How to Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits

By Jonathan Peterson

Copyright © 2015 AARP

The Social Security Administration considers it your responsibility to provide the information it needs. Evaluators may do fact-finding along the way, and they’ll guide you in providing the required materials. But in the end, the burden is on applicants, or their advocates, to make a persuasive claim.

It means pulling together a bunch of healthcare information, which could require multiple phone calls to your doctor(s) and following up if you need to. You need dates of appointments, tests taken, laboratory results, medications prescribed, and contact information for all your medical providers. You need to obtain all recent hospital records. You also need to re�?create your work experience over the last 15 years.

Cutting through the red tape

To apply for disability, you may have to fill out several forms. You can start the application online, by going to ssa.gov and clicking “Benefits,” then clicking “Apply Online for Disability.” This leads you to the application, as well as other forms the SSA wants to see.

If the SSA schedules meetings in the course of your claim or appeal, show up on time and come prepared.

Information you need to apply for disability benefits includes the following:

  • Facts about a workers’ compensation claim if you filed one, including the injury date, claim number, and payments you’ve received.

  • Your birth certificate (original or certified copy) or proof of legal residency.

  • Military discharge papers (DD Form 214; original or certified copy) for all periods of active duty.

  • Checking account number and bank routing number to sign up for direct deposit of benefits.

You also have to fill out other forms, which you can find online at ssa.gov. Potentially, they include the following:

  • Disability Report–Adult (SSA�?3368): The Disability Report–Adult asks for highly specific information about you and your condition. It wants to know your name, how to reach you, whether you speak English, and contact information for someone else who knows you.

    It asks you to list medical conditions, whether you’re working, when you stopped working, and details of your job history and education.

    This report also asks details about your medical treatment, including names of doctors and healthcare facilities you went to, visits to doctors, visits to the emergency room, kinds of tests taken, including dates, and a list of your medications.

  • Work History Report (SSA�?3369): The Work History Report asks you to list all the jobs you had for 15 years before your health problem, including how much you were paid at each job.

  • Function Report–Adult (SSA�?3373): The Function Report–Adult seeks details about your ability to handle routine tasks of daily life, such as bathing, preparing meals, shopping, getting around, and handling money. It also seeks insight into your social activities.

  • Authorization to Disclose Information to the Social Security Administration (SSA�?827): This form authorizes healthcare providers, employers, and others to disclose information about you to the SSA.

Gathering the best medical evidence: The role of your doctor

You need to establish a complete medical record of your condition, with material provided from a specialist in the field who knows a lot about your personal case, including your hospitalizations.

When it comes to your disability claim, all doctors aren’t equal. The SSA accepts information from various healthcare professionals about your condition. But the more a doctor has treated you, and the more expertise the doctor has in your type of problem, the more influential that doctor’s opinion will be.

The SSA is supposed to make every reasonable effort to get its medical evidence from the doctor who treats you, before it resorts to its own medical consultant. However, your doctor’s reports should be highly specific. They must state specifically what your impairments are, the tests that were done, and how your impairments affect your ability to function.

The SSA places less weight on the statement of a general practitioner, a doctor who gives an opinion unsupported by objective findings, or a doctor who isn’t familiar with you and who doesn’t have much experience in treating your type of problem.

The doctor’s statement should focus on the details of your condition and how it affects what you can and can’t do. If your condition limits your ability to perform certain work tasks on a sustained basis, your doctor should back that up in clear detail.

When your personal doctor’s findings aren’t consistent with other medical findings or otherwise raise questions, or if the SSA can’t obtain the information it needs from a doctor who knows you, it may seek further information or another view. In such cases, the SSA may set up a consultative examination, conducted by a doctor it pays for.

Getting help

Most states have programs to help older Americans and people with disabilities apply for programs like SSDI and SSI, known as Aging and Disability Resource Centers. Contact your state Department on Aging to find a location and get started.

You should seriously consider getting an experienced advocate if you want to win a claim for Social Security disability. Representatives include lawyers and trained non�?lawyers. Representation becomes even more important if your initial claim has been turned down and you go through the appeals process.

Unlike most Social Security benefits, disability decisions turn on a range of evidence that may be interpreted differently by different people. Your advocate can help guide your doctor to provide evidence that is most relevant to your case, instead of being vague and general. Further, challenges to SSA decisions must follow a set process for appeals and are considered in a type of administrative legal system that an experienced representative knows about.

If you want to hire an advocate, find a lawyer or other expert who is experienced in the specialized area of Social Security disability claims.