Social Security Disability benefits ensure that workers who sustain injuries or develop conditions that prevent them from working are still financially covered. Disabilities can come in many different forms, as both physical and mental conditions can qualify. If a person with a disability is approved for benefits they will receive regular payments from the U.S. Social Security Administration, an agency of the federal government. If you’ve suffered a disability that’s preventing you from working and getting the income you’re used to, you may qualify.
To get the disability benefits you deserve, you’ll first have to apply for Social Security. This can be a relatively long process, but the coverage more than makes up for the wait, especially since back pay is included. Learn how to apply for Social Security Disability benefits and discover the steps you must take to ensure your application is approved as soon as possible.
Gather the Necessary Documents
Applying for Social Security requires a lot of documents. For any successful application, all your paperwork needs to be in order, so it’s best to gather everything you need before you start the process. First, you’ll need to have your Social Security card and either your original birth certificate or a certified copy of it. Then, you’ll need proof of U.S. citizenship. If you were born in the U.S., a birth certificate may be enough, but it’s possible that you’ll need another form of proof.
Supplemental documents are required as well. For example, if you served in the military before 1968, you’ll need to provide military service papers. You’ll also need W2 forms or any relevant tax return forms. Plus, you’ll need all marriage, divorce and death certificates. Finally, you’ll need to provide your banking information to receive deposits from the Social Security Administration. If you’re applying for spousal benefits, your spouse will need to provide all this information as well.
If you’re missing any of the necessary documents, you can still submit your application. This step is just to make the entire process faster. The SSA will accept documents that are submitted late, and they can help you locate any missing documents. The Social Security office often works with the Bureau of Vital Statistics in your state to verify all your information, and it won’t cost you a thing. Keep in mind that your benefits are more dependent on the date you submit your application than the date you submit the supporting documents, so it’s always best to submit in time to get the benefits you’re owed.
Decide Where to Apply
When you’re ready to apply for Social Security, you’ll have several options. The first and most straightforward is the online application, but it can be quite time-consuming. Applying for disability benefits can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Keep in mind, however, that you don’t have to complete the application in a single sitting. You’re free to take a break whenever you like and resume your application later on. Be sure to choose the right application, however. Retirement/Medicare benefits and disability benefits use different forms, but both are available on the Social Security Administration’s website.
Alternatively, you can apply over the phone by calling 1-800-772-1213. This option is an automated service in which you’ll respond to a series of pre-recorded questions that will enable the SSA to start processing your application, but you can request to speak to a representative if you prefer. Keep in mind that representatives are only available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., but the automated system is available 24/7.
Finally, you can apply for benefits at your local Social Security office. This will involve a meeting with a Social Security employee to fill out a physical form in person and submit all the necessary accompanying documents. While you aren’t required to make an appointment, the wait time for walk-ins can be long. It’s best to call your local office in advance and schedule an appointment to cut down on the time it takes. Anyone living outside of the United States will have to apply at their respective country’s Federal Benefits Unit.
Complete Your Application
No matter which option you choose to apply for Social Security benefits, the process itself is largely the same. You’ll have to answer a variety of questions, most of which are straightforward. It will begin with basic information about you, such as your name, your contact info, your doctor’s information and your employment history. The doctor’s information is especially important when applying for disability benefits.
In addition to the basic information, you’ll need to specify more detailed information. For example, if you have any unmarried children under the age of 18, children who are 18 to 19 years old or who are disabled and younger than 22, you’ll need to detail that information. Additionally, you’ll have to answer some questions about whether you’ve had a different Social Security number or have applied for benefits in the past.
After submitting your basic information, you’ll have to provide information about your finances. That includes the name and address of all of your employers over the past year. You’ll also include how much money you’ve earned over that same time period. Keep in mind that you’ll have to provide an estimate of how much money you expect to make the following year if you’re submitting your application anytime from September to December. If your disability is bad enough, the future estimates of income may simply be zero, but a disability that still allows you to work some won’t necessarily bar you from getting benefits.
Finally, you’ll need to provide a Social Security Statement, which is a record of your earnings and is essential to receive benefits. If you don’t have an official statement, you can view one online by creating an account on the Social Security Administration website. If you don’t have your statement ready by the time you want to apply, send the application and submit this statement at a later date. Alternatively, you can work with the SSA to record your earnings in a review.
Solidify Your Case
When applying for disability benefits, you’ll need to submit all the necessary information along with your application to demonstrate your need for benefits. Disability benefits claims are often rejected initially, so it’s important to have all your documentation in order, with the ironclad evidence that shows the extent of your disability. Keep in mind, however, that this only applies to individuals who are unable to work because of any illnesses, conditions or injuries sustained within the past 14 months and who are not retirement age. If you are retirement age and applying for SSI, you’ll need to include this information to help the SSA determine what kind of specific benefits apply to your disability.
Disability benefits call for extensive medical records detailing the extent of your disability and financial records to demonstrate the cost of the disability. You’ll need to submit the dates of your doctor visits, any relevant caseworkers, all medical test results and the medications and precise dosage that you take for your disability. Make sure you keep this information updated regularly. Don’t hesitate to keep sending supplementary medical information to the SSA. After all, they’ll need evidence of an ongoing disability to determine what benefits you’re entitled to. Typically, medical evidence isn’t even finalized until enough time has passed to medically determine the long-term effects of your disability.
After you’ve submitted all the necessary information, your case will be reviewed to see if you qualify for disability benefits. The determination process is extensive, going through a total of five steps. The ultimate goal is to be able to pass every step of the analysis, as each step is designed to determine whether or not you qualify. First, they’ll take a look at how much you make a month if you’re working. If it’s more than a certain amount, you won’t qualify. If you can’t work at all, they’ll skip that step. The second step is evaluating your medical condition and how it limits your ability to perform basic work activities. If your condition is significantly disabling, they’ll move on to step three.
Step three is determining whether your condition meets the qualifying impairments. Keep in mind that you can still qualify if you don’t have any of the listed impairments, provided that your condition is just as severe. If you don’t meet the severity of the listed impairments, you’ll move on to step four, in which they will look at whether you can still perform the work you did in the past with the same ability. If you can’t, they’ll move on to the last step and determine whether you can perform any other type of work that may be suitable for your condition. Only after passing that rigorous process will you be able to qualify for disability.
Submit and Wait for Approval
After you submit your application, it will typically take several months before you get approved and receive benefits, as the SSA receives many applications to process. During this time, they will evaluate all your medical records and your work history to see how much you’re specifically eligible for. The exact amount can vary quite a bit and depends on how much your medical treatment costs as well as the wages you’re missing out on due to your inability to work.
In most cases, it takes about three to five months for the SSA to reach a decision. Assuming that decision is an approval, you’ll be waiting a few months before seeing benefits even in the best-case scenario. Keep in mind, however, that a lot of applications are often initially denied, and appeals can add more months to the time it takes to get benefits. Keeping up with your appointments and having a lawyer by your side is the best way to ensure the process goes as fast as possible. Back pay covering the months in between the onset of your disability and the approval of your application is also included in most cases.
Be sure to monitor the progress of your claim. The SSA may request additional information such as more medical evidence or paperwork. Tracking the status of your claim online ensures that you don’t miss any of these requests and can get the necessary information to them as fast as possible. Of course, an attorney is always the best option if you want to make sure your claim has all the necessary information upon submission.
Appealing a Denial
If your Social Security claim is denied, don’t worry. There are still ways to work through the system and get the benefits you’re owed. If you’re denied, you can file for a reconsideration up to 60 days after you receive your notice of denial. This is just the first level, however, as there are four total levels to go through until you have to start the process over.
Denials that happen at the reconsideration stage can go through another appeals process to be put before an administrative law judge. At this point, you’ll have a much better chance of getting approved. Failing that, you can take your claim to the Appeals Council. Finally, if your appeal is denied, you can opt for a Federal Court review. Most cases never make it to the last step, as they often meet approvals when submitted to the administrative law judge. Nothing is assured, however, so it’s always best to have a Social Security attorney by your side to make your case as strong as possible and get the benefits you deserve.
If you’re looking for a Social Security Disability attorney, Joel Thrift Law is here to help. Our team is prepared to help you every step of the way, whether you’re just getting started or you have already been denied the benefits you’re owed. Your concerns matter to us, so you can always count on your calls being returned as soon as possible no matter what you need. Contact us today for a free consultation!