Are you unable to work due to an illness or injury that causes you significant mental or physical impairment? If so, you should consider filing for Social Security disability. But, you may wonder, what’s the first step you need to take to apply for disability? We have the answers.
First Things First
If you feel you likely qualify medically for disability benefits, then you’ll want to apply for benefits. But, applying for benefits really involves more than just the application process.
If you can arm yourself with knowledge and the information you’ll need that will lead to a successful approval, that’s a great first step!
Ideally, your first step should involve a conversation with your physician about applying for disability. If you can get any medical documentation concerning your disability beforehand, this can get you the medical evidence you’ll need.
Ask your doctor if he/she can provide a written statement about your medical condition and their opinion of the depth of your disability. A good statement will offer an example of the type of work you shouldn’t or can’t perform.
For example, if your previous work required that you stand for long periods of time, and your condition now prevents you from doing so, a statement from your doctor can help. If you have more than one doctor managing your health, gathering statements from each doctor can greatly increase your odds of being approved.
You’ll also want to gather all of your medical records including any hospitalizations, procedures, and tests that are relevant to the condition that is causing your disability.
How to File For a Disability Benefits
If you have a disability that prevents you from working, or is likely to prevent you from working for at least the next 12 months, you may be able to qualify for a disability benefit from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
There are Social Security offices in many places across the U.S., but you don’t need to apply in person at an office if this is not practical. The SSA has three options available for an application for a benefit:
- apply online;
- apply over the phone;
- apply at an SSA office.
Whichever option is easiest for you, you will still need to fill in a disability application form and provide supporting documentation.
Even if you apply online or over the phone you may still be asked to attend an interview at an office if more information is needed.
There are two main ways that a benefit may be approved. If you have had regular employment and have accumulated enough work credits then you may be eligible for a benefit through the SSDI pathway.
If you haven’t worked very much or not at all, have a low income and few assets you may apply through the SSI pathway.
Whichever pathway you take, you will need to prove your identity, provide details about your disability, have medical documentation that shows you cannot work because of your disability, evidence of any other benefits or payments you have been receiving, like workers’ compensation, payroll stubs, bank account details, etc. You should check the SSA website carefully to see exactly what you need before filing your claim for a benefit.
What’s the Next Step?
The next step is actually applying for disability. You can do this by making an appointment at your local Social Security office. Alternatively, you can also apply by phone or online.
If you apply in person or by phone, your disability interview will likely occur at that time. This is when they will ask you for the information you should have gathered from your doctor. If your doctor didn’t release some items directly to you, you can sign medical release forms to get the required documentation released to the SSA.
When applying, remember two things: Complete each question and never leave a question blank; be thorough but concise in your explanations and avoid “yes” or “no” answers unless it specifically asks for it.
In any case, the more information and documentation you have when you apply, the better the chances of approval are for your application. Once you’ve applied and had your disability interview, your application will be reviewed for approval.
How Long Will it Take?
The SSA can take three to six months to determine if you meet their disability qualifications. At that time, they will notify you on whether you’ve been approved or if your application has been rejected.
If your application is rejected, don’t lose hope. Many, if not most, disability applications are denied the first time. However, once an application is denied, you have a short window of time to file an appeal. You should consider hiring a lawyer who is experienced with disability claims.
In fact, you may want to contact one early in the process to help improve your odds of a quick approval. A lawyer is well versed with some of the most common causes of initial rejections and can help you take a proactive approach to filing for disability.
Your Chances of Success When Applying for Disability Benefits
If you have had the misfortune to suffer from an illness or you have had an accident at work or somewhere else that is likely to last for 12 months or more and you are restricted in what you are able to do, you may qualify for disability benefits which are approved by the Social Security Administration (SSA). These help you through tight financial times when you are unable to work.
Unfortunately, despite its availability, 70% of disability claims are denied in the initial claim process. This means when you submit your claim all the evidence required must be included so that there is no doubt that your claim is legitimate. However, first of all your disability has to be listed in the blue book because the information provided about the disability meets the requirements for disability benefits.
If you have been diagnosed with a disease like cancer, but it is not that aggressive, it may not meet the requirements set down in the blue book. So if you have filed an application for disability benefits for cancer and it has been denied or the SSA is not happy with your claim you may be asked to take part in “residual functional capacity” or “RFC” analysis. This process evaluates how the injury is affecting your ability to work. The SSA reviews the following:
- the symptoms that are affecting your ability to do things;
- your medical treatment;
- what your daily limitations are.
To avoid having to prove you are sufficiently disabled and to ensure you are one of the 30% who gets your disability benefits application approved, you need to provide all the evidence necessary to support your initial application. It’s important to pay close attention to the details as well. Most of this can come from your own doctor as long as the documents are dated and signed. They should include the following details:
- the progression of the disease/injury;
- the symptoms and how it affects you;
- the exact location of the disease/injury;
- what treatments have been used and their results;
- prediction for future outcomes;
- imaging scans indicating the location of the disease/injury;
- hospital admission records;
- surgical and lab reports;
- facts about how the symptoms affect the ability to take part in everyday activities.
Even if you don’t get approved the first time you can appeal. The vast majority of applications for Social Security disability will be denied. Even if you have a strong case, the SSA may deny your claim. Many disability benefits claims are denied due to failure to provide the right medical evidence. If you wish to qualify for disability benefits you must prove that you cannot work due to your disability. In order to do this your medical records must show your disability has interfered with your ability to perform your job.
For example, you may be seeing your doctor once a month for severe back pain but if your doctor has failed to document how your back pain interferes with your ability to work, your claim for disability benefits may be denied. Secondly, if you don’t follow the treatment recommended by your physician the SSA will deny your claim.
This is because the examiner will not be able to accurately determine if your condition does prevent you from being able to take part in work. If you have a good reason to fail to follow the treatment prescribed to you this can be brought up in the appeals process. Failing to cooperate with the SSA can affect your chances of winning a successful claim. This could mean not providing the requested documentation or failing to show up to a medical exam. To avoid this happening you should maintain contact with the person responsible for handling your claim.
Fortunately, you can appeal a Social Security disability denial. The SSA allows you 60 days to appeal the decision. If you decide to appeal, your claim goes through the Reconsideration stage. Even at the appeal’s or Reconsideration stage the SSA rejects more than 85% of submissions. If you still think you are eligible you may decide to appeal again so you may request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). This hearing stage represents your best opportunity of getting disability benefits, so it is important you prepare your case well.
Benefits of Working With A Disability Lawyer
Many people think that if they have a good case for eligibility for disability benefits asking an attorney to help you thorough the process is not necessarily required. However, taking into consideration that 60% of claims are denied it is worth hiring a lawyer who will increase your chance of approval. This is because the attorney knows how the SSA deals with applicants due to having dealt with many cases before.
The right documentation is the key to a successful disability benefit’s claim so a disability attorney will be able to sieve through your documents to check to make sure they are acceptable. If any amendments are required or if any documents are missing your attorney will ensure all your documentation is in order before your initial claim for disability benefits is submitted to the SSA.
If you applied without a lawyer and have been denied it is not too late, contact a lawyer to aid you in the appeal process. There is always a chance of winning disability payments at this reconsideration stage if a lawyer helps you through the process.
How is a Social Security Lawyer Paid?
A disability lawyer is not paid unless your case has been approved by the SSA. When this happens and you have started to receive your disability benefit payments your lawyer will then be rewarded. There is a limit set for a lawyer’s payment and that’s $6,000 or 25% of your back pay. So you don’t need to worry about paying upfront fees to a social security lawyer until your claim has been successful.