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6 Things To Know About Applying For Social Security Disability

6 Things To Know About Applying For Social Security Disability

Making the decision to stop working to take care of your health is difficult and deeply personal. I felt anxiety and guilt over leaving my career. The uncertainty of my future was a scary proposition. I felt like a failure. Taking steps to apply for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) is even scarier. Roughly 60-75% of applications are denied and 80% of appeals are denied.

However, I was able to gain approval within five months of applying and after one appeal. I want to share a few reasons why I think my case was approved so fast. These insights apply to anyone seeking approval of SSDI benefits, not just those with chronic migraine.

Discuss SSDI with your doctor

Is your doctor on board with you stopping work and applying for disability? A doctor’s recommendation is incredibly important. This should be a decision you and your doctor make together. Your doctor will have paperwork to fill out as part of your SSDI application as well as ongoing yearly reports if you are awarded benefits.

Before these documents are completed by your doctor, it is imperative that both of you are on the same page. If you don’t see eye-to-eye, then get a second opinion!

Also, ask if your doctor and their staff have experience in managing a patient who is on disability. Their competency in filling out forms in a timely manner will directly impact your application and the process. Don’t leave room for a surprise.

Obtain all your medical records

Prior to submitting your SSDI application, request ALL of your medical records. Don’t leave out any specialist you’ve seen. Co-morbidities are common for those with a chronic illness. Think about any visits to a cardiologist, gastroenterologist, OB/GYN, physical therapist, rheumatologist, neurologist, endocrinologist, and any CT or MRI scans that were used in your diagnosis. Even if you’ve only seen a doctor once, include records from at least the past five years.

When you receive all of your records, READ through all of it! This goes back to the notion of making sure you and your doctor are on the same page. While you may not be able to understand all the medical terms, you can tell if there is a negative comment you should address prior to submitting your records.

Treatments past and present

It’s important to gather information about your current medications and any other medical treatments you receive, such as physical therapy, infusions, and hospital visits. You should also provide a detailed list of every medication you’ve ever been on for your condition. Use your medical records to compile this list. Don’t leave out any complementary or alternative methods (CAM) you use or have tried in treating our condition. You want to show that you have exhausted a variety of options.


You’ll be asked to fill out a form to report on the degree of disability you face on a daily basis. Overwhelm them with details. This means opening up about the very real daily struggles, which we sometimes don’t like to admit, even to ourselves. Talk about needing help. Talk about how exhausting it is to do daily chores. Talk about the grief you experience because your life has changed. Compare your optimal work performance with your current work product. Be very specific. I think I wrote 10-12 pages in response to this questionnaire.

Talk to your family

Besides needing emotional support from your family or close friends, you may need them to submit forms that discuss the impact of your illness in your daily life. If you ever have to meet before a judge during the appeals process, having third-party testimony could be vital in making your case. Before it gets to that point, check with your loved ones to see if they are willing to be part of the process should you call on them to do so.

Hire a professional

Does this all seem overwhelming? It is. Going through the SSDI application process can feel like a full-time job. Remember that you are sick and things can fall through the cracks. That’s why you need to hire a professional. There are disability lawyers or patient advocacy groups that will help you with requesting medical records, meeting deadlines, and even fill out forms for you based on phone interviews. When looking for a disability specialist, you should not be asked to pay for their services unless and until you are awarded Social Security Disability benefits. Make sure you check out the reputation of a potential partner. Check the Better Business Bureau for any negative claims against them.

These are the lessons I learned during the SSDI application process. If you’ve been through SSDI application process, do you have any other tips that others could benefit from?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Deanna T
    3 months ago

    I keep reading about getting an attorney who specializes in disability. Where do I find a good one who is reputable and isn’t an ambulance chaser. My one try I was tricked by a company into believing I was dealing with SSDI. Then the aggressive bullying started to sign up with them. It was non-stop until I told them to leave me alone. I need an aggressive attorney for me not badgering me so they can take a lot of my money. I need one, can you steer me in the right direction and what is the normal contingency fee? Can you post an article?

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    3 months ago

    Hi Deanna,
    I’m so sorry that happened to you! It’s hard enough going through the insane process of SSDI, but then to be taken advantage of by someone you thought could help you is even worse!

    To point you in the right direction, I can offer you some advice when looking for an attorney that specializes in SSDI.
    1. Reputable attorneys will NOT get paid a dime unless or until YOU get APPROVED. They should do a free consulation to evaluate your case. If they decide to take on your case then they believe that you have a reasonable chance of getting approved.
    2. Retainer Fee- If you find an attorney you like and they ask for a retainer fee, that’s to lock in to keep you as a client. Honestly, most SSDI attorneys do NOT require a retainer fee. If they do, anything over $500 is ridiculous.
    3. The attorney’s group should help you with gathering all the paperwork and even helping you to answer any questionnaires you receive. They should keep you up to date on where your case stands throughout the process.
    4. If you get denied (and don’t get discouraged, denial is a pretty typical roadblock that SSDI uses in hopes it will discourage people from appealing), your attorney group will help you through the appeals process. Again- you shouldn’t be paying them anything throughout this process.
    5. Once you are approved for SSDI benefits, your first payment will be retroactive from the date you were considered disabled. Let’s say you and your doctor agreed that on Feb 1 you became disabled, but the SSDI process doesn’t award you benefits until December of the same year, your first check will be large because it will include back pay from Feb 1.
    6. This is when the attorney will get paid. Because you will receive a large lump sum, they take their fee out of these funds. Again, they should only get paid if YOU get approved.
    “Federal law generally limits the fees charged by Social Security disability attorneys to 25% of your backpay, or $6,000, whichever is lower,” according to
    7. I can recommend the disability group that helped me, but this is my own personal recommendation, not a recco by and I cannot guarantee that you will be awarded benefits. I just had a good experience with them.

    I hope this helps and I think you just helped me to write an article about this topic!! So definitely let me know if you have any other questions!
    -Katie moderator

  • ginamarie
    2 years ago

    Hi my brothers & sisters. I pray that everyone’s having a good day today. I am 42 yrs old and have been suffering from these debilitating migraines since I was a teenager.I had always dealt the best I could when I did have them then. I have always been a VERY headstrong, determined to run with the boys bc what they can do I could do too. EXTREMELY competitive & pushed myself to the MAX! I spent 8 yrs in the Army, then 6 years working at the Sheriff’s Dept in my hometown as their very 1st female correctional officer & then I started my own construction business (framing houses, painting, deck & fencing,roofing, etc). I was at the top of my game & the most successful female contractor in the area. Until 2011 Nov 23 (12 days after my 35th bday) & I woke up hours later in the hospital & unable to move my left side nor could I speak clearly from the drooping of my mouth. I was terrified when I realized I had all the symptoms of a stroke. Luckily by the next morning, after countless blood tests, CT Scans, MRI’s & even a very painful Spinal TAP, the Neurologist I was so blessed to be assigned to had an answer. A very unexpected & VERY shocking answer. It was not a stroke. She explained to me that I’d just began my journey down a very long road filled with these stroke systems (with long lasting affects on my mobility) and many other painful & scary symptoms. I was diagnosed with Sporadic Hemiplegic Migraines. In just a few hours while hanging out at a friend’s I’d gone from a tower of strength & independence to a person that struggles on a daily basis with so much pain, in fear of even driving bc 1.5 yrs ago I’d just left home when I began seeing auras & in a split second I was completely blind drifted in the ditch on the other side of the rd (unknowing until my vision returned) I’d hit a speed limit causing it to come through the windshield landing between myself & the passenger seat. Very close to decapitating me. Needless to say in fear of hurting someone else, it is EXTREMELY rare for me to drive anywhere. As if being forced to live this way (and a few other major issues that have) and try for disability, after arguing back & forth for 2 years, the day FINALLY arrived to go to court. Already feeling such disappointment & having very little self worth anymore & embarrassment for being in that courtroom practically begging while in tears from pain while literally having to stand, then sit for a min, then stand etc throughout the whole proceedings due to my back (which I’m having to have surgery on as soon as I can get the $$). The judge called my name. When I looked up he said something that still absolutely CRUSHES me! He says, “You have always been a very successful woman in professions in which men dominate. That is very impressive. But is also what makes me wonder how you went from a life of such ambition, profound strength both physically & obviously mentally to suddenly being this sick. And seemingly in just a short few years.” With the lady that was there to represent the SSA seeming to actually try to tell him that he really needed to look more into my file to see the seriousness of my conditions, he ended the hearing while trying to convince himself, I believe, that he would give my case careful consideration before making his final ruling. Walking out and seeing my husband in the lobby I broke down. It completely crushed me to my core. I am my own worst critic, I push myself to the point that the migraines are more frequent & debilitating, major nose bleeds & actually having seizures that’d started only since my 1st episode, the auras & my loss of vision are happening on a daily basis, practically living in my bed unable to be around anyone bc everything seems SO loud & practically withering away from the nausea & vomiting making it impossible to eat/keep food down causing major weight loss. Hearing what he said to me put me into an even deeper depression. As doctors in the past before my diagnosis, he made me feel so much disappointment & such aggravation toward myself that it is almost hatred bc I cannot FORCE this away & I can’t DO anything to change the fact that this has become my life! My husband & I are so far in debt bc of this & it hurts me so bad that I did the 1 thing I could to try to help him & just bc I always pushed myself to the max really in hopes to show any/everyone I came in contact with that you can do absolutely anything in life no matter what it is, your size or gender as long as you have heart & passion for it. And bc of my need to never give up nor quit, that judge was (I feel) was looking at me as the things in life I have always spoke & lived completely against. As if I just wasn’t trying/wanting to… looking at me as if I am just being lazy bc of my work ethics. And what upset me the most is I KNOW just how hard I have been fighting this & doing EVERYTHING I could (which REALLY caused fights at home) to not have to go after disability & that judge had me questioning whether or not I had really tried/pushed myself hard enough. I apologize for such a lengthy post. I just pray that no one else goes through this. It’s bad enough that we have to deal with the looks of disbelief of our crippling pain when we are forced to go to the ER. Love to ALL of you! Keep On Keeping On!

  • pigen51
    2 years ago

    I am also on disability, it’s not easy, but it is doable if you are actually disabled. I used a lawyer after I was denied. Binder and Binder is the one, but I am sure that other ones are good as well. I have had migraine for my adult life, I am 57, male, and lost my job of 36 years due to a bad employer. I tried to work other places, but could not work full time at the foundry type of work I had done. I ended up as a maintenance man at a trailer park, part time, until I had my hearing, and it was simple. It is not easy to get SSD, but records are your friends, and a journal won’t hurt. But it is worth the time and effort. My lawyer was fantastic, so I can recommend them, but I am sure that others are good as well

  • pigen51
    2 years ago

    I am on disability primarily for migraines. I also have some back issues that were tossed in to add to the cause, but mostly I am limited by migraines. I had FMLA through my employer, due to my missing so much time due to migraines. They actually sent me down for a drug test, saying I looked like I was acting weird that day. I was fired for having alcohol in my system, but they would not give me any paperwork proving it. I had been at work for 7 hours at the time, and I also didn’t drink. I knew from previous employees, that a lawsuit would not win. This place hires the same lawyers as those involved in the tobacco lawsuit.
    I was lucky, I had a 401 K, and I was able to draw on that the time I was off work, and working part time, I made it until I got my SSD. I also got a nearly 3 year back settlement, but that took quite some time, due to me having made a decent living, during my 36 years in the foundry, and they had extra hoops to jump through before they would release the money. In MI, the lawyers usually work on a percentage basis, with a statutory maximum of 6K$. It was worth every penny. I know that there are several on TV who advertise for this type of thing. I am sure that most of them are good, but I had a very easy time working with Binder and Binder. I was assigned a person with whom I had most of my contact. I received a LOT of stuff from them in the mail, needing my signature and often a notary public. Also papers to take to doctors. Also, try to remember all the doctors you see, and any other things, like what did they prescribe, did it work, etc. You will also have to fill out paperwork explaining what you do all day, like how active are you etc. Of course, it may be that your first application is approved and you are golden. I didn’t use a lawyer for the first part. But the same thing applies for the first part. If you can get enough good medical evidence, you CAN get approved the first time. I think I read once that the approval rate on the first time is like 40%, but that sounds a little high.
    Best of luck no matter what route someone takes. It can be a long road, but sometimes, it is the only one.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thanks for sharing. Also thanks for being part of the community, as I’m sure you know we don’t have a ton of men who interact. May I ask if chronic migraine was the main condition for which you received SSDI? Or were there other conditions?

    You’re right paperwork is key! It’s a pain, but clearly it can help during the disability process. I hope you are doing well.

    Best wishes!
    -Katie Team

  • JennS
    2 years ago

    I have suffered with migraines for over 20 years and have been on LTD for over a year and half now, so I was forced to file for Social Security Disability about 6 months ago. I didn’t hire an attorney, but my father & now my husband helped me ​keep every medical record, prescription, ER visit, surgeries, medical trials, etc. And when a doctor gives up on treatment then I sought a new one, many of which were the top of their field. Like another person said, I overwhelmed my SSD Application with all of this information going back 10 years with everything I had tried (biofeedback, infusions, 4 surgeries, work/no work/fewer hours/etc, Botox, Nerve Blocks, etc), tests I had run (MRI, MRA, CT), every ER & hospital visit, list of ALL medicines that I had tried over the past 10 years [for those that don’t have this, ask your pharmacy, your doctor’s office, access your hospital records, etc. Personally I save the top part of my monthly prescription in a card-box so that I have my dosage and Doctor’s name, or if you want digital you can download from your pharmacy at the end of each year]. Also when they asked how it effected my life I didn’t want to admit to myself how bad it is, but my husband helped me realize that I needed to be honest and explain that most days he has to maintain the house, pay the bills, drive me to tell doctor, and that I am not able to hold down a job. It all sucks and is an overwhelming application process, but apparently I did it all correctly because I was approved the first time around and they actually didn’t even call me once. I know I should be happy about this, but to me this just shows how bad my migraines are 🙁
    We desperately need to find a cure/treatment.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    2 years ago

    @Jenn S,
    Thanks so much for sharing your story. You made a couple of really good points. 1. You can apply for SSDI even years after you stopped working. 2. You have to be honest about your disability, which is a scary undertaking. It can also lead you to a place of acceptance about your life. Plus you deserve these benefits.

    Your husband sounds like an amazing person and you are very lucky to have him be so supportive. And you’re right, we do need a cure!
    Best Wishes,
    -Katie Team

  • carla-fisher
    2 years ago

    Riverleigh the max that you can be charged legally is 5000-6000 I can’t remember which. That lawyer was a blood sucker preying on people that don’t know any better.
    I think( but I’m not positive) that they can only take from your backpay award.
    Consult with a different attorney.

  • Kristy
    2 years ago

    I decided to apply after being at my job for 14 1/2 years. It was one of the most difficult decisions I ever made, but I knew I couldn’t continue as my chronic migraines were getting worse.
    I will say this it is daunting, overwhelming at times, but don’t give up. Documentation is key. Write everything down and then re-write it. It’s also about speaking their language. I fortunately am a pack rat, so all those meds I tried, I kept give you clues of doctor names and dates, old bills with dates, I went back as far as I was diagnosed. 16 yrs. ER visits, psychiatrist, CT, MRI, everything. too much is better than too little. And be honest on your daily life, that was the hardest part to get through. It was then I realized how bad things were. I couldn’t take the dogs out, do a load of dishes, get out of bed most days. And the side effects of the medications, we all know are horrible, tell it how it is. You can’t drive, or shouldn’t.
    I was approved 1st time. I know this is rare, and I am grateful it wasn’t drawn out.
    I also know others who after appeal have gotten approved. It seems if you are not willing to give up you will succeed in getting the benefits you deserve.

    Good luck, take your time, take lots of breaks, and no attorney should get any part of what is yours. You can do it.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    2 years ago

    Kristy- that’s really great advice! All of it!
    -Katie, team

  • riverleigh
    2 years ago

    I recently applied to Social Security. I received a denial even though I have chronic migraine, fibromyalgia and nueroendocrine cancer of the lung, I am not sufficiently disabled according to Social Security. The letter said I could take a lesser job that does not utilize my nursing skills and experience and a job for lesser pay. I contacted an attorney in my area. She said she felt I had a good case and that she would be willing to take it on for me. I would pay her 1/4 of my back pay and an additional 3000 dollars. I live on much less than a thousand dollars a month. I do not know where I would get 3000 extra dollars to pay her so I declined her services. It is hard to imagine the hoops you have to jump through and with some that you have to deal with-the embarrassment and almost shame you are made to feel during this process. I have decided not to pursue this disability further. Attorney fees are too much and the hoops too many.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    2 years ago

    @riverleigh I am so sorry this was your experience. The fee the attorney quoted you is so much higher than what I’ve heard from others. I’m glad you didn’t go with that person. And I know that its extremely draining to go through this process. I can give you a personal recommendation (not in any way endorsed by to a group that helped me through the process. They only get paid if you are awarded benefits and nothing comes out of your pocket. Check out the Advocator Group. They were wonderful to work with and took a lot of the burden off of me, which is what you need when you are disabled!
    -Katie Team Member

  • Shaggy78
    2 years ago

    I used an attorney and was approved without needing a single appeal. They took their fees from the back payments I received and I never paid a penny out of pocket. What seemed overwhelming became a very simple process because the lawyers obtained all my required medical records after meeting with me and documenting my journey through pain and illness over the past 10 years. They would reach out to me when they needed specific feedback and commentary from me. I am still in pain nearly 24/7 but now I have the freedom to manGe my symptoms HOW and WHEN I need to. On the many nights the pain prevents me from sleeping I know that I can take a nap the next whenever I need to help compensate. Not having to drive to work everyday and not having to worry about missing work to plan doctor appointments and the constant fear of being fired because I’ve missed too many days of work had been life changing! But so has the drastic drop in income! The most difficult transition was being forced to wait two years to be eligible for Medicare. Those two years I was forced to go without ANY medical insurance were very challenging financially and physically because I could not afford to see ANY of the specialists that had been helping over the years. Obamacare was not available and due to my pre-existing conditions no one would insure me. I could only afford to see my family physician who tried to help by taking over the roles those various specialists used to fill.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience! It’s always nice to hear success stories in navigating the difficult waters of Social Security Disability.
    I’m so sorry you had to wait 2 years before getting Medicare. Continuity of care is incredibly important in maintaining our health. I was so extremely lucky that the Affordable Care Act had been in existence (only a few months) when I stopped working!
    Thanks again for sharing!
    -Katie Team

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