Disability Benefits Application Process

Applying for Social Security disability benefits is often an overwhelming process. That’s why we’ve consulted our team of experienced lawyers and representatives to put together this step-by-step guide to assist you in securing the benefits you deserve.

Below are our no-nonsense guidelines for how to communicate with the Social Security Administration, plus additional tips and tricks we’ve learned from our years of helping people to successfully apply for benefits.

How to Apply for Disability Benefits

You should apply for disability benefits as soon as you become disabled. If you are ready to apply now, you can:

  • Complete your application online
  • Call Social Security’s toll-free telephone number at 1-800-772-1213
  • Visit your local Social Security office
  • Contact us today for a free case evaluation and get connected with a social security disability lawyer or representative

You will be required to provide the Social Security office with certain personal information when applying for disability benefits. It is helpful to have this information on hand when completing your application:

  • Your Social Security number and proof of your age
  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of doctors, caseworkers, hospitals, and clinics where you have been treated and the dates of your visits
  • Names and dosages of all the medications you are taking
  • Medical records from your doctors, therapists, hospitals, clinics, and caseworkers, that you already have in your possession
  • Laboratory and test results
  • A summary of where you worked and the kind of work you did
  • Your most recent W-2 form or, if you were self-employed, a copy of your federal tax return

Information About Family Members

  • Social Security numbers and proof of age for each family member who may qualify for benefits
  • Proof of marriage, if your spouse is applying for benefits, as well as dates of prior marriages, if applicable

If you don’t have all the documents you need, don’t delay filing for benefits. Additional documentation can be supplemented at a later time.

You will also be required to answer questions pertaining to your disability and your work history, and may be asked to complete an Activities of Daily Living Questionnaire.

Your medical records will need to be provided to the Social Security examiner and you may be asked to undergo a consultative exam with their doctor. There must be evidence that your disability will last at least twelve months in order to qualify for disability benefits.

Evaluating Your Claim

Once your application has been submitted, the Social Security office will check to see whether or not you have worked enough to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. They will also look to see whether your current employment status disqualifies you from receiving disability benefits. If you meet the necessary criteria, the Social Security office will send your application to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) department for a full review.

If the examiner reviewing your case does not have enough medical documentation to prove your disability, they may require you to attend a consultative exam. In some cases, more than one consultative exam may be requested.

Once DDS has received all of the information needed to process your claim, they will then evaluate and approve or deny it. Their decision is based on the combination of medical evidence provided, whether or not your specific disability is included in the Social Security Listing of Impairments, if you are able to perform past work or perform any type of work at all.

After SSA approves or denies your claim, you will receive a letter notifying you of their decision. If you are approved for benefits, the letter will state the amount of your monthly benefits and when those benefits will begin. If your application is not approved, the letter will explain why you were denied Social Security Disability benefits and outline the steps needed to appeal the decision.

Denial and Appeal

The SSA may determine that you do not meet the qualifications for disability benefits. If you disagree with their decision, you have the right to request an additional review of your application. The notice you receive from the SSA will provide instructions on how to appeal their decision and the time period in which you must submit the request.

If the SSA determines you don’t qualify:

  • Because you are not disabled under their rules, you can appeal their decision online
  • For non-medical reasons, you can appeal their decision online
  • The online disability report will ask you for updated information about your medical condition and any treatment, tests, or doctor visits since they made their decision

You may also call their toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 to request an appeal.

Federal Court Appeal

You are given 60 days from the date of the Appeals Council’s decision to file an appeal. To do so, you must file a civil complaint with the U.S. District Court nearest you. A civil complaint is a brief overview of both allegations and facts entailing what your case is about.

Under federal law, the SSA cannot be sued directly. This means the defendant is whomever the current Social Security commissioner is when the complaint is filed.

The SSA cannot help you with a complaint for a federal appeal. Your options are to either file the complaint yourself or hire a disability attorney or representative experienced in appealing denials at the federal level.

What Happens After Filing a Complaint?

Once the complaint is filed, a summons will be issued by the court. You must serve both the summons and a copy of your complaint on the SSA to the Office of the General Council (OGC).

After the SSA has been served, an attorney for the SSA will file an answer explaining why the ALJ and AC were correct in denying your claim. From here, you’ll have to file an opening brief.

What is an Opening Brief?

An opening brief aims to convince the federal judge that the ALJ did not properly consider the evidence or make their decision in accordance with the law. This brief does not allow for the submission of new evidence.

The opening brief is crucial in the federal appeals process. A disability attorney or representative who is experienced in written federal appeals briefs is highly recommended.

What Happens After Filing an Opening Brief?

After the brief is filed, the SSA has the opportunity to file a response brief. This is the SSA’s chance to explain why the ALJ’s decision was correct. You may then file a reply brief, which is your final opportunity to defend your position and expose flaws in the SSA’s argument. Rarely, the court will schedule in-person arguments.

Once the briefs have been filed and the in-person arguments have concluded, the federal judge will make a decision and issue a written opinion. It is important to note that this process can take at least a full year.

How Will the Judge Make Their Decision?

The judge may decide to do any of the following:

Remand the case: A federal judge may remand, or send back, a claim to the ALJ for reconsideration. This means the judge has directed the ALJ to review issues and factors that were not originally fully considered. It is not unusual for a remanded case to be approved by an ALJ, as they will be wary of making a decision that may ultimately be overturned by a federal judge.

Affirm the ALJ’s decision: If the federal judge agrees with the previous ruling by the ALJ and AC, you will be denied your disability benefits. This denial can be appealed to the Federal Circuit Court; however, this process is more difficult and more expensive.

Reverse the ALJ’s decision: If the federal judge agrees with your position, the ALJ’s opinion will be overturned and you will be awarded disability benefits.

the approval process for disability benefits

Need Help Applying for Disability Benefits?

You could be entitled to $3,822 a month. See if you qualify today!

Step 1 of 2