Frequently Asked Questions about Social Security Disability
Answers a range of questions about the Social Security Disability application process, eligibility, what medical records are needed, and which conditions can be Fast Tracked.
What is a “disability,” as defined by the Social Security Administration?
It’s a physical or mental condition – one that’s expected to last at least 12 months or result in death – that prevents a person from working. The disability does not have to be work-related forv you (or a family member) to receive SSDI benefits, but benefits are not paid for short-term or partial disabilities.
Is a letter from my doctor, stating that I’m disabled, good enough for the SSA?
Not by itself. You’ll still need to complete an application (claim) for SSDI benefits and also provide the SSA with personal data, medical records, etc. You may also be asked to go for a physical exam, paid for by the SSA.
What information about my medical condition and my work experience do I send to the SSA?
You’ll need medical records from the doctors, hospitals, clinics, caseworkers, therapists, etc., involved in diagnosing or treating your disability. You’ll also need to provide a copy of your most recent W-2 tax form or federal tax return.
How does my work history affect my qualifications to receive SSDI benefits?
You’ll need to have worked long enough and recently enough under Social Security (i.e., you’ve paid into the system) to earn the required number – it changes annually – of work credits. If you haven’t met these requirements, you’re not eligible for SSDI benefits. But you may be eligible for other types of benefits.
How long does it usually take the SSA to process a typical application for SSDI?
It usually takes from three to five months to process an application, or longer if any required data is incomplete or missing. If your application is denied, it will take additional months if you appeal the decision. Then, if your appeal is denied and you ask for a hearing, you can figure there will be an additional wait time of about 442 days!
I heard there’s a “Fast Track” that speeds up the process if someone has a serious medical condition that’s listed?
Yes. Another 25 medical conditions were recently added to the list of 200 – compiled in 2008 and 2012 – that clearly qualifies applicants for Compassionate Allowances. Applications for persons with any of these 225 conditions can usually get approved in just days – if they meet other requirements for SSDI benefits.
What’s involved when the SSA reviews my application for benefits?
Your application is studied to determine if you’ve provided all the information required and you have enough work credits to qualify. If so, it’s sent to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) office in your state. Their disability specialists ask your doctor(s) about your condition and how it limits your ability to do work-related activities. Then a five-step process is used to make a determination as to whether or not you qualify for SSDI benefits.
If my application is denied do I get a second chance to apply?
For one reason or another, about 70% of all SSDI applications are denied the first time they go through the system. If yours is denied, you can submit it again – after you’ve corrected any errors, provided any missing information, etc.
What if I resolve whatever it is that caused them to turn me down, I apply again, and they turn me down again?
If you do so within 60 days, you can request a hearing before a federal administrative law judge. If an SSDI-qualified attorney has not helped you up to that point, you may want to hire one – perhaps at no out-of-pocket expense – to represent you in court. It’s really not a do-it-yourself procedure.
Can disabled children get government benefits?
Perhaps. If they are no older than 17 and they and their family meets specific requirements, they may qualify for SSDI or Supplementary Security Income (SSI) benefits. Their disability must have lasted, or is expected to last, at least one year or is expected to result in death.
If my application is approved, how soon will I start receiving benefits?
It depends on the SSA’s determination as to when your disability began. Your first benefit will cover the sixth full month after that date. For instance, if your disability officially began on July 15, 2016, your first benefit would be paid for the month of January, 2017, and you’d receive it in February, 2017. Payments are sent in the month that follows the month they’re for.
How long can I continue to get benefits for a particular disability?
If your case is typical, you’ll continue to receive benefits until your disability lessens (if that’s possible) and you’re able to resume work on a regular basis.
When I reach “retirement age,” can I still receive SSDI benefits?
Every year or so, the SSA revises their official “full retirement age.” If you’re still receiving SSDI benefits when you reach this age, your benefits will be automatically converted to SSA retirement benefits of the same dollar amount.
Understanding Social Security Disability—An Overview of the Basics
What is Disability According to Social Security Law?
Social Security Disability Insurance: A Brief Overview
More Frequently-Asked Questions about Social Security Disability Benefits
How can I get disability benefits from my relative’s Social Security work record?