Social Security Disability Resource Center

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Filing for disability - How to apply for SSD or SSI benefits and the Information that is Needed by the Social Security Administration

This resource page is broken into parts which occur in the following order:

1. When should you file a claim for disability benefits with SSA?
2. How do you file for Social Security Disability or SSI?
3. What kind of information does Social Security need from your medical treatment history in order to process your disability application?
4. Social Security Disability vs. SSI, or Supplemental Security Income

When should you file a claim for disability benefits with SSA?

For either an adult, or an adult filing on behalf of a disabled child, the question of "when to file" can be addressed by the following questions:

1) Is the individual's condition severe, meaning does it have a significant impact on the person's ability to engage in normal activities of daily living? Determining whether or not a person's condition is severe or non-severe, of course, is a subjective assessment.

However, a review of the claimant's medical evidence as well as questioning their ability to engage in activities of daily living (typically, ADL information is obtained by a disability examiner via a phone interview or by having the claimant fill out and return an ADL questionaire) will usually allow this to be quickly determined.

Some disability claims are denied on the basis of an NSI, or non-severe impairment. Most claims, however, are determined to involve one or more severe impairments, thus allowing the claim to be fully evaluated.

2) Has the individual's condition lasted for a full year? For both Social Security Disability and SSI, one calendar year is the benchmark for determining whether or not a person is disabled.

If the individual's condition is disabling (meaning that an adult is unable to engage in work activity, or a child is unable to engage in age-appropriate activities) but fails to last for an entire year, their case will not meet the Social Security Administration's definition of disability and their claim will be denied on the basis of duration, duration being defined as the failure to meet the one-year minimum length requirement.

3) If the individual's condition has not lasted for a full year "yet", can it, based on a review of the medical and non-medical evidence (such as work history, or, in the case of children, school records), be projected to last for the minimum length of one full year?

If so--and this type of projection is routinely made by disability examiners and administrative law judges--then the claimant may potentially receive a Social Security Disability award, an SSI disability award, or an awarding of concurrent benefits involving both programs.

4. If the individual's condition (which may involve one or more physical or mental impairments) is judged to be severe, and has lasted for at least 12 months duration, has it also prevented the individual, if they are a child applicant, from engaging in normal daily activities that are appropriate to their age, such as grade-level school work?

If the applicant is an adult, has their condition prevented them from being able to work at a level that provides earnings that equate with what the Social Security Administration refers to as SGA, or substantial gainful activity?

SGA, for those who are unaware, is simply an earnings level cut-off. If a person is able to earn at least as much as the SGA limit that is in effect for a given year, they will not be considered disabled by SSA, regardless of their condition. If they are engaging in work activity, however, and their earnings are less than the SGA limit, they may be considered disabled as long as their condition satisifes all other disability criteria for SSD and/or SSI disability benefits.

Note: Social Security (meaning a disability examiner if a case is at the disability application or reconsideration appeal level, or a federal adminisrative law judge if a case is at the disability hearing appeal level) will review whether or not a claimant has engaged in SGA-level work activity to determine if a claim can actually be taken.

However, if a disability application is successfully taken, Social Security will focus on the adult claimant's work history to determine if they still possess the ability to engage in work activity. If the claimant is unable to engage in their past work and also unable to perform some type of other work that their education and skills might suit them for, they may meet the qualifications for disability.

Obviously, for a disability examiner or disability judge to make a medical-vocational decision of this kind that results in a disability approval, it will be extraordinarily important for the claimant to supply an accurate and detailed work history when the disability claim is filed. This will enable the adjudicator to properly identify the claimant's past jobs and work skills, and, in so doing, render a more accurate decision.

How do you file for Social Security Disability or SSI?

What is involved in filing an application for Social Security disability? If you have a medical and/or mental impairment that has prevented you from working for the past year, or you expect your impairments to prevent you from working for a full year, you may be entitled to receive disability benefits from the Social Security Administration.

So how do you file your application for disability benefits?

Social Security has a couple of ways to file disability applications. If you are filing for Social Security disability, you can do so by filing a disability application online. The online disability application process is available for title 2 benefits, meaning Social Security disability only.

At this time, Social Security does not have an online application for title 16 benefits, typically referred to as SSI disability (SSA states this is coming soon and may already be the case by the time you read this). You can indicate that you wish to file for Supplemental Security disability benefits when you complete your Social Security disability application.

The online Social Security disability application process involves four steps that must be completed in order for your disability claim to be sent to a disability examiner at DDS (disability determination services) for a medical disability determination. The Steps to apply online are as follows:

1. Review the adult disability check list provided on the SSA website.

2. Complete the Social Security disability application.

3. Complete the adult disability report form.

4. Complete and sign the Authorization to Disclose Information form SSA 827 (your medical release). You can do this electronically as part of your Adult Disability Report or print and mail the form to your Social Security Office.

If you do not complete all of these steps, your disability application is not complete. Most disability applicants complete steps 1 and 2, but not 3 and 4. This results in the need for a Social Security office claims representative to contact the applicant and, of course, illustrates why the online process does not actually save time for most claimants and, in actuality, can make filing a claim more cumbersome...versus simply contacting a Social Security office in person or over the phone.

If you indicate while using the online process that you wish to file for SSI (Supplemental Security disability is a need-based disability program that requires a review of your income and resources to establish eligibility) or you do not complete steps 3 and 4, your local Social Security office will try to contact you for the information.

If they cannot reach you, they will generally mail out the necessary forms for completion with a letter stating your Social Security disability claim will be denied on a certain date if they do not receive the required information. They will also send a closeout letter for SSI disability if you indicated you wish to file for disability under this program.

If Social Security does not receive your information either online or via paper forms, they will deny your disability claim. This denial is known as a failure to cooperate denial.

As stated earlier, you do not have to file your Social Security disability claim online. You can file your Social Security disability claim with your local Social Security office by phone or in person. Sometimes this is the better option, especially if you have difficulty working with computers or you need to file for SSI disability benefits.

Also, contacting a local SSA field office in person or over the phone grants a person the obvious advantage of being able to ask questions and receive answers from a live individual.

To reiterate, you can file by phone or in person by contacting your local Social Security office to schedule a disability interview. A claims representative will complete your disability application for both Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability along with your disability report form. Just a bit of advice: be prepared to give the claims representative information about your medical sources and treatment as well as information about your work history when you make your application.

Points to keep in mind:
  • The first step in the Social Security disability application filing process is contacting the Social Security Administration to schedule a disability interview. You can do this by contacting your local Social Security office, or calling the toll free Social Security number. If you decide to seek representation to help you with your claim, some representatives (disability attorneys and non-attorney representatives) will actually assist you with initiating your disability claim.

  • Social Security administers two disability programs - Social Security disability and Supplemental Security Income disability (SSI). The Social Security claims representative will address the requirements of both disability programs during your disability application interview. What happens during a Social Security disability interview? You will speak to a Social Security claims representative about your disabling conditions, your work history (what types of jobs you have had during the fifteen years prior to the onset of your disability), and your medical treatment history.
What kind of information does Social Security need from your medical treatment history in order to process your disability application?

Social Security needs the names, phone numbers, and dates of treatment for all of the physicians, clinics, and hospitals that have treated you for your medical and/or mental conditions. This, of course, is because the social security administration will gather your medical records in order to evaluate your impairments.

Likewise, SSA will need information about the jobs you have worked in the last fifteen years, including the place of employment, job title, and a description of the work that was performed. This is so the social security administration can determine the demands of your prior work and to determine if you have the ability to go back to one of the jobs that you performed in the past.

Additionally, you are required to provide Social Security with information about your marriages, divorces, children, military service, income, and resources. Why does Social Security need this type of information? Social Security gathers information about your marriages and divorces to ascertain if you may be qualified for other Social Security benefits.

Furthermore, most disability application interviews involve a basic look at your income and resources to establish if you are qualified to receive Supplemental Security Income benefits (because it is a need based disability program).

In summation, your Social Security disability application process will be far less complicated if you are prepared to provide the Social Security Administration with the information it needs to process your disability claim.

Social Security Disability vs. SSI, or Supplemental Security Income

The only substantial difference differences between SSDI and SSI are in terms of how a person's benefits are funded and also with regard to certain non-medical disability criteria. SSDI benefits, of course, are based on "insured status, which is essentially based on a person's work history and how much they have paid into the system, i.e. work credits that have been earned over a number of years.

SSI, on the other hand, is not based on insured status, but, rather, is intended for individuals 1) who have not worked long enough to qualify for SSDI, or 2) who have not worked enough or earned enough in recent years to remain qualified for SSDI, or 3) who do qualify for SSDI but would only receive a small monthly benefit check.

In the latter case, a person who is approved for disability benefits would receive concurrent benefits, meaning benefits from both programs to elevate the amount of their monthly benefit. Now, here's what SSA has to say on the topic of applying for disability and the emphasis is on the online process.

  • 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 apply for disability and where to apply
    Tips on how to file for disability
    What is the Application Process for Social Security Disability and SSI?
    What happens after I file my disability claim with Social Security?
    What happens after a Social Security Disability or SSI Claim has been taken and is Pending
    If you get denied on a disability application do you have to file a new application?
    How the Decision on a Disability Application or Appeal Under SSDI or SSI is Made

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

    Filing for disability - How to file for SSD or SSI and the Information that is needed by Social Security
    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