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How to Apply for Disability Benefits

Social Security Disability benefits are there to provide for people who can’t work anymore due to accident, illness, or injury. Over eight million people receive disability payments every month. It’s not easy to qualify for the benefits, but the process may be worth it for you. Here’s what you need to do to apply.

Apply as soon as you become disabled

Because it can take a considerable amount of time to process your request for disability payments—and because of the mandatory waiting period—you should apply for disability benefits as soon as you can after you become disabled. This will make it more likely you’ll start getting benefits sooner—and won’t need to wait long for the assistance you need.

Man in Wheelchair

The standard of proof is fairly high when trying to qualify for disability benefits.

Apply online, over the phone, or in person

You can file a claim online* or if you’d rather do it with help, you can call the agency’s toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213, to set up an appointment to either go to your local Social Security office or have someone help you with your application over the phone. If you call, you will be sent a Starter Kit to help you get your documentation ready for the application. People who are deaf or hard of hearing can call 1-800-325-0778.

Prove your disability

You must prove to the program that your condition is severe enough to prevent you not only from doing the work you used to do, but from doing other types of work as well. You must also prove that your condition is expected to last at minimum for a year—if not forever. To get the benefits, you’ll need to provide medical reports documenting your condition. Some people choose to hire a lawyer to help them fill out the application, although you can do it yourself as well.

Have a history of paying Social Security taxes

To qualify for disability benefits, you’ll need to have worked and paid Social Security taxes for a certain amount of time—especially in the last few years before the beginning of your disability. The amount you get in benefits is determined by your wages and the amount you paid in Social Security taxes during your working years. Younger people, those in low-wage jobs, and those who left the workforce in the years before their disability began may be at a disadvantage.

Wait out the waiting period

If your claim is approved, you will have to wait five months for your disability payments to start. You cannot start receiving benefits before this time, even if your application is approved in less than five months. It often takes more than three months for an application to receive an answer.

Ask for reconsideration

If your claim is rejected, you can file a reconsideration request within two months of the date you receive your rejection notification. If you get another rejection, you can request a hearing within another two months. You can wait a long time for that, however—it can take almost a year for these hearings to occur after you request one.

The standard of proof is fairly high when trying to qualify for disability benefits. You’ll need to have documentation from your doctor, the names of medications you take, records of medical tests, documentation from any workers’ compensation claims you’ve filed, and other personal information such as marriage and divorce records, records of military service and discharge, names and birth dates for dependent children and spouses, and other relevant info. You can find a checklist online here that will help you get a better idea of the documentation you need. But with the right preparation, you may qualify for benefits that will make your life easier—so the work is worth it.