A decision to file for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) benefits can be difficult enough, but the actual process of filing a claim can be even more daunting. After all, nobody has ever claimed that any application for government benefits is easy.
Learning more about the application process, however, can ease a lot of concerns and help you understand what to expect. The basic process unfolds as follows.
You’ll contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) and ask to file
SSA offers two ways to apply for SSDI benefits. You can either call SSA’s service line at 1-800-772-1213 and ask for an appointment to file or you can simply hop online and start the application on SSA’s website. Be prepared to provide detailed information about your medical conditions, symptoms, education, work history and treatment providers.
SSA will screen your application to make certain that you qualify for benefits based on your age and work history. It will also screen you for eligibility for any Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits at the same time – so you do not need to try to figure out your eligibility on your own.
Your claim will be sent to the state’s Disability Determination Services (DDS)
Once your application is submitted, your file and any documentation you have collected to support your claim will be sent to the state’s DDS, in Raleigh. This state agency will contact all your medical providers to collect any additional medical records that may be out there. They may also contact you directly, to ask questions or schedule one or more consultative exams with an independent medical provider.
Once your file is as complete as possible, the claims examiner (in consultation with a doctor who reviews your file) will make a decision and either approve or deny your claim. This process can take three to five months. In this state, roughly 37% of initial applications were approved in 2022.
You can file for an appeal if your claim is denied
If your initial claim is denied, you can (and should) file an appeal. The first appeal is known as a Reconsideration. This essentially asks SSA to take another look, so your claim will be sent back to DDS – although a new claims examiner and physician will make the decision. Only 14% of claims in this state were approved this way in 2022.
If your claim is denied again, you can then file for a Hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge and present your case in person. About 62% of applicants had their claims approved that way in 2022. Unfortunately, you can be stuck waiting for months (or more than a year) to get to that point.
This is a very basic rundown of the steps you can expect ahead – but you may be able to shorten, strengthen and streamline the process by seeking legal assistance.