This page will explain to you how the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) application process works. We begin with an explanation of 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.” This is simply not true and going in with this attitude is a big reason why so many claimants do in fact lose when they first start a claim for Social Security Disability benefits.
Besides friends and family, there are lawyers who will also tell you to start the claim on your own 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 opinions may differ from another lawyer’s opinions. This is why we learned early in life that you should sometimes get a “second opinion.”
Most Social Security attorneys offer free consultations. You owe it to your self to research the matter in as much detail as you can 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 very beginning of the SSDI and/or SSI claim.
If you do not seek the assistance of an attorney or at least research for yourself about 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).
In my opinion, the application is your second-best chance of winning your Social Security Disability claim out of each stage in the application and appeal process. Statistically, your best chance is probably at the hearing stage.
There are many cases where the claimant wins at the hearing and likely could have won the claim at the initial application stage had the claim been properly worked up from the start. In such a situation, the claimant could have been saved from months, if not a year or two, of waiting for benefits.
There are two big reasons why an SSDI and/or 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 are going to 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 then the attorney’s fee is probably going to be much smaller than if the attorney helps you win at 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 both make sure all your key medical evidence, including the treating doctor’s opinion evidence like RFCs, is in the file when the person at SSA makes a decision 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 that there is a directive at the Social Security Administration to deny as many cases at the application level as they can. 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 the gathering of 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. To know what the SSA wants and how to present it to them is difficult for those unfamiliar with the process. Below 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 for all the doctors, hospitals, urgent care facilities and clinics you’ve treated with for 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 that describes all the kinds of jobs you’ve held 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. It would be a good idea to write down all your old work before meeting with SSA or filling out papers.
- 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 people who are older and have less education have more difficulty with retraining and finding new employment. This does not mean that younger higher 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/or SSI
An application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (SSD or SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability is very easy to initiate and file.
You can apply for SSDI in person at a Social Security office, by telephone, mail, or over the internet. For most individuals, you can only apply for SSI at the Social Security office or by telephone conference with a Social Security representative. There is an application that can be submitted over the internet, but you must meet certain criteria. You are only eligible to file online for SSI if you:
- Are between the ages of 18 and 65;
- Have never been married;
- Are a U.S. citizen residing in one of the fifty states, District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands;
- Haven’t applied for or received SSI benefits in the past; and
- 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 paper work 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. It typically takes at least three to five months before you are notified as to whether you were approved for Social Security Disability (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
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 conducted 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 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. Whether you qualify for disability insurance benefits or SSI can be determined by the Social Security office.
Forms for the Disability Application
There are several forms you will need to file in your claim for benefits, depending on whether you qualify for SSDI or SSI. A Social Security field representative can help you fill out the forms.
To apply for SSDI, you’ll need to fill out Form SSA-16-BK (Application for Disability Insurance Benefits) and Form SSA-3368-BK (Adult Disability Report).
To apply for SSI, you’ll need to fill out Form SSA-8000-BK (Application for Supplemental Security Income) and, for adults, Form SSA-3368-BK (Adult Disability Report).
To learn more about how Social Security will determine whether you qualify for disability, read about the Social Security disability evaluation process.
You Can Hire An Attorney to Help You File an Application and Represent You From the Beginning
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Get started soon because the amount of back due benefits you may be eligible to receive can be affected by when you start the claim.