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What You Need to File for Social Security Disability Benefits

Copyright © 2012 AARP. All rights reserved.

When you’re applying for disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will need a lot of information about your identity, work history, and medical records. You should file for disability benefits as soon as you become disabled. (Benefits may be payable five months after the onset of a disabling condition.)

Dependent family members may file for auxiliary benefits based on the record of a disabled worker. A parent or guardian may file for benefits on behalf of an unmarried child who is under 18; under certain circumstances, children 16 and older who are mentally competent may sign their own applications.

The SSA doesn’t go by the honor system. The documents you provide to back up your claim generally must be originals or official copies certified by the issuing agency — notarized photocopies won’t cut it. If you don’t have the proper certificates, the SSA may consider other evidence, but it's much smoother if you have the originals.

Some advocates believe that individuals with obvious impairments may improve the chances that their claim will be approved by showing up at an SSA office in person to apply.

The following information and documents generally will be needed to apply for disability benefits:

  • Your Social Security number, as well as the Social Security numbers of your spouse and minor children.

  • Your birth certificate (original or certified copy) or an acceptable religious record (such as a baptismal certificate) from earlier than age 5.

  • Contact information for doctors, hospitals, and medical personnel who have treated you.

  • Dates of your healthcare appointments related to this condition.

  • Your prescription information.

  • Your medical records and lab results related to this condition.

  • A summary of your work history (the last five jobs you’ve held).

  • Your most recent Form W-2 earnings statement (one from each of your employers) or your tax return (if you’re self-employed). Photocopies of these documents are acceptable.

  • Your military discharge papers, such as DD Form 214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty). Photocopies of these papers are acceptable.

  • Information on other disability claims filed with insurance or workers’ compensation.

  • Name and contact information of a friend or relative who can help you with the application.

You may be eligible for up to 12 months of benefits prior to your application date, but not for any month before you became disabled. Back benefits also depend on when the SSA concludes that your disability began.

If a worker is getting Social Security disability benefits and reaches full retirement age, the SSA will automatically shift the benefits from disability to retirement benefits. The benefit level will not change, however.

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