Although completing the application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is time-consuming, it’s relatively simple to begin and file once you gather the information required. You may initiate the application by going online to the SSA website if you’ve paid Social Security tax on your earnings over a certain number of years.
Although you can do most if not all of the application online, it may be in your interest to apply at the SSA field office closest to you to ask questions about the process. You may have questions about Social Security Supplemental Security Income (SSI) as well as Social Security disability income through SSDI. In some cases, it’s possible to qualify for both disability income programs.
It’s also possible to receive Social Security Administration assistance with the SSDI application by telephone. Contact the Social Security office in your area to start the process. Use SSA’s Locator tool to find the office nearest you.
SSA and the SSDI Application
If you’d like to initiate the SSDI process at a local Social Security office, contact Social Security at the general information line 1-800-772-1213. Explain to the SSA representative that you want to apply for disability income benefits. The representative will schedule an in-person or telephone appointment.
Ask the representative about the information required to complete the application. He or she can have the needed forms and paperwork mailed to you before the appointment takes place. The checklist of required documents will be included in the SSA packet.
SSDI Disability Application
Depending on your status, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or both. The SSA representative can help you fill out the proper forms.
- If you’re applying for SSDI, you will fill out Form SSA-16-BK as well as Form SSA-3368-BK.
[Note that If you’re applying for SSI, you will fill out Form SSA-8000-BK along with Form SSA-3820-BK for a child or Form SSA-3368-BK for yourself or a spouse.]
If you fill out this form online, you answer questions for a later phone interview or an online interview. There are 33 questions on the form. The answers to most of the questions are simple: your name, address, employer, spouse/family, and information allow SSA to review federal benefits for which you may be eligible.
- Pay close attention when answering questions about your disability date of onset. Question 10 asks you to enter the date “you became unable to work because of your illness – injuries – conditions.” The question seeks information to the onset date (or alleged onset date) to determine the claim date for the beginning of your disability.
- The earlier your disability onset date, the higher your backpay. Note that retroactive backpay won’t pay you for many years, but it’s possible to earn more than a year’s backpay in many circumstances if the onset date of your disability is longer than a year or two.
If you’re approved for receive SSDI benefits, SSA uses the information to calculate retroactive benefits. These retroactive benefits are paid to you as SSA “backpay.”
In some situations, disability onset may begin with a certain incident such as an auto accident. This is relatively easy for you to answer with a specific date. If your disability occurred as a sequence of events, such as one or more illnesses that caused your health to worsen over time, you may want to provide more information.
- SSA considers the date of onset as the time when you could no longer effectively perform your job.
- If you haven’t considered the onset of your disability, take some time to write down the history of illnesses. For instance, if you were still employed a few years ago but illness caused frequent absences and poor job reviews, SSA might consider this date as the date of onset.
- Your family or close friends can also help you recall the timeline. Illness may have prevented you from attending family get-togethers.
Doctors and medical providers can also help you create a timeline regarding the onset of your disability. In some cases, your condition may have worsened after hospitalization or during a period of concentrated treatments. Medical records in this case are essential to supporting the onset date of the disability.
SSDI and Your Disability Report Details
In addition to Question 10, pay special attention to Question 24. The question asks about your illnesses, injuries, and “conditions that limit your ability to work—give a brief description.”
It’s important to report the information honestly and accurately. Although you shouldn’t exaggerate your disability, provide complete, detailed answers to note how disability impacts the ability to perform a job to employer standards:
- If you’ve got chronic back pain, a statement that “I’m disabled because of a bad back” isn’t as complete as a statement, “My degenerative disc and spinal issues are progressive. I don’t walk without support. I can’t stand up more than a few minutes and need help with stairs.”
- SSA wants information from supporting medical records concerning the diagnosis as well as functional limitations caused by a physical or mental condition.
- You should provide each condition that limits the ability to perform work. List any and all, even if you don’t believe these conditions are “serious.” Multiple disabilities can create combined effects and limitations, reducing the ability to work.
- Include mental conditions that affect your ability to work. Although it may seem contra-indicated to explain your depression or hyperactivity, it’s important to answer the question as completely as possibility. Your depression and/or anxiety are important to include on the disability claim.
- You can add information on page five of the application in the <i>Remarks</i> Section if you don’t have enough room to answer Question 24 in depth.
SSDI Application Assistance
If you need help with the SSDI application and don’t want to engage legal help, SSA will help you to fill out the form at no cost. Contact SSA at 1-800-772-1213 to make a telephone or in-person field office visit.
It may also be possible to hire a disability representative (non-legal assistance) to assist in completing the SSDI forms. Ask your local library or community center for referrals if this idea interests you.