Tips to Prepare for Filing for Social Security Disability or SSI

Filing for Social Security Disability (SSD) will ordinarily begin with contacting your local social security office and requesting an appointment for a disability application interview.

Tip 1: SSA (the social security administration) does offer the option of filing online; however, there are reasons why this may not be practical: A) most disability claims will require some degree of followup with the local social security office; B) online filing does not offer the opportunity for a claimant to ask a question and receive an answer.

By contrast, when filing the claim through the local social security office, the interview can be set to occur in person at the office or over the phone, making it far easier for both the applicant and the social security claims representative to give and obtain the information that is needed to initiate the claim.

However, before you call the social security office, you should consider the following items and also get certain information together in order to help your evaluation interview go more smoothly.

Note: SSA now states that the option of filing an SSI claim will soon be available and this may possibly be true by the time you read this page.

Are you currently working and, if so, how much are you making?

Tip 2: Consider if your wages/earnings exceed the maximum amount allowed for those who receive SSD (Social Security Disability) or SSI (supplemental security income). Your monthly gross income must be below a certain dollar amount for you to be eligible to apply for, or receive, disability benefits from the social security administration. That amount is SGA, which stands for substantial gainful activity.

The SGA amount is subject to change from year to year based on inflation. Those who are not working, or earn less than the SGA amount, at the time of filing a claim for disability will have their claim fully evaluated on the basis of their medical records.

Individuals who earn the SGA amount or higher will have their claim quickly denied on the basis of SGA-level earnings (i.e. their case will not be assigned to a disability examiner and their medical records will not be requested). To see the current SGA amount, please visit this page: The substantial gainful activity earnings limit.

To reiterate, if you are still working, this does not mean that you cannot file for disability or receive disability benefits--you can as long as your wages are below the allowable limit. The important thing to remember, for an individual who has one or more physical or mental impairments, is not to file when you are earning more than the limit.

Equally important to remember is that if your income falls below this level as a result of your condition (e.g. causing you to reduce time on the job or to stop work altogether), you should immediately apply for disability at your nearest social security office.

Does/Will your Physician support your claim for disability?

Tip 3: You may wish to speak with your treating physician, to get an idea as to whether or not the doctor will be supportive of your disability claim. Why? The majority of claims are denied at the disability application level and an even higher percentage are denied at the reconsideration appeal level (the request for reconsideration is the first appeal). For claimants who are denied at these levels, the best opportunity for an approval will be at a hearing before an administrative law judge.

In preparing for a disability hearing, an attorney will typically attempt to obtain a medical source statement from your treating physician (essentially verifying that you have limitations to the extent that you are unable to engage in work activity that provides a substantial and gainful income). In some cases, it may be best to ask your physician up front if he or she is willing to get involved in the process ' some doctors will not because they are not willing to commit to the time or the effort, and if this is true, you will need to find a physician who is willing to put his or her opinion in writing.

Supplying Social Security with your medical history

Tip 4: Get your medical history information in order. Disability claims are ultimately decided on medical records. And the biggest delay on most cases, of course, has to do with obtaining records; therefore, a claimant should always provide detailed information regarding their medical treatment sources. You should provide social security with your complete medical history, including medical conditions, dates and locations of treatment, and contact information for the attending physician at the time of treatment.

The highest emphasis that SSA will place is on current medical evidence. "Current" is defined as medical records that have been generated in the last 90 days, meaning that you have been seen by a doctor within the last 90 days. Without current evidence, it will be impossible to be given a disability approval. And it is for this reason that so many claimants are sent to social security consultative medical exams, simply so that recent evidence can be obtained.

However, while the social security office may inform a claimant that they only need to provide information regarding their most recent medical treatment, a claimant should provide dates of older treatment as well. Older records are important because they establish how far back a disabling condition may exist. Older medical records can support an earlier onset date and this can have an immediate impact on how soon a person may become eligible for medicare (that is, if their claim is for Social Security Disability--SSI recipients receive medicaid) as well as how much they may receive in disability back pay.

Supplying Social Security with your work history

Tip 5: You will be asked to provide a written work history more than once during this process. Record all jobs you've performed within the last 15 years, noting duties and responsibilities of each position. Remember that your past work will help the examiner decide what work you may or may not be fit to perform in your current medical condition.

By supplying the necessary information, your disability claim will be better positioned for processing which can allow it to move more quickly through the system as opposed to a claim for which a disability examiner will have to devote more (sometimes considerably more) processing time in order to gather the information necessary to even work on the claim.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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