April 25, 2013

Filing Your Initial Social Security Disability Application

I receive numerous telephone calls from my Indiana neighbors asking how to file an initial Social Security disability application. I typically recommend that they start the application process on their own, because most of the initial application involves providing information to the Social Security Administration (SSA) that only the claimant will know.  It is usually easier to provide that information directly to the SSA rather than to go through an intermediary.

There are essentially three ways to file an initial claim:

  • Visit your local Social Security office.  If you want to talk face to face with someone when you file your claim, this is your best option.  One advantage to applying in person is that you can get answers to any
    questions you may have, and having a Social Security employee assist you with your application should help to ensure you are providing all of the information the SSA wants.  On the other hand, if you go to the office without an appointment you may have to take a number and wait for a long time before finally being able to talk to a Social Security employee.
  • Call the toll free number.  By calling 1-800-772-1213, you can talk to a Social Security employee who can answer your questions.  Most likely, the employee will make an appointment for you to either visit your local office or complete a telephone interview to start the application process.
  • Visit the Social Security’s website at www.ssa.gov.  If you are comfortable using a computer, this is by far the most convenient option.  At Social Security’s website, you can complete your application online without having to make an appointment or spend time waiting at the local office.  The website takes you step by step through the application form and the Adult Disability Report.  Once you have completed all the steps, the website will instruct you to print some pages and mail them to your local office.  Your local office will then contact you regarding the next steps of the initial application process.

Knowing how to apply, though, is only the beginning.  There are a few things to remember while you are completing the initial application.

First, it is important to understand there are two distinct programs for disability benefits.  Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a program for disabled workers who have “paid into the system” by having Social Security taxes deducted from their paychecks.  These workers are only entitled to disability benefits if they have worked enough in the past ten years to build up enough work credits to qualify.  Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a program that does not require claimants to have work credits, but it does require them to meet certain income and resource limits.  Otherwise, both programs use essentially the same criteria to determine whether a claimant is disabled.  I generally tell my clients to apply for both programs; in the event they are eligible for one program but not the other, they have all their bases covered.

Additionally, one of the most important things to remember when you are filing an initial application is to provide thorough and detailed answers to the questions. The SSA will want to know all of the medical treatment you have received for your disabling condition as well as the names of all of your medications.  They will need your medical providers’ names, addresses, and telephone numbers, as well as the reason each one treated you and the dates of your appointments or treatments.  They will also want to know the names of your medications, who prescribed them, and why you take each one.  This information is critical to your claim, because the SSA will use it to request your medical records and determine your impairments.  The only way the SSA will know which physicians you have seen and what medications you are taking is if you tell them, and the easier you make it for them to contact your doctors by providing addresses and phone numbers the better.  To rely on the Social Security Administration to fill in the blanks regarding this critical data with only minimal input from you may be a big mistake.

In my experience as an Indiana disability lawyer, I believe you should not rely on the SSA to do all of the work in obtaining the information it needs to decide your case.  Even though your case is very important to you, Social Security employees process numerous cases every day, and they have limited time and resources.  By providing as much information as possible, you may be able to make their job easier and improve the chances that the SSA will have enough information to make a favorable decision.  One of my main goals as an attorney is to submit documentation that makes it easier for the SSA to find my clients disabled.

The preceding is for your information only and is not intended as legal advice.

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