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Understand the Social Security Disability Process Before You Apply for Disability Benefits

One of the best ways to relieve some of the stress in applying for Social Security disability benefits is to take the time to understand the process before you apply for social security. When you understand the process, you will be able to avoid some common, time-consuming, and frustrating mistakes.

First, your disability must have lasted, or must be expected to last, for at least 12 months OR it must be expected to result in death. If your disability is this severe, then your next step is to see if you can find your disability in the Social Security Administration’s Blue Book. This book contains listings for dozens of disability medical conditions, and sets out requirements each condition must meet in order to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

Tip: If you have more than one disability, you will have to determine which condition is the one that limits your everyday functioning the most and use it as the “lead” disability. You will want to gather information on all the severely disabling medical conditions that you have.

Second, you want to make sure you meet the other requirements to file for Social Security disability benefits.

If you apply for SSDI, then you must also have

  • worked long enough to qualify for disability (requirements vary by age)
  • paid FICA taxes or Self-Employment taxes
  • been unable to earn more than a specified (and very small) amount

If you apply for SSI, then you must also

  • have a very low income and few assets
  • be unable to earn more than a specified (and very small) amount

Third, you will need to gather all the medical records the Blue Book requests.

Tip: Print out the pages that apply to your medical condition(s) and keep them in a file or notebook together with the medical records that they discuss. Keep a list of each of your doctors and their contact information. Keep a record of each of your doctor’s visits and the results of each visit.

Fourth, you will fill out the Social Security disability application and submit it, and your medical records, to your local Social Security office. Your information will be reviewed to make sure you meet basic requirements, and you will probably be asked to attend an interview.

Fifth, your application and supporting documents will be sent to the Disability Determination Services office in your state, where Social Security disability specialists will review your case and your medical records. At this point, they may request more information from you and/or from your doctors. They will then either approve or deny your application.

If your application is denied (and over 60% of all disability applications are denied at this level), then you do NOT fill out a new application! If you fill out a new application, the process simply starts all over again and you will be denied a second time. Instead, you must file an APPEAL within 60 days of receiving your denial letter.

Tip: If you are not represented by an advocate, it is advisable to hire one to file your appeal and to accompany you to the appeals hearing