How To Apply For Social Security Disability [Step-By-Step Process]

Do you have a medical condition that interferes with your ability to work? 

Have you been seriously injured recently and cannot work for 12 months or longer?

If so, you may qualify to receive Social Security Disability payments. These payments will help you support yourself and/or your family. 

This article will go over who qualifies for Social Security Disability, how you apply, and answers common questions related to Social Security Disability. 

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If I Am Diagnosed With A Serious Illness Does That Automatically Qualify Me for Benefits 

Being diagnosed with a serious illness does not automatically qualify you to receive Social Security Disability Benefits. To receive benefits you must fill out the Disability Benefits Application and go through the SSA’s assessment process. 

If the Social Security Administration deems your condition as a severe impairment, decides you meet their criteria, and are unable to continue in your current position or take on a different job, then you would qualify for disability benefits. 

Is It Hard To Qualify For Social Security Disability

Yes, the process is known to be rather difficult. The Social Security Administration has strict requirements that must be met to be approved for disability benefits. 

Around 70% of those who apply are denied in the initial stage due to insufficient proof and documentation of their illness. 

Why Are Disability Benefits Denied 

Your claim could be denied based on the following reasons:

  1. Insufficient evidence or severe impairment 
  2. You earn over $1260 per month
  3. You are unwilling to cooperate with SSA’s assessment process
  4. You refuse or fail to follow your doctor’s treatment plan
  5. You are worsening your disability purposely 
  6. You commit fraud

What If I Have A Hidden Disability

If you have a hidden disability or an “Invisible” disability, you can still qualify for and receive disability benefits. 

You need to provide any and all proof, medical history, prescription, and information related to your condition. The more proof and information the better. 

Top 10 Invisible Disabilities in Americans

The 10 most common invisible disabilities Americans have are:

  1. Chronic Pain
  2. Mental Illness
  3. Fibromyalgia
  4. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  5. Traumatic Brain Injuries
  6. Crohn’s Disease
  7. Diabetes
  8. Multiple Sclerosis
  9. Lyme Disease
  10. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder 

As you may have noticed, a few of the most common invisible disabilities are included in the most commonly approved disabilities list. 

What If I Will Only Be Disabled For Less Than A Year

If your disability is expected to last for less than 12 months, you will not be approved for Social Security Disability Benefits. Your disability must last longer than 12 months or be expected to last longer than 12 months. 

What Are The Most Commonly Approved Disabilities 

Keep in mind, no condition “automatically” qualifies you. This list simply includes the most commonly approved conditions. 

The 10 most common conditions or illnesses that qualify for disability benefits are:

  1. Arthritis
  2. Heart Disease
  3. Degenerative Disc Disorder
  4. Respiratory Illness
  5. Mental Illnesses
  6. Cancer 
  7. Stroke
  8. Nervous System Disorder
  9. Diabetes
  10. Immune System Disorder 

What Factors Make My Condition or Illness a “Severe” Impairment 

To be considered a severe impairment your condition must make certain tasks and actions extremely challenging or impossible. 

Your disability would have to negatively impact actions and abilities such as speaking, hearing, walking, working, learning, driving, and concentrating to name a few. 

Your Social Security officer may have you attend specific assessments to assess your abilities. 

What Factors Will Social Security Consider When Assessing Me

To assess your condition Social Security will consider your general symptoms, your statements about your symptoms, medical history, laboratory findings, and any medical signs. 

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Social Security collects your statements and objective medical proof of your condition and the symptoms it causes. 

Social Security will consider how your symptom and condition affect:

  1. Your daily life 
  2. Your ability to work
  3. Your ability to drive
  4. Your ability to walk 
  5. Your ability to concentrate
  6. Your ability to communicate

Social Security will also consider:

  1. Prescriptions you take for your symptoms
  2. Aggravating factors 
  3. Prescribed treatments 
  4. Things you do to relieve symptoms, such as pain

What Steps Are Included In The Assessment Process

Social Security will follow a 5-Step process in evaluating your disability and deciding if your application will be approved. 

The steps are:

Step 1 Considering Any Non-medical Factors. 

You cannot be earning above a certain amount. The monthly cap is $1,170 gross income, pre-tax. If you are making above this amount or do not satisfy certain non-medical qualifications, your application will be denied on “technical” grounds. 

Step 2 Assessing If Your Disability Causes You To Be Severely Impaired. 

Social Security will attempt to determine if your impairment is severe. To do this, they request and review your medical history and assess the facts. The officer in charge of your application may schedule a Consultative Examination (CE) and request that you fill out Activities of Daily Living and Vocational Questionnaires. 

Step 3 Determining Your Specific Medical Listing Category. 

Social Security has a list of 14 impairment categories someone can fall into. This list is called Listing of Impairments and your claim will be listed under one of the 14 different impairment categories. 

Step 4 Your Work History and Past Work Ability. 

Step 4 evaluates whether or not you are able to complete the same amount and quality of work you were previously capable of doing. 

The Social Security officer will assess your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). This assessment shows what your mind and body are capable of while also taking into consideration your disability and symptoms. 

Once the RFC is completed, your Social Security officer will look at your Past Relevant Work (PRW). The officer will use your PRW to determine your skill level, strength level, and exertion level. 

For example, an engineer would be classified as a skilled position with a medium to high exertion level depending on your specific field. 

After this is finished, the officer will establish whether or not you are still able to perform these tasks based on the results of the above assessments. 

Step 5 Any Other Work History 

The last step will assess if you are able to do any other kind of work. 

This means your Social Security officer will try to determine whether or not you have the skill and/or ability to work in a job that is not as physically or mentally taxing.

For example, maybe you cant work as an engineer or nurse. But could you work as an assistant or technical writer? The officer will try to determine if any of your skills transfer to an easier type of work that you could be capable of doing.

In this phase, the officer will look at your age, education, and past work experience. The younger you are, the harder it may be to prove you are not capable of doing any work. 

You have a better chance at being deemed disabled the older you are, the less education you have received, and the fewer skills you have.

What Is A Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) Assessment 

A Residual Function Capacity or RFC assessment evaluates how your current symptoms affect your ability to function and perform certain tasks and movements. This is one of the assessments forms that is included in the application process to qualify for disability. 

This assessment is usually done by a Disability Determination Services (DDS) doctor or physician.

Can My Doctor Complete My RFC

Yes, your doctor or private physician can fill out your RFC form. 

Your doctor would know more about your condition and how it affects you than a DDS physician. 

You can download the RFC form from the SSA’s website and ring it to your doctor. It is best that your doctor is as thorough as possible when filling out the form. 

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Any and all details regarding your condition and symptoms will help build your case. Stress the importance of being detailed to your doctor. Having your doctor complete your RFC form can increase the possibility of you being approved for disability benefits.

Do I Need To Hire A Social Security Attorney 

You do not have to hire an attorney when applying for disability benefits. However, given the detailed nature and strict requirements, working with an attorney can greatly increase your chances of being approved.

An attorney can provide helpful information and suggestions. They may also be able to read over your RFC and other forms to determine if everything is accurate. 

Usually, an attorney can predict whether or not you will be approved after going over your medical history, forms, and other relevant information. 

Working with an attorney may help you avoid being denied and having to file an appeal. 

Can I Apply Online or In Person 

You can apply online here, by phone at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) which is a nationwide toll-free service, or by visiting a Social Security office near you. 

You can find a location close to you by searching your zip code in this locator. 

Make sure to call ahead of time and book an appointment. You may not receive service if you show up to the Social Security office without an appointment. 

How Do I Apply Online

You will need to prepare all the relevant documents and information you will need. Log into your my Social Security account on SSA’s website. 

You will need to find the “Application for Disability” and begin filling in your information.

If you would like to take a break you can save your application as you go and come back later. 

When you complete your application, make sure to hit the “submit now” button. 

A representative should contact you to update you or ask any further questions. If you are missing any information, a Social Security officer will contact you and help you collect the proper information.

Avoid Phone Scammers 

Please be careful when taking ANY phone call about your Social Security benefits!!! Unfortunately, there are quite a few scams related to Social Security numbers. A Social Security officer will NEVER threaten you or say you will go to jail if you do not give them your personal information. 

If you receive a phone call where someone says “there is a charge against you, you will go to jail if you do not pay money or give us your information” that is a scam! Hang up!  

What Documents and Information Do I Need

You will need to provide:

  1. Your Social Security number. 
  2. If you were not born inside the United States, you will need to provide your birth country and your Permanent Resident Card.
  3. If you served in the military, you will need to provide your type of duty, branch location, and service period. 
  4. W-2 Form for the last year or federal income tax return if you are self-employed
  5. To have your benefits deposited you need to provide your banking information. 
  6. Any workers compensation claims you may have filed, date of injury, claim number, proof of receiving payments. 
  7. Information about your condition or illness, including patient ID numbers, date of treatment, names, addresses, and phone numbers of any/all doctors involved in your treatment. 
  8. Medical tests you have taken or requested with names and dates. 
  9. Medicines you take and the name and contact information of the doctor that prescribed them. 
  10. Any medical records related to your condition. 
  11. A list of different jobs you have worked in the last 15 years. You can include up to five. 

What Application and Forms Do I Fill Out 

You will need to fill out an “Application for Disability” form. 

Then you will need to fill out a release form SSA-827. This form enables Social Security to request and access your medical information and history. 

If you apply online in your account portal, you should be able to fill out both the “Application for Disability” and the SSA-827

How Long Does The Entire Process Take

It is recommended to start your application as soon as possible. It can take about 3 to 5 months to reach a decision. 

Starting the process online can save you time because your claim begins immediately. You do not need to wait to schedule an appointment to begin your claim. 

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The length of time is affected by how long it takes to get all your records, contact you, and evaluate the information.

How Will I Know When I Am Approved

After reviewing all your proof and medical history, the Social Security Administration will mail you a letter with their decision. 

If you are approved you will receive a Social Security Verification of Benefits letter or benefits letter for short. 

You can use this letter when applying for a mortgage to prove regular income. 

Even if you are not approved to receive benefits, keep the rejection letter. This can be used when you reapply for benefits to prove you did not receive payments the first time you applied. 

How Can I Check The Status Of My Application

If you would like to confirm your application status you can log into your my Social Security account and check from there. 

Or you could call the Social Security office yourself and request information on your claim.

Is It Common To Be Denied My First Try

Disability benefits are known to be difficult to qualify for. Many people are denied their first time because of insufficient documentation and evidence. 

What Can I Do If I Am Denied

If you are rejected, you can go through the Social Security Appeal process. You need to appeal as soon as you are denied. You have 60 days from the date you were denied. 

To appeal, you need to complete the following documents:

  • SSA-561 Request For Reconsideration
  • SSA-827 Authorization To Release Your Personal Information To The SSA
  • SSA-3441 Disability Report-Appeal

If you are rejected on your first attempt, you may want to consider hiring a Social Security Attorney. They will be able to provide clear and detailed directions that should help you qualify. 

If your request for reconsideration is denied, apply for reconsideration again. 

If you are denied a third time, you need to complete the process to Request An Administrative Law Judge Hearing. 

How Much Will I Receive 

Your Social Security disability payments are based on the taxes you paid on your income.  

Social Security calculates your benefits by taking your Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME) times a percentage depending on how much you make a month. 

The calculations are as follows:

  • AIME times 90% (if you make under $816.00 per month). 
  • AIME times 32% (if you make between $816.00 to $4917.00 per month).
  • AIME times 15% (if you make more than $4917.00 per month).

Social Security Disability payments are not very large. According to SSA’s website, in 2020, they paid an average of between $800 and $1,800 per month to disabled workers. 

When Will I Receive My First Check

Once you are approved to receive benefits, it will take the SSA a couple of months to process and send out your payments. They should include a larger first payment to cover any backpay benefits. 

Will Receiving Social Security Disability Stop Other Benefits

Receiving disability benefits may affect any retirement or unemployment benefits you are currently receiving. In most cases, you cannot receive disability and retirement benefits at the same time. 

Some people may be able to collect disability benefits and Supplementary Security Income (SSI). However, it is on a case-by-case approval basis. There is no guarantee you will qualify for both. 

Do I Have To Pay Taxes On The Disability Payments

You will most likely have to pay taxes on any benefits if you are single and make a combined income of over $25,000 annually. 

If you file a joint tax return and make over $32,000 combined yearly income, you will have to pay taxes. 

Can I Start Working Again And Continue Receiving Benefits

Social Security provides a Ticket to Work program which provides free employment support and incentives to help disabled individuals begin working again. 

The program has a 9-month work trial period. During this time, you are able to work and continue receiving your disability benefits. If you have to stop working due to your disability your benefits should not be affected. 

Read more about the Social Securities Ticket to Work program, here. 

I hope you found this article informative. Please leave any questions or comments below. I would love to hear from you!