How To File for Social Security Disability

A person's physical or mental impairments can significantly limit their ability to earn a good living. Two federal programs, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), pay monthly benefits to those unable to work due to an ongoing medical condition. 

SSDI may also pay benefits to family members. To be eligible for Social Security benefits, an applicant must have a medical condition that lasts or will last 12 months. Or the condition is likely to result in death.

This article explains how to file for Social Security Disability benefits under the SSDI or SSDI programs. See Social Security Disability for a complete index of FindLaw articles on this topic.

Information You Will Need

Before applying for SSDI or SSI benefits, you must gather the following documents and information. SSA provides a checklist to make this step easier:

  • Dates of all marriages and divorces
  • Names and birth dates of your spouse and minor children
  • U.S. Military service information for all active-duty periods (if applicable)
  • Employer information for the past two years and the current year
  • The self-employed must provide the business type and net income.
  • Bank account and bank routing numbers (if you choose direct deposit of benefit checks)

You will need the following information for your Adult Disability Report:

  • Name and contact information of a reference who can discuss your medical condition(s) with a Social Security Administration (SSA) representative
  • Names, contact information, patient I.D. numbers, and treatment dates for all relevant medical service providers. Gather any medical evidence and medical records you have.
  • Prescription medications you are taking, plus the name of the prescribing doctor (have your prescription bottles handy)
  • Dates of medical tests, including referring doctors
  • List your work history, including all jobs you had 15 years before you couldn't work because of your condition, including dates (up to five jobs)
  • Information about workers' compensation claims or insurance claims filed. You'll need the claim number, the insurance company's name, and the insurance company's contact information.
  • Information about education and training, including dates completed

How To Apply for Social Security Disability Online

You may begin the disability application process once you have gathered the information. SSA encourages applicants to apply for benefits online. Applying online eliminates needing an appointment or visits to a Social Security office.

The application consists of three sections:

  1. Disability Benefits Application — This part of the process takes anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes. Applicants can save their information and return later to finish.
  2. Adult Disability Report — This can take up to 90 minutes to complete. You can also save their information and return to it later.
  3. Authorization to Disclose Information Form (PDF) — Fill out, sign, print, and mail it to your nearest Social Security office.

Those applying for SSI benefits on behalf of a disabled child may also apply online through a similar process (see SSI for children for more information).

Applying for Benefits by Telephone or in Person

If you choose not to use the online application form, call the following phone numbers: toll-free 1-800-772-1213 or (TTY) 1-800-325-0778 for the deaf and hard of hearing. You can also schedule an appointment at your local Social Security office.

You may have to show some documents to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) to prove you are eligible. The DDS is the state agency responsible for examining your initial application and determining whether you meet the definition of disability. Also, refer to the "Information You Will Need" section above. The documents you'll need:

  • Birth certificate or proof of birth (original document)
  • Naturalization documents (if applicable)
  • U.S. armed forces discharge documents (if applicable)
  • Medical evidence you have on hand
  • Proof of workers' compensation award (if applicable)
  • W-2 or self-employment tax documents for the past year

What Happens Next?

After you file your application for disability benefits, you'll usually get a decision in three to six months. You can check the status of your application online. If you are unhappy with the decision, you can work through the appeals process.

The first step in the appeals process is to file for reconsideration with DDS. The next level of appeal is a hearing before an administrative law judge. The final level of appeal at the administrative level is the appeals council review.

The last level of the appellate process is to file a civil action in federal court.

Need Help With Your Claim? Contact a Disability Attorney

You may not need help from a Social Security representative for the application process. But some cases are more complicated than others. A skilled disability attorney will be able to help you secure the benefits to which you may be entitled. Find a Social Security disability lawyer in your area if you need help applying for a Social Security disability claim.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • The initial Social Security process doesn’t require an attorney
  • An attorney primarily handles claims that are denied
  • It can be helpful to have an attorney during Social Security benefit disputes or appeals

A Social Security lawyer can help protect your rights to your benefits.

 Find a local attorney

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Now is a great time to consider creating or revising your estate plan. Protect your assets through a will, decide who can make financial decisions for you through a power of attorney, and ensure you make important health care decisions through a health care directive. You can create these critical documents online using DIY estate planning forms.

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