Social Security Disability Resource Center

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To Apply For SSI or SSD Disability Benefits, Where do I Start?

Recently, an individual posted this statement in a Social Security disability forum. “I need to apply for SSI or SSD but I do not know where to start, I have no medical insurance or anything…I do not even have enough money to pay for the medication that the clinic gives me.”

This should not stop anyone from filing for disability benefits with the Social Security Administration. Social Security has two disability programs that can help individuals who have become unable to work due to a disabling condition. Both Social Security disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income disability (SSI) have the same application process, as well as the same medical disability evaluation process.

So where does an individual start? All disability applicants must first file an application with Social Security. At the time of their disability interview, a Social Security claims representative will evaluate their case to determine if they might be eligible for SSD, SSI, or both programs.

Once the claims representative, or CR, gathers all of an individual’s medical information and work history they send the disability claim along with all necessary disability forms to a state disability agency for a medical determination. This agency is known in most states as DDS, or disability determination services and it is here that that claims are assigned to disability examiners for decision processing.

While it is better for an individual to have a medical treatment history, it is not necessary for a disability determination strictly from a Social Security standpoint. Social Security basically needs to have a current medical status of an individual’s medical and/or mental condition and how the impairment or impairments are affecting their ability to function.

Social Security disability is based upon residual functional capacity rather than specific conditions. Disability examiners use a standardized disability evaluation handbook that contains impairment listings for all body systems that include the medical evidence and limitations needed to meet or equal an impairment listing.

If a disability examiner determines that the applicant does not have enough current medical information to make a disability determination, they have to obtain that information through a consultative examination, or possibly several consultative examinations. Consultative examinations are performed by physicians who are paid by Social Security to give them a “status” of an individual’s current medical and/or mental condition.

And while these examinations give the disability examiner what they need for their disability decision, they are not meant to be any kind to treatment for the disability applicant and, for that matter, they generally do not lead to an approval of disability benefits for the applicant.

This is why it is always advisable to have some type of medical treatment records to support a disability claim, even if it is just hospital or medical clinic notes. At least these physicians have spent more than a couple of minutes with the disability applicant and may have had objective medical testing done.

That being said, consultative examinations are better than no medical information at all. Sometimes they do lead to an approval of disability benefits and these examinations do provide medical information for an applicant's disability case should they decide to appeal their claim.

Once the disability examiner gets enough current medical and functional information (usually obtained from questionnaires completed by the applicant and the person they have listed as their third party contact), they can determine if an individual meets or equals an impairment listing.

If they do not, the disability examiner must consider if the disability applicant is able to perform any of their past work, or if they are capable of performing any other kind of work in the general economy considering their residual functional capacity (i.e. what they can still do physically or mentally), education, age, and work history. If they are not able to perform any work due to the restrictiveness of their disabling conditions, they may be found disabled.

Now, back to the above individual’s specific situation. This individual does appear to have some medical information from the clinic they are receiving medical treatment from, even if they cannot afford their medication. These clinic notes will mostly likely mention what medications the individual should be taking and the clinic doctors have at least spent some time with the disability applicant--which is better for their disability case than the opinion of a consultative examination doctor who has never treated them and has only spent ten minutes with them.

The most important point to remember is that if an individual is not able to work because of a disabling condition, they should file for disability even if they have very little or no medical information. Even if they are denied initially, the odds of being approved are good if a disability applicant follows the Social Security disability appeal process to the point of having an administrative law judge disability hearing.

  • What medical conditions will get you approved for disability?

  • What kind of Mental Problems Qualify for Disability?

  • Which conditions will social security recognize as a disability?

  • Tips for getting Social Security Disability or SSI benefits approved

  • SSDRC Homepage:

    Social Security Disability and SSI Resource Center

    The Most Basic questions about Getting Disability Benefits

    Social Security Disability SSI and whether or not you can work

    Common Mistakes to avoid after being denied for Disability

    Social Security Disability SSI Questions and Answers

    More Social Security Disability SSI Questions and Answers

    Common Questions about Social Security Disability and SSI

    Winning Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits

    The SSI Disability Benefits Program

    Medical exams for disability claims

    Applying for Disability in various states

    Social Security Disability SSI and Doctors - Yours and Theirs

    Social Security Disability and SSI Claim Reviews

    Social Security Disability SSI System and Benefits for Children

    Denials, Appeals, and Getting a Disability Lawyer or Representative

    What you should know about Social Security Disability and SSI Denials

    Questions about Disability Lawyers and Hiring a Disability Attorney

    Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits

    FAQ on Disability Claim Representation

    Disability hearings before Judges

    Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers

    Various Types of Benefits including SSI, Mental, and Child benefits

    Social Security and SSI based on Mental Disability

    Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits for Children

    Disability Benefits through Social Security

    Filing for Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits

    Social Security Disability SSI: Medical Evidence and Records

    Filing your claim for disability benefits

    Eligibility for receiving disability benefits

    Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved

    FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions

    The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration

    Resources on this site

    Social Security Disability, SSI Terms and Definitions

    Previously answered questions regarding SSD and SSI

    For Individuals living in North Carolina

    Applying for Disability in North Carolina

    North Carolina Disability Lawyer

    Related pages:

    How to get disability, tip 4
    Do CE exams usually result in denials for disability?
    Can I qualify for disability if I am working?
    Should you Look at the Disability File that Social Security has on You?
    How do I apply for a Social Security disability widow’s claim?
    Who handles my case if I apply for Social Security disability?
    Social Security Disability Application Online
    Can I apply for disability online?
    Can I Collect Unemployment While I File For Disability Benefits (SSD or SSI)?
    What medical conditions can you apply for disability for?
    To Apply For SSI or SSD Disability Benefits, Where do I Start?
    When You Apply For Disability, write Down Everything That Is Wrong With You
    When I Apply For Disability, Should I List My Old Meds From Years Ago?
    When I Apply for Disability - Should I apply for social Security disability or SSI?
    What happens if you are working when you file for disability or work after you apply?
    If Social Security Turns Down My Case Can I apply For Disability A Second Time?

    These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.

    How to Apply for Disability - What medical conditions can you apply and qualify for?
    Applying for Disability - How long does it take to get Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?
    What happens if I file a disability application and it is denied by a disability examiner or Judge?
    How to Prove you are disabled and qualify to win disability benefits
    How do you prove your disability case if you have a mental condition or impairment?
    Social Security Disability Back pay and How Long it Takes to Qualify for it and receive it
    Social Security Disability SSI - Eligibility Requirements and Qualifications Criteria