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This page will explain how the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) application process works. We begin by describing how to apply for Social Security Disability benefits.
Friends and family may tell you, “Just apply on your own. After all, everyone is denied on initial application.” However, this is not true. Going in with this attitude is a big reason why so many claimants lose when they first start a claim for Social Security Disability benefits.
Besides friends and family, some lawyers will tell you to start the claim independently and call them back when you are denied. If an attorney tells you this, you should seek a second opinion.
Just like one doctor’s opinion about a medical condition may differ from another doctor’s opinion, one lawyer’s opinion may vary from another lawyer’s opinion. This is why we learned early in life that you should sometimes get a “second opinion.”
Most Social Security Disability attorneys offer free consultations. You owe it to yourself to research the matter in as much detail as possible, and there are times when it may be appropriate to get a second opinion as to whether you should have an attorney with you from the beginning of the SSDI/SSI claim.
If you do not seek the assistance of an attorney or at least research how to win your SSD or SSI claim, then you may have no one to blame but yourself for losing your first chance to win benefits (at the initial application stage).
What Are My Chances of Winning My Social Security Disability Claim?
The application is your second-best chance of winning your Social Security Disability claim out of each stage in the application and appeal process. There are many cases where the claimant wins at the hearing and could have won the claim at the initial application stage had the claim been adequately worked up. In such a situation, the claimant could have been saved from months, if not a year or two, of waiting for benefits.
Statistically, your best chance is probably at the hearing stage. There are two reasons why an SSDI/SSI application that has to go to a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge could have been done better right from the start.
- Many claimants who lose at the initial application stage will later hire an attorney to represent them in the appeal process, including hearings. If you think you need to hire an attorney to represent you at any point in the claim (if and when you lose), there is little reason not to get a lawyer when you file your claim for benefits. Attorneys only get paid based on your past-due benefits. If you win at the initial application, the attorney’s fee will probably be much smaller than if the attorney helps you win at the hearing.
- The second reason is that the case is usually better developed and has stronger evidence on your side by the time your file is ready for a hearing before an ALJ. You and/or a good lawyer can make sure all your key medical evidence, including the treating doctor’s opinion evidence regarding your residual functional capacity, is in the file when the person at SSA decides on your case. Most people file a claim and leave it solely up to SSA to get all the evidence.
Many commentators out on the internet who claim they know Social Security Disability law would have you believe there is a directive at the Social Security Administration to deny as many cases as possible at the application level. The reality is that the SSA would much rather approve an application for someone who is disabled under its rules than have to put more time, effort, and money into a case that will likely be approved somewhere further down the line anyway.
If you cannot work and you provide Social Security the evidence required to find you disabled under its rules, then Social Security will find you disabled at the initial application level. A good SSDI lawyer can help you prepare your claim at the initial application stage to maximize your chance of winning at this stage. A good lawyer will know (or will conduct enough research to know) what evidence will be necessary to prove you are disabled under Social Security’s rules for your particular case and the ability to get that evidence.
I cannot tell you how many times people in e-mails ask me questions such as:
- “Does everyone lose at application?” – Answer: No; as many as one-third (33%-37%) of initial claims are typically paid.
- “The lawyer told me to apply and when I lose to call him back.”
- “Someone told me I should just submit my own paperwork and get the claim started since everyone is denied the first time anyway.”
If nothing else, I hope you now realize that the initial application is an important part of the process that should be taken seriously. If you can win at this stage, you may save months (if not years) of time.
Preparing to File For Disability Benefits
Applying for Social Security Disability benefits requires gathering extensive information about you, your injury or illness, your medical records, and your earnings and work history. The more accurate and specific you can be in your application, the greater the chance it will be approved. It is difficult for those unfamiliar with the process to know what the SSA wants and how to present it to them.
Here is what you will need to give SSA to start your claim:
- Medical History: Social Security will want the names, addresses, phone numbers, and dates of service of all the doctors, hospitals, urgent care facilities, and clinics that have treated your injury or illness. Social Security will send for these records with a medical release you signed, but do not count on your doctors always responding or SSA following up on its requests. It is your responsibility to submit sufficient evidence to support your claim.
- Work History: Your application must include a complete work history describing all your jobs over the past fifteen years. The examiners will want to know if your injury or illness prevents you from doing the type of work you’ve performed. Writing down all your old work before meeting with SSA or filling out paperwork is a good idea.
- Personal/Educational History: Your age at the onset of the disability and your level of education may both have a bearing on whether you will be considered disabled. The SSA recognizes that older people with less education have more difficulty with retraining and finding new employment. This does not mean that younger, highly educated individuals can’t win; it is just more difficult. They will also want to know if you have had any vocational schooling.
How to Apply for SSDI and SSI
It is very easy to file an application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income. You can apply for SSDI in person at a Social Security office, by telephone, mail, or online. Most individuals can only apply for SSI at the Social Security office or by telephone conference with a Social Security representative. An application can be submitted online, but you must meet certain criteria.
You are only eligible to file online for SSI if you:
- You are between the ages of 18 and 65;
- You have never been married;
- You are a U.S. citizen residing in one of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands;
- You haven’t applied for or received SSI benefits in the past, and
- You are applying for Social Security Disability Insurance at the same time as your SSI claim.
An Attorney Can Help You File For Benefits
Because of the large amount of paperwork involved in processing a claim, it is sometimes worth hiring an attorney to help navigate you through the process or to assist you in making an appointment at the local office.
Starting Your Application on the Phone
Once you have contacted Social Security (either through the national toll-free phone number or via your local district office) and advised SSA that you wish to apply for disability benefits, an appointment will be scheduled for you to be interviewed to start the application process. This interview may be in person at the Social Security office or over the phone. If you select to have a telephone interview (or are strongly recommended to have a phone interview), all of the necessary paperwork will be mailed to your home.
Starting Your Application Online
For SSDI, you are able to start your application for disability benefits by going online to the Social Security Administration website. SSDI is for workers who have worked long enough and have paid enough Social Security taxes into the system to qualify for the benefit.
Note: As stated above, you cannot apply for SSI benefits online unless you meet certain criteria. Thus, even if you have enough work credits to qualify for SSDI, you may want to apply in person so that you have an opportunity to ask questions about the Supplemental Security Income program.
Starting in Person at Your Local Office
For most disability applicants, perhaps the safest and easiest method of filing a disability application would be to contact the Social Security office closest to you and inform them that you wish to apply for disability. The Social Security office can determine whether you meet the non-medical requirements to qualify for disability insurance benefits or SSI
Forms for the Disability Application
You may need to complete several forms to initiate your claim for benefits, depending on whether you are pursuing SSDI or SSI. A Social Security field representative can help you fill out the forms.
To apply for SSDI, complete Form SSA-16-BK (Application for Disability Insurance Benefits) and Form SSA-3368-BK (Adult Disability Report).
To apply for SSI, complete Form SSA-8000-BK (Application for Supplemental Security Income) and, for adults, Form SSA-3368-BK (Adult Disability Report).
It typically takes at least three to five months before you are notified whether you were approved for Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income benefits. To learn more about how Social Security will determine whether you qualify for disability, read about the Social Security Administration’s five-step sequential evaluation process.
You Can Hire An Attorney to Represent You From the Beginning
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me online or call (888) 321-8131. Get started soon because the amount of back-due benefits you may be eligible to receive can be affected when you start the claim.