What to Expect When Applying for Social Security Disability

Applying for Social Security disability (SSD) can be a long and stressful process. It often takes several months to receive an eligibility determination from the government, and the process can be even longer if the claim is initially denied and goes into appeal. Claimants can help ease this tension by understanding the process before they start.

Who Qualifies for Social Security Disability?

Social Security Disability benefits are available to claimants who are unable to engage in any substantial gainful employment because of a physical or mental disorder that is expected to either result in death or last for more than 12 months. It's important to note that SSD benefits are not available to people who simply can't go back to their regular job — rather, they generally must have a disability that prevents them from doing any meaningful work.

Usually, SSD benefits are only available to claimants who have worked in the past and paid taxes into the Social Security system.

How Does the Government Determine whether a Person is Disabled?

First, the government checks a claimant's earnings and work history. If the claimant is working and is earning more than $1,000 per month, the government generally will not consider that person disabled.

Next, the government determines whether the claimant's condition is severe enough to interfere with basic work activities. The Social Security Administration maintains a list of medical conditions that are so severe that a claimant will automatically be deemed disabled. If the claimant's condition is not on that list, or is not as severe as the condition is described on the list, the government will undertake a medical review to determine whether the condition is severe enough to prevent the claimant from working.

What Evidence is Required to Prove Disability?

All SSD claims require medical evidence of disability. Many claims are decided based on a review of medical records from the claimant's treating physicians. However, the government will sometimes require that the claimant's doctor provide an additional report that details the claimant's disability.

If the evidence a claimant provides to prove disability isn't enough, the government may seek additional information by asking the claimant to participate in a consultative examination. The consultative examination is a comprehensive medical exam designed to evaluate the claimant's work-related abilities. Often, this examination is performed by the claimant's regular doctor. However, the government may ask the claimant to see a different doctor under certain circumstances.

Disability claimants can help speed their claim by explaining their situation to their doctor ahead of time. This helps the doctor make sure their medical records properly document the claimant's disability.

Due to the complexity of the process, SSD claimants are advised to contact an experienced Social Security disability attorney who can help them navigate the claims process.