Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs offer disability benefits, but applying for the federal government aid could be a difficult. There are several ways to apply for these program, and a lot of information is normally required. Here is an overview of the application process and what to expect after you’ve applied.

One way to apply for SSDI or SSI is by using the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) online application, by calling 1-800-772-1213, or by making an appointment at a local Social Security office. (To find your local office, click here.) 

The Social Security Administration recommends that applicants gather all their information before applying, but if obtaining some documents and information is going to take a while, it’s better to apply first, and then worry about obtaining the required information. According to the SSA’s website, the information and documentation you need includes:

  • Medical records
  • Workers’ compensation information
  • Names and dates of birth for your minor children and spouse
  • Dates of marriages and divorces
  • Checking and savings account routing numbers
  • Emergency contact information

You should also have detailed information regarding your disability condition(s) to provide throughout the application process. The names, addresses and phone numbers for all medical personnel or facilities where you have been treated; the names of all prescription medications used to treat your condition(s); and also your detailed job history for the last 15 years. You should be prepared to provide additional information regarding your family’s finances, income and assets if you are applying for SSI.

You will be required to send the Social Security Administration additional supporting documentation and proof U.S. citizenship or legal residence if you decide to apply over the telephone or on the internet. The SSA will forward your application to a state disability agency to make a decision about your eligibility for benefits.

Rejections and Appeals of Rejected Applications 

The SSA initially approves only about 30 percent of disability applications. If your application was rejected, it is very important to immediately retain a competent attorney to lead you through the steps in the appeals process. Most importantly, do not delay; not filing a timely appeal could ruin your chances of obtaining disability benefits that you may be entitled to receive beginning on the date of your initial application.

The application appeals process can be strenuous and difficult, but it’s definitely worth the time and effort considering the access to important federal benefits and medical coverage provided by these programs. The first course of action to take upon the denial of an application is a “request for reconsideration,” at this stage the disability agency that made the initial determination gets to review the application a second time. Only a small percentage of appeals are won at this initial level. If the application is rejected again after reconsideration, the second step would be to plead your case during a hearing before an administrative law judge. Although there is not much of a chance to win the appeal at this level of the appeals process, the probability of winning increases if you are represented by a competent attorney. If the administrative law judge rejects your appeal, then there is yet another level to appeal, the Appeals Council. Unfortunately, the Appeals Council approves only about 2 to 3 percent of all appeals. Your final recourse would be to file suit in federal court, which can be a very expensive course of action.

Retroactive and Back Payments 

The disability application process can take several months, therefore, the SSA awards approved applicants back payments that they would have been awarded during the months between the date their application for benefits was filed and the date that the final determination was made.

In addition to back payments, SSDI (but not SSI) recipients could be eligible for retroactive payments going back one year from their application date if they were disabled during that time. When calculating retroactive payments, the SSA strikes five months off of a successful applicant’s established disability onset date. In other words, for an applicant to receive the full 12 months of retroactive benefits, he would have to have been disabled for 17 months prior to filing the application.

We know all these rules seem complicated, that’s because they are. Prior to applying for benefits, it is extremely important for you to discuss the disability application process with your special needs planner so that you will have an accurate idea of what is needed and what your chances are before you begin your application.