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How to File for Disability – Tips for Filing

What ever you do, do not procrastinate! The reason being, because the process of pursuing a claim can be extremely time-consuming (e.g. setting up an appointment for a disability interview, having the claim worked on for several weeks or months by a disability examiner, filing appeals in the event that the initial claim, or disability application, is denied, etc), it is never a good idea to put off filing if:

A) You has a severe mental or physical impairment (or a series or combination of mental and/or physical impairments) and

B) That impairment or impairments is making it difficult for you to continue working at a level that earns a livable wage or income (social security refers to this as Substantial gainful work activity, or SGA).

Speaking as a former disability claims examiner for the Social Security Administration’s DDS (disability determination services), as well as having worked in claimant representation, I have found that many disabled individuals often procrastinate when it comes to filing for disability.

Typically, they procrastinate because they find the whole idea of filing for disability intimidating, or because they are unsure if their condition would eventually improve. In some instances, a person will find that their condition will improve making it possible to either stay at work, or return to work. But in a large percentage of cases, the individual will simply find that their condition remains the same or continues to worsen.

In either case, a number of months–sometimes even years–may have been lost. During that time lost, a case could have been won even if it involved having to file appeals.

The basic rule is simply that if a person’s limitations (physical, or mental, or both) make it impossible to either work, or work and earn a substantial and gainful income, they should seriously consider putting in a claim for disability benefits.

Getting a claim started

The first step in the disability process is to contact the Social Security Administration to schedule your disability interview. You may contact your local Social Security office by telephone, or make an office visit, or you can call the toll free Social Security number to have a disability claim taken or scheduled for you at your local office.

For those who are unclear about the differences between SSD and SSI, Social Security administers two disability programs — Social Security disability (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Social Security disability is based upon insured status, which is achieved through your work activity. Supplemental Security Income is a need-based program that does not depend upon your work history. SSI is based upon your income or resources.

If you file in-person at a social security office, or start the process with a phone call to a local office (you can also arrange to have the disability interview conducted over the phone if you have mobility or transportation issues), you do not need to be concerned as to which disability program you need to file in, because the claims representative, or CR, at the social security office will address both disability programs during your interview.

How can you help make your disability interview go smoothly?

The most important tip is that you should be prepared. In-person disability interviews can take ninety minutes or more depending upon how prepared an individual is. You should be able to answer questions with regard to the following:

1. You should have documentation of your birth, citizenship or alien status.

2. Your work history; in other words, the types of jobs that you have had prior to becoming disabled. For more information on how SSA views your work history: What does Social Security Disability Need to Know about your Work History and Jobs?

3. The names, addresses, phone numbers, and treatment dates of all the physicians, clinics, and hospitals that have treated you during your illness. For more information on how SSA uses your medical records in the decision-making process: Social Security Disability, Medical Records, and a Person’s Limitations .

4. Personal information about yourself such as your marriages, divorces–depending upon the type of benefit you are filing for–and children (minors or adult disabled children).

5. The claims representative will also ask questions about your resources (bank accounts, life insurance policies, land, trust funds, stocks, bonds, IRA’s, 401Ks, or cash) and your income (wages, short term disability or long disability benefits, veterans benefits, or any other source of income), in order to assess your potential entitlement to Supplemental Security Income.

If you have your information and documentation ready at the time you apply for disability with the Social Security Administration, you can make the process of filing for disability less stressful.


Resources: Social Security Disability Resource Center

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