The Social Security Administration (SSA) pays disability benefits to adults and children who are affected by a long term disability. If you are disabled due to a physical or mental illness that prevents you from working, you should file a disability claim as soon as you believe that you are disabled.
Applying for Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on your own is not as difficult or complicated as you might think. Starting the process quickly is essential because you can expect a long processing time for your application, and the appeals process can also be lengthy.
You have several options to choose from when filing your initial disability claim. You can file for Social Security Disability (not SSI) online if you know that you have enough work credits to qualify. You can call the Social Security Administration or your local Social Security Office if you need to confirm that you have enough work credits to qualify for SSDI.
When you apply online, you will complete an initial application, but some of the documents in your initial application may need to be sent at a later date. You may also have to participate in an application interview at a later date.
If you apply online, you should follow up on your application by calling your local Social Security office to check that they received it along with any extra information that you provided.
You can apply for SSDI or SSI on the phone or in person, but you can expect long waiting times whether you call or visit your local Social Security office. The SSA and local offices can be quite busy, and you may have to hold for a long period of time or wait in line for several hours.
You can also call the federal Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213. The Social Security Administration can arrange an initial application interview on the phone or in person at your local office. It is preferable to call your local Social Security office, which is usually faster.
Walking into your local office without calling ahead can add more time the process. You may only receive a date and time for your application interview, and you may have to wait in line for several hours for it. You can always call your local office to get the process started and avoid traveling and waiting lines.
Pick the Option that You are the Most Comfortable With
You should pick whichever application option that you are the most comfortable with. Some prefer to apply in person with the assistance of a claims representative to answer their questions directly, while others prefer speaking on the phone and avoiding the need to travel.
If you feel ready to jump into the application, the online application may work best for you, but be prepared to meet in person or talk on the phone when requested.
A Decision Regarding Your Claim Will Not be Made at the Application Interview
During your application interview, you will be asked a series of questions by your claims representative about your work history, your job duties, your medical condition, and more. It’s important to remember that a decision regarding your eligibility for disability will not be made during this time. The purpose of the application interview is only to collect information about your case.
Your Application is Processed by Your State’s Disability Agency
Although you will start the process of applying for disability at your Social Security office or through the SSA, your application will be evaluated by your state’s disability agency, which is normally called Disability Determination Services (DDS). Your application will be evaluated by claims examiners at your state’s DDS, and this process can be lengthy.
It is difficult to anticipate exactly how long it will take to process your application. Your office might give you a timeframe of up to 120 days after you apply, but it’s just an estimate. Don’t assume that your application will be processed within their anticipated timeframe, and be ready for long waiting periods.
While your application is being processed, your claims examiner may call your medical doctors or providers or request information from them, request a medical examination (that will be paid for by DDS) to obtain additional medical information, call friends or relatives to request information about your condition, or send letters to your hospital and medical providers to request your medical records.
The length of time that your application will be reviewed depends on several factors including the current backlog of cases, the amount of time it takes to gather additional information like medical records and forms, the information that you provide with your initial application, and more.
You can almost always find out who your claims examiner is at your state’s DDS and get their contact information. You will be able to call them to ask about how your claim is progressing and to check if they require any additional forms or medical records to speed the process up if you suspect a delay.
Preparing to Appeal Your Decision
Filing your application, sending in supporting documents, and following up and awaiting your decision is just the beginning. Many initial disability claims are denied after a long waiting period. You should not let this discourage you, as your best chance of qualifying for benefits occurs once you appeal your decision.
Approximately seven out of every ten initial disability claims will be denied. If you are denied, it does not mean that your disability is not severe enough to qualify for benefits. It means that you will most likely need to present your case in more detail before an administrative law judge. Bear in mind that your disability hearing date may be up to a year or longer in the future, so you should be prepared for a long wait for this as well.
Get Your Social Security Application Started Quickly
As mentioned previously, your initial application can take several weeks to process, however the sooner that you gather your medical records and other documents and submit your initial application, the better. You have a good chance of being eligible for retroactive payments or back payments if you are eventually approved for Social Security disability, and the sooner that you apply, the greater the amount that you will be eligible for.