This is the most important thing you can do, for two reasons. First of all, your health should be your priority, so get treatment as soon as possible. Second, medical records documenting your condition will help you get benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) wants to see proof that you are disabled before approving your application.
File an application
The application for Social Security disability is called a "Disability Report." You can file online, by phone or by mail. You have to show that your disability has prevented you from working, or will prevent you from working, for at least 12 months. This can be hard to prove before 12 months have passed, but if you believe your disability will last that long, you can file the application at any time.
Wait for a letter
After your application is submitted, the Disability Determination Services office will review your case. You may be asked to submit to an examination. This office will make a decision about whether you should receive disability benefits. That decision is then sent to the SSA. If your claim is approved and the SSA agrees, you will receive a letter explaining the amount of your benefits and when you can expect payments to start. If your claim is denied, your letter should explain why. A denial of benefits is very common, but you can appeal.
Appeal if benefits are denied
There are three levels of appeals you can go through if your benefits are denied. First, you can file a Request for Reconsideration, where your case is given to another person who will make a new determination of whether you should get benefits. Often, this ends with the same result. Next, you can file a Request for Hearing where you will go before a judge who will make a decision. If you haven't done so already, you should hire an attorney to represent you at this hearing. After that, if your benefits are again denied, you may appeal to the Social Security Appeals Council, and then you can even take your case to federal court.
Beware of deadlines
One reason to hire an attorney to help you navigate this process is because there are deadlines. You only have a certain number of days after a denial to file an appeal. If you miss a deadline, you could permanently hurt your case.
Additional resources provided by the author
Applying for Social Security Disability is frustrating because it's common for benefits to be denied. Although you can file on your own, we recommend hiring an attorney with experience and success in getting benefits for their clients. If you are disabled and unable to work, you need benefits as soon as possible. Contact us for a referral and a free consultation.