specific needs.

Understanding the Definition of Disability in California

The SSA defines a disability as a condition with the following qualities:

  • The condition is a medically determinable physical or mental disability.
  • The disability prevents someone from engaging in substantial gainful activity.
  • The disability is likely to continue impairing a person’s ability to work for at least 12 continuous months, or it is medically likely to eventually result in their death.

California law’s definition of a disability may be slightly more broad. In California, a disability may be a condition that limits a major life activity.

Be aware that the California State Disability Insurance program also offers benefits to people who temporarily can’t work due to medical conditions, injuries, pregnancy, or similar reasons. 

What Conditions Qualify For Disability in California?

Many different types of conditions could qualify someone for disability benefits. One of the best ways to get started if you’re not sure whether your condition meets the necessary criteria is to consult the SSA’s Blue Book. This resource lists the types of conditions that typically qualify applicants for disability benefits.

Typically if you are unable to work for at least 12 months due to your disabling condition, you may eligible for disability benefits.

Types of Disability Benefits Available in California

Social Security disability benefits come in two forms:

SSI is primarily a needs-based program. It’s available to both children and adults who lack the resources and income necessary to address their own basic needs.

That’s an important detail. Showing you can’t work because of a disability may not be enough to qualify you for benefits. You might also have to show that you lack access to other resources that might help you pay for food and other essentials.

To qualify for SSDI in California, you must have earned sufficient work credits in the past before becoming disabled. You earn work credits by working and paying into the Social Security system.

Again, these are just federal programs. If yours is only a temporary disability, you might be better off seeking benefits through California’s disability insurance program. A lawyer can review your case and explain which option is right for you.

Gathering Documentation Required for Disability Applications

The SSA may ask you to provide documentation beyond the basics when you apply for disability. Pay attention to these requests and make sure you’re submitting all the requested documentation to avoid slowing down the approval process.

Generally, though, when applying for Social Security disability benefits, you will need to provide the following types of information and documentation:

  • Birth certificate, or another legal document proving your birth
  • Documentation showing you have U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status
  • Military discharge documents (only necessary if you served in the military prior to 1968)
  • W-2 forms/self-employment tax returns
  • An Adult Disability Report
  • Medical evidence documenting the nature of your condition
  • Documentation related to settlement agreements and other types of benefits you may have already received (such as workers’ compensation benefits)

Medical evidence plays a major role in the approval process. It’s not uncommon for the SSA to deny initial applications. If the SSA denies yours, you can ask for a reconsideration. You may appeal the SSA’s decision if they still deny your application.

Lack of sufficient medical evidence is among the common reasons the SSA denies applications for benefits. Presenting as much medical evidence as you have might improve your chances of receiving the benefits for which you’re eligible.

It’s also important to understand that you may or may not need to submit certain types of documentation depending on what types of disability benefits you’re seeking. If you’re applying for SSDI, you will need to show you’ve earned sufficient work credits.

Other tips to keep in mind when applying for disability benefits include:

  • Pay close attention to all medical advice you receive. Follow your doctor’s orders and continue to comply with any treatment plans they recommend. Your goal is to show the SSA you’re not trying to extend the length of your disability by refusing treatment.
  • Watch out for clerical errors and missing information when completing paperwork. In some instances, otherwise eligible applicants receive denials or don’t receive approvals as soon as they expect to because of basic mistakes.
  • Consider keeping a journal in which you describe the way your condition impacts your ability to perform basic daily activities. Or, you may even film yourself throughout the day, showing in more clear and vivid terms how a disability affects you. 
  • Be careful about posting anything on social media. For instance, maybe a picture depicts you playing sports. If someone reviewing your application at the SSA saw this picture, they might determine your injuries aren’t as severe as you claim.

After gathering all the necessary information to apply for disability in California, you can submit your application online, over the phone, or at a California Social Security office.

How To Find a Disability Lawyer Taking Cases in California

Although the information here may help you better understand how to qualify for disability benefits in California, it’s still worth noting the application process can be complex. An attorney may help you in the following ways in these circumstances:

  • Determining if you are likely to qualify for disability benefits
  • Determining what types of Social Security disability benefits you qualify for
  • Coordinating with doctors and gathering necessary documentation on your behalf
  • Completing paperwork
  • Submitting paperwork
  • Handling correspondence with the SSA
  • Representing you during an appeal if the SSA denies your initial application

Learn more by getting in touch with a disability lawyer taking cases in California to discuss your case. To get started today, fill out the Free Case Evaluation and get connected with an independent, participating attorney who subscribes to the website. 

Additional Disability Resources in California:

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