Social Security Disability Benefits: The Basics
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The federal Social Security Administration administers two programs for disabled people. Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) is provided to people who have paid the payroll taxes that fund the program. Supplemental Security income is a need-based program (SSD).

  • The Social Security Disability (SSD) program pays benefits to disabled people who have worked long enough (generally 5 of the last 10 years) and paid Social Security taxes.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is awarded to disabled adults and children with limited resources
  • The requirements are the same under both programs for most people.
  • You file separate applications for each of these programs.

STEPS OF THE APPLICATION & APPEALS PROCESS:

1. File your application. There are two parts to your application: the Application for Disability Benefits Insurance and the Disability Report.

You can file:

  • In person at your local SSA office. Call 1-800-772-1213 to make an appointment.
  • By mail. Call 1-800-772-1213 to order materials or stop by your local SSA office. You can find the location online or in the phone book.
  • By phone. Call 1-800-772-1213.
  • On the Internet. To complete your application, go to: http://www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability/
  • To complete the Disability Report, go to: http://www.ssa.gov/disability/3368/steps.htm

If you use the option to file on the Internet you can stop and save your application at any time and return to it later. This is a great help if you need to search for any of the information asked for or need to pace yourself because of your illness or other time constraints.

2. A Claims Representative at your local SSA field office assesses the non-medical aspects of your claim (employment status, assets, income, etc.).

3. A Disability Examiner at the disability determination agency in your state works with a doctor to make an initial determination on your application. The Disability Examiner will read your Disability Report to become familiar with your case and request medical records from your care providers based on the medical information you have provided. You may be awarded benefits at this stage. If so, you are finished with the process. If not, you’ll need to keep following these steps.

4. Request reconsideration of your case by another Disability Examiner. (In most states. Some states have done away with this step.) You may be awarded benefits at this stage. If so, you are finished with the process. If not, you’ll need to keep following these steps. (Unfortunately, you are statistically unlikely to be awarded benefits at this stage.)

5. Request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who works for the Social Security Administration. You may be awarded benefits at this stage. If so, you are finished with the process. If not, you’ll need to keep following these steps.

6. Appeal the ALJ decision to the Appeals Council. You may be awarded benefits at this stage. If so, you are finished with the process. If not, you’ll need to keep following these steps.

7. Appeal the Appeals Council decision to federal district court. (These appeals can continue all the way to the United States Supreme Court). If you have reached this point it is absolutely imperative that you retain the services of an attorney if you have not already done so. Litigation is complicated and you deserve the services of an expert who can advocate for your interests and guide you through the intricacies of the process.

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