How to Get Social Security Disability Insurance

Social Security is a federal program that is paid for by tax dollars. You probably already know that Social Security provides retirement benefits for older people. Social Security also provides money for people who are unable to work due to a disability.

There are two different types of Social Security Disability. For either program, you must be considered disabled. Which of the two you might qualify for depends primarily on your work history and your earnings. While both of these programs provide assistance to the disabled, they are two very different programs. The qualifications are different and the amount of money you can get is different.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

SSDI provides a monthly check for disabled people. To be eligible for SSDI, you will need to have worked and paid Social Security taxes for a certain amount of time. The amount of SSDI you can receive will be based on how long you’ve worked and how much you’ve earned. It does not matter how much money your spouse makes or how much you have in savings, assets, or investments. To find out if you’re eligible for SSDI and how much you can receive each month, contact your local Social Security office and request a statement. You can also request a statement on-line at

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI provides a monthly check for people who are disabled but have not worked enough or earned enough to be eligible for SSDI. It is based in part on the amount of income you earn. It is also based on the amount of money your spouse makes and how much you might have in savings, assets such as a house or car, and investments.

Don’t I have to be old?

No. SSDI is specifically for people who are disabled but are not old enough to collect retirement benefits. SSI is for elderly people who are not eligible for retirement benefits and for people of all ages who are disabled but are not eligible for SSDI.

How disabled do I have to be?

You have to have a physical or mental condition that prevents you from working. A doctor has to say that this condition is expected to last for at least one year or that your condition will result in death.

What conditions can make me eligible for Social Security Disability?

There are dozens and dozens of conditions that might make you disabled. Both physical and mental conditions can qualify you for disability. Some common physical conditions include back injuries, Multiple Sclerosis, hearing loss, loss of vision, and heart, lung, and kidney problems.

It’s not just the condition you have that entitles you to SSDI or SSI, though. It’s how the condition affects you and whether or not it prevents you from working. For example, some people with Multiple Sclerosis are unable to walk and have difficulty using their hands. It would be difficult for them to work at most jobs. However, some people with MS can get around with minimal assistance and have no trouble using their hands. They can work at a number of jobs.

It also depends on your work history. For instance, people who are deaf are able to work at many different jobs. However, if you worked all your life in a job that required hearing but suddenly become deaf, you might be found eligible for Social Security disability. Not all deaf people are eligible, though.

How do I know if I’ll qualify?

There’s no way to guarantee that your claim will be approved. However, you should talk with your doctor about whether or not your condition is likely to qualify you for Social Security disability benefits. In order to qualify, your condition must prevent you from working and must be expected to last for at least one full year or be expected to result in death. Talk with your doctor about whether or not your condition prevents you from working. Ask your doctor if you should expect to recover from your condition, and if so, how long recovery can be expected to take.

How much money can I get?

That depends on whether you qualify for SSDI or SSI. To find out what you might be eligible for, contact your local Social Security office and request a statement. Can I apply if I am still employed?

Yes, but being able to work even part-time will lessen your chances of being approved for disability benefits. However, depending upon how much money you earn and a number of other factors, you might still be eligible. You will need to check with your local Social Security office to find out.

How do I apply?

Contact your local Social Security office. To find your local Social Security office, you can call their toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can call their toll-free TTY number at 1-800-325-0778. You can go to the office in person or you can call them to ask for an application. You can also begin your application on-line at

After you complete the initial forms, you will need to schedule an interview with someone at your local Social Security office. You can go to the office for a face-to-face interview or you can be interviewed by telephone. It is recommended that you do the face-to-face interview if at all possible.

Your application will then be forwarded to a claims specialist in the regional office. The claims specialist will probably mail you more forms to be completed. The sooner you fill out the forms and return them, the sooner your claim can be decided.

If you have other information to send, such as medical records or letters from family or friends, you can send it to your local Social Security office or to the claims specialist in charge of your claim, once you know who the claims specialist is. You don’t have to have all that information in order to apply, but the sooner you send it in, the sooner your claim can be decided.

Does it cost anything to apply?

No, there is no charge to apply for Social Security disability benefits.

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When should I apply?

You should begin the application process as soon as you believe you are disabled. Because it can take a long time to be approved and begin receiving benefits, you should apply as soon as possible.

What if I need help with the application?

Let the people at your local Social Security office know if you need help filling out the forms or getting some of the information they request. They are supposed to help you. This help is free.

You might also be able to get some help from an organization for people with your condition. For example, if you have Multiple Sclerosis, there is a national MS organization, and there may also be a local organization where you live. Check your local phone book or ask your doctor is there is an organization like this that applies to your condition. This type of assistance is usually provided free of charge.

If there is a social worker or case manager at the hospital or clinic where you get medical care, they might be able to help you. You can also ask your doctor is there is a social worker or case manager they can refer you to. There may or may not be a charge for this service.

Finally, you can see a lawyer for assistance if needed. Lawyers will usually offer a free consultation, but after that you will probably be charged for their help.

What information will Social Security need from me?

Social Security will ask you for a lot of information and will give you many forms to fill out. Get this information to them as quickly as possible, so that your claim can be decided as quickly as possible. Let them know if you have trouble getting any of the information they ask for or if you need help filling out the forms. They are supposed to provide you with assistance as needed.

Some of the information they will want is:

Your name, date of birth, and Social Security number.

Identification documents.

They will need to see a picture ID such as a driver’s license or state ID card. If you don’t have either of these, you can get one of them at your local Department of Motor Vehicles. Look in your local telephone book to find the office closest to you.

They will also need to see your Social Security card. If you don’t have your Social Security card, you can apply for a new card at your local Social Security office.

They may also need to see your birth certificate. If you don’t have this, contact your local Board of Health or Department of Vital Statistics to find out how to get one. Check your local phone book to find the telephone numbers.

The condition or conditions that make you disabled.

If you aren’t sure of the exact names, check with your doctor. For instance, don’t just say that you have a bad back or are depressed. Say that you have three herniated disks, or that you have major recurrent depression.

The date that you became disabled.

This is the date that you became unable to work. If it’s hard to pinpoint the exact date, just do your best. Social Security will make a determination of the date for purposes of determining when you are first eligible for benefits. Your doctor can probably help you decide the date you should use on your application.

Your employment history for the past 15 years.

They will want to know every job you’ve had during that time. They will want to know the name of the company, what you did there, when you worked there and for how long, how many hours you worked in an average week, and how much money you earned. You can ask Social Security to give you a printout of all employers who have reported income for you, and use this list to help you remember all the places you’ve worked.

Social Security will want to know how your condition affected your work at these various jobs. They will want to know if you needed any special help or accommodations in order to do your job there. This includes things like needing time off or needing different work hours than normal because of doctor’s appointment. Let them know if you missed a lot of work because of your condition.

All the doctors and other health care professionals who have ever treated you for the condition that makes you disabled.

They will need the name of the doctor or other professional, their address and telephone number, and when they treated you. If you don’t have all this information handy, look through any old receipts or paperwork you might have. Also ask your pharmacist if they can give you a printout of doctors who have prescribed medications for you. Sometimes doctors have moved or are no longer in practice so you might not be able to look up an address. If so, note this on the forms you have to fill out. Just be as complete as possible.

All the hospitals, clinics, or other agencies where you’ve been treated for the condition that makes you disabled.

Again they will want the dates you were treated their and the address and phone number or the hospital, clinic, or agency.

What medications you are on and what medications you have been on in the past.

Your doctor or pharmacist can help you gather this information. Let them know of any troubling side effects that you’ve had from medication.

Any special equipment you need to use because of your condition.

This includes things like a cane, walker, or wheelchair; glasses or hearing aids; special chairs, desks, or other furniture; and so on.

Your educational background.

They will want to know where you went to school and what level of education you have. They will want to know if you were in special education classes or if you needed special help at school because of your disability. They will want to how if your condition interfered with your ability to get an education. For instance, did you have to miss class a lot because of your condition?

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Financial information.

They will need to know if you are currently employed and if so, how much money you earn. You will need paycheck stubs or some sort of written documentation from your employer. If you are not currently employed, they will want to know when your last job ended. Again, they will need written documentation from your employer.

They will want to know if you have any other income currently, and to see documentation of that income if there is any.

They will want to see current bank statements for all bank accounts that you have.

They may also want to see documentation of any assets you own, such as the title to your car if you have one.

Social Security will tell you what documents they need to see. If they don’t give you a list of documents when you schedule an interview to apply for disability, ask them what things you should bring.

What else will they want to know?

Social Security will ask you for a lot of information about how your condition interferes with your daily activities and with your ability to work. They will ask about very specific things. For instance, they will ask if you need help with cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping. They will ask how far you can walk before you need to rest. They will ask if you have trouble remembering things or following instructions. They will ask how you get along with other people. Don’t exaggerate, but don’t hold anything back, either.

Be very specific. For example, don’t just say that you have trouble grocery shopping. Say that you are unable to lift heavy items and have to request assistance from employees at the grocery store, that you sometimes have to stop in the middle of your shopping and sit down to rest, and that you have to have someone help you at home to carry in the groceries and put them away.

The forms they will send you usually don’t have a lot of room to write things. You can add as much extra paper as you need. When you add extra paper for your answers, make sure you indicate which question you are answering on the paper. Also write on the form that the person reviewing the information should see the attached paper.

Will Social Security need my medical records?

Yes. Based on the information you give them about the doctors who’ve treated you and the places you’ve received treatment, Social Security will request some of your medical records. However, they usually only request the most recent records, but your entire history will support your claim that you are in fact disabled. It’s recommended that you request copies of all your records and forward those to Social Security.

To get copies of your medical records, contact the doctors, hospitals, and any other places you’ve received treatment for your disabling condition. They will require you to sign a form requesting your records. It may take a few weeks to get copies of your records. Also, some places only keep copies for a certain amount of time, usually ten years. Just get as many records as you can.

Most of the time, there will be a small fee for copies of your records. In some states, though, they are legally required to give you a copy of your records for free if you need them for a disability claim. To find out if that’s true in your state, call an attorney who specializes in disability.

Will Social Security contact my current or previous employer?

Most likely. They will ask you to provide them with information about any current or previous employers, and will probably send the most recent some forms to fill out. You can let your present or past employers know that you are applying for disability and that they might be contacted by Social Security for information about you.

Is there any other information I should give them?

There are a number of other kinds of information you can provide, if you wish. Social Security is supposed to take into consideration any and all information you give them.

Letters from past employers and/or coworkers that tell how your condition affected your ability to work

Letters from friends or family members that tell how your condition affects your ability to work and how it affects your ability to function in day-to-day activities.

Records from any school you attended and/or letters from teachers that tell about your disability.

Records or letters from any health care professionals who are aware of your disability, even if they are not treating your for that condition. For instance, if you have a bad back, your dentist is not treating your for your back condition. However, if you have trouble getting in and out of the chair at the dentist’s office because of your back problems, your dentist can write a letter to Social Security describing how your back problems make normal activities difficult for you.

Information about how much time you spend going to doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, counseling, or other places you get treatment for your condition. Include how long it takes you go travel there and back and how much time you spend waiting in the waiting room before your appointment. Let them know if these appointments have to take place during normal work hours, because that would cause you to miss a lot of work.

Any other information you think is relevant. This can simply be information you write down and send them. If there is any other sort of documentation to support what you say, send that as well.

How can my doctor help me get disability benefits?

Make sure your doctor knows you are applying for disability. Make sure you tell your doctor about how your condition affects you at work and at home. Ask your doctor to be sure to document all the problems you are having because of your condition. You will need a doctor to support your claim that you are disabled in order to be approved for Social Security disability benefits. Your doctor will need to state that your condition is expected to last for at least one year.

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Social Security will request records from your doctor and might also send your doctor some forms to fill out. Your doctor can also writer a letter that you can send to Social Security.

Will I have to see one of their doctors?

Maybe. If the claims specialist feels more information about your condition is needed, they might request an evaluation from another doctor. This doctor does not actually work for Social Security, though. It will be an independent evaluation, so the doctor will be objective. Social Security will pay for this evaluation.

How long does it take?

It usually takes anywhere from two to four months to get a first decision. If you get turned down the first time, you can request a review, which will take another two to four months. If your claim is not approved on review, you can appeal, which means you will have a hearing. It can take six months or longer to get a hearing.

You can begin receiving SSI one month after you become disabled. You can begin receiving SSDI five months after you become disabled. Of course, your claim will not be processed and approved in just one month. Once it is approved, though, you will receive back-pay to the time you were eligible.

Is there any way to get approved faster?

Complete all the forms they give you as quickly as possible. Send any other information, such as medical records, as quickly as possible. Request the records yourself and send them to Social Security; you may be able to do that sooner than the claims specialist will. Make a follow-up call about a week after you mail any information to make sure it was received. If it wasn’t, mail it again (always keep copies of anything you send them).

Let your doctor or other health care professionals know that you are applying for disability and that they might be receiving a request for records or some forms to complete. Ask them to please send records or complete any forms as quickly as possible.

Let your last employer know that you are applying for disability and that they might be receiving some forms to fill out. Ask them to please complete and return any forms as quickly as possible.

What are my chances of getting approved?

If you are truly disabled, your chances are good. It may take a while, however. Between 30 and 40% of claims are approved when first submitted. Of those who are turned down and request a review, about 10% are then approved. Of those who are still not approved and go on to appeal, about 75% are then approved.

How can I improve my chances?

Complete all the paperwork they give you as fully and accurately as you can. Be very specific in your answers. Return all paperwork as soon as you can.

Talk with your doctor and other health care professionals so they can help you with your claim.

Request copies of all your medical records from anyone who ever treated you from your condition, and send copies of these to Social Security. Don’t count of Social Security to request your records. They will probably only get the most recent ones, but your chances of being approved will be greater if you send them all your records.

Collect letters from people who can tell Social Security how your condition interferes with your ability to work and with your ability to function in day-to-day activities. For instance, a previous employer could write a letter telling how many days of work you missed do to doctor’s appointments. A former co-worker could write a letter stating that you needed help reaching files that were stored up high because it hurt your back so much to reach up. Your husband could write a letter telling about how your arthritis is so bad you can’t open bottles or jars, so he has to help you with those things when you are cooking.

What if I get turned down?

About 30 to 40% of all claims are initially denied. If that happens, you can request a review. That means that all your information will be forwarded to another claims specialist, who will review the decision. If you’re turned down again, you can request an appeal. That means you’ll go to a hearing, where you’ll present your case and where you can have witnesses testify that you are indeed disabled. You’re not required to have an attorney for the hearing, but it’s strongly recommended that you do. If your claim is still denied, you can file a second appeal.

Do I need a lawyer?

Generally not, when you are first applying. If your case is denied and you have to appeal, you will need an attorney then. However, you can consult with an attorney before applying or at any time during the application process if you wish. Most attorneys will offer a free consultation.

If you have to appeal your case, an attorney will usually help you on a contingency basis. When your claim is finally approved, you will receive back-pay, which will be the amount of money you should have received from the time you were first eligible for disability. Your attorney will then receive a percentage of your back-pay, which is how he or she will be paid for his or her services. Attorneys usually make about 30%.

You are not required to have an attorney to help with any appeals, but your chances of winning the appeal are much, much better if you do have a lawyer to help you.