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Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits

Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits

The Social Security Administration is a branch of the United States federal government that provides disability benefits to individuals who cannot work due to long-term disability. The benefits are paid through two programs: Social Security disability insurance (SSDI), which pays benefits to people with disabilities who have worked long enough, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which provides benefits based on financial need. Applying to either program requires you to make a claim by filling out an application and providing the necessary documentation. It can be a complicated process, so here are some things to keep in mind.

Apply as soon as possible.

It is important to initiate your application as soon as possible so that you do not lose benefits. Social Security will not pay benefits for time periods earlier than the effective date of your application, so it is best to get started as soon as you can. 

You can apply online, by phone, or in person.

 If you are applying for SSDI, you can apply online (at This method allows you to complete the application in the comfort of your own home and on your own schedule. You can even save your application and come back to it later. Unfortunately, you cannot apply for SSI online. And, even if you are applying for SSDI, you may still want to apply in person so that you can have the opportunity to ask any questions you may have.

To apply in person it is best to make an appointment (by calling the toll-free number 1-800-772-1213). Getting through to Social Security on the phone can sometimes be a challenge, so it may be helpful to try calling first thing in the morning. Once you get through, you can make an appointment to visit your local Social Security office in person or to be interviewed over the phone, whichever option is more convenient for you. Once you make an appointment, you will be mailed application materials.

Gather all the paperwork prior to your appointment.

Prior to your appointment, make sure to have all the required documentation ready. Make copies of everything – one for your application and one to keep in your files – in case anything gets lost in the process. The documents that you should have ready include:

  • Your Social Security number;
  • Your birth certificate;
  • Contact information (names, addresses, and phone numbers) for doctors, caseworkers, therapists, hospitals, and clinics where you have been treated;
  • Names and dosages of all the medications you take;
  • Medical records and lab results;
  • Dates you were seen, tested, and/or treated for your condition;
  • A copy of your most recent W-2 (or most recent tax return if you’re self-employed); and
  • A summary of where you worked and what kind of work you did, including the dates you started and ended your employment and the tasks you performed in each position.

Check to see if your condition is listed.

Social Security maintains a listing of medical impairments, often referred to as the “Blue Book” or “Listing of Impairments.” This list is divided into both adult and childhood impairments and includes specific criteria for each type of condition. Meeting the criteria specified for your condition does not guarantee that you will be awarded benefits. However, if your medical condition does happen to be listed, it should help you determine the type of information you will need to help support your claim. If your medical condition is not listed, the reviewer will have to determine if you have an impairment that is equivalent to one that is listed in terms of medical severity.

Remember what you are trying to prove.

Keep in mind that Social Security has a very strict definition of long-term disability. To qualify for benefits you need to prove that you have a severe, medically determinable impairment that limits your functioning to the point where you are unable to work. This includes the type of work you did previously and any other type of work. If the reviewer believes that there is other less physically or mentally demanding work that you would be capable of performing your claim will be denied. The only exception to this rule is that Social Security regulations may not expect those over 50 to be able to adjust to new work, depending on your education and previous training.

Let your doctor(s) know early in the process.

 A disability claims examiner will likely need to be in contact with your doctor(s) to verify the medical issues in your claim. For this reason, it is important to try to make sure that your doctor(s) are willing to cooperate. Try to inform your doctor(s) in advance that you are planning to file a claim for disability benefits, and ask if there is anything you can do to make it easier for them to meet their requirements.

Remember your rights.

Applying for disability benefits can sometimes be an overwhelming process, so keep in mind that you have several rights:

  • You have the right to representation by a lawyer of your choice whenever you do business with Social Security. It is especially recommended that you seek legal advice if your initial claim is denied and you decide to appeal.
  • You have a right to be notified in writing about any decision regarding your application. A copy will also be sent to your lawyer if you have one.
  • You and your lawyer have a right to examine or get a copy of all the information in your case file.
  • Lastly, you have the right to appeal if you don’t agree with the determination made about your eligibility or benefit amount.

Be patient and follow up if necessary.

How long a Social Security application takes to process depends on many factors, such as how many cases a particular reviewer has and how long it takes a reviewer to gather the necessary information. You can help speed up the process somewhat by providing all of your own medical records, instead of relying on the reviewer to contact your doctor. Still, there is really no way to know if your claim will be processed in a month or whether it will take several months.

If you need to follow up on your claim, start by calling your state’s Disability Determination Services (DDS) office. Although you file your application through the Social Security office, it is DDS that will make the initial disability determination on your application.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Augustmoon59
    3 years ago

    This is my problem and I do not know how to fix it. I developed symptoms of MS when I got mono, mis-diagnosed for 3 months. Finally GP ran a mono test. I was ordered off work immediately for over 3 months. I was really really sick. Other people get mono and it’s no big deal. What happened to me?? Within a year I started developing symptoms that were treated PER symptom. No GP looked at all the symptoms I was developing over time to put the ABC’s together. Thank you, I AM part of the club. Now run this up 30 years later. MRI was done in 2000’s ish at the request of my ENT. My MD had it done which showed lesions. But, since my husband was on disability for two failed back surgeries and then trying to get him off narcs, I took a backseat. I worked for a MAJOR Health System in NE who was notorious for finding ways to let employees go with health issues that would cost our self insured health system money. Hi, that’s me. To make a long story short, my job was down houred to the point that I would have to pay full price for insurance and still do 4 positions because of hiring freeze. I now live in rural Missouri so we can survive on husbands disability. I have been refused for the second time for disability. I had enough SS quarters in before I turned 50. I have NO insurance. I fall thru all cracks. Husband makes “too much money” for me to get Medicaid. I have NO current MRI’s, etc…That is their reason that I haven’t got adequate medical records. Well, without insurance, how on earth am I suppose to get current MRI’s. My MS has progressed to the point that I am sure my lesions are going down into my cervical spine area. I cannot drive because of my vision and I have nerve (sciatic) nerve pain in my right leg. I can’t brake or push gas pedal. But, I am told that I can still find work. I offered to take out a credit card to pay for MRI’s and neurologist, asking if it would make a difference with that proof. NO IT WILL NOT MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE in the outcome. ???? No lawyer will touch MS because “they” don’t have a sure deal. I don’t know what to do. Should I appeal???? And if so, I still have no current medical because I have no insurance to have the tests done and SSDI says it won’t make a difference. I have suffered for so long with disease in silence. I have covered it up for so long. And I worked for a “Health System” that I was scared to death to have any record of this on my medical records. I am so ashamed of myself. I am a total burden to this disease and when I started to connect the dots, this disease was really not even acknowledged. And now, after paying into SSD since I was 14 and am now 50 ish, still no help. Does anyone have any ideas???? They tell me not to get proof. Does that mean what I am thinking it means??? I’d have the proof they don’t want???? I have no insurance so I cannot see a MD or Neurologist on a regular basis. I really don’t care about a check in the mail, I WANT HEALTH CARE TO HELP ME WITH MY MS. Any advise would be appreciated, I have to file an appeal in less than 60 days but, is it worth it?????

  • DonnaFA moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Augustmoon59, I’m so sorry to hear that you are struggling right now. Please know that you’re not alone, we’re here to share support and information. You may be interested in checking out the National MS Society’s NMMS’s Financial Assistance Program or even connect with an MS Navigator who can help walk you through options available to you, and the application for financial assistance to get the diagnostic testing you need.

    They should also be able to walk you through your appeal. You may also be interested in reading How To Appeal a Social Security Disability Denial, to help you in your appeal.

    Please keep in touch and let us know how it goes. You can always find a friendly ear here or on our Facebook page. Warmly, Donna ( team)

  • fedupandconfused
    5 years ago

    The problem with MS as we know it can take YEARS to fully diagnose in some people and until then you can’t claim disability. Why is this? Not all disabilities are immediately identifiable so technically we can be too ill to work yet unable to claim anything and this results in financial struggles, depression and stress which further exacerbates the illness. The disability process is horrendously flawed for this reason and it sounds like it’s the same in USA, UK and Aus. Disabled people are in the minority and clearly this is being abused.

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