How to Apply for Social Security Disability Insurance

For many people, grasping the complexities of Social Security Disability Insurance is a little intimidating. There are many misunderstandings about this important program, including how one begins the process of applying for Social Security Disability benefits.

If you don’t know how to apply for SSDI, it can seem overwhelming. While the process isn’t as scary as you might think, it does require some time and effort. Additionally, the better prepared your application, the less likely it is that your application will be denied.

To help you get started applying for SSDI, we want to offer you a basic introduction outlining the steps you need to take. The information we provide below is simply a general outline of what you should do, but it’s important to note that to best prepare an application, you’ll need to tailor the process based on your specific circumstances.

If you are considering applying for SSDI and would like assistance with your application, John R. Colvin can help you in every step of the process. Having a Social Security Disability attorney handle your application will significantly reduce the likelihood of a denial, in addition to saving you a great deal of time and worry.

Let’s break down the SSDI application process…

Before you begin: You might want to make sure you qualify for benefits. To qualify, you must have worked long enough and recently enough in jobs under Social Security, and you must have a disability that meets Social Security disability criteria. You can find out the specifications by visiting SSA’s page on these qualifications.

There are also exceptions to these two criteria. For example, a person might qualify if they…

  • Are blind or have low vision.
  • Are the spouse of deceased worker.
  • Are a disabled child.
  • Qualify for the Wounded Warrior & Veterans programs.

Gather and Prepare Relevant Information

If you believe that you qualify for benefits, you should begin preparing for an application. Waiting too long can disqualify you from benefits. Delaying the application might also be causing you to miss out on the benefits you could be receiving had you applied sooner.

Step 1: Begin with the SSDI application from the Social Security Administration, which you can find here. You can also call SSA at 1-800-772-1213. If you are hearing-impaired, you can call TTY 1-800-325-0778. The third option is to visit your local Social Security office, which you can find here.

Step 2: You will need to provide personal information to SSA, including…

  • Your Social Security number and documentation that proves your age.
  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of doctors, caseworkers, hospitals, and clinics that took care of you, along with the dates of your visits.
  • Names and dosages of all the medications you are currently taking.
  • Medical records that you already possess, including laboratory and test results, from your doctors, therapists, hospitals, clinics, and caseworkers.
  • A summary of your work history and your most recent W-2 form, or a copy of your federal tax returns if you were self-employed.
  • Social Security numbers and proof of age for each family member who may qualify for benefits.
  • You might need to submit documentation that proves your marriage, particularly if your spouse is also applying for benefits. You might also be asked to provide dates of any previous marriages.
  • To qualify for SSDI benefits you will need to provide your income statements. Your income must be under $1,170 per month. If you make too much money, you will not be issued benefits—even if you are medically disabled. 

SSA might require the originals of documents listed above, though copies certified by the issuing office will also be acceptable.

With all of this information in hand, you will be in a position to effectively apply for SSDI benefits. You have the right to visit the Tullahoma Social Security District Office in person for additional assistance. Though, you are certainly not required to do so. The SSA allows people to file for SSDI benefits online

Step 3: At any point during the process, you can consult the SSA Disability Starter Kit, which will help you prepare for an interview with an SSA representative or with locating the information you need for the application.

Step 4: If your application is denied, then SSA also provides the opportunity for appeals. You can file an appeal by following this link for denials based on medical reasons or this link for denials for other reasons. You can also begin the appeal process by calling 1-800-772-1213 or TTY 1-800-325-0778 if you are hearing-impaired.

Know the Factors that Affect Your SSDI Benefits

The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses several different factors to calculate an applicant’s disability benefits. Depending on the specific circumstances of your case, any combination of the following may affect your Social Security disability benefits: 

  • Work History: In contrast to the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, an individual must have “paid in” to SSDI to be eligible for benefits. Your work history will impact both your eligibility and your level of benefits. As explained by the Social Security Administration, the number of work credits you need to qualify for SSDI benefits depends on your age. If you have questions about work history and your benefits, a Tennessee Social Security disability attorney can help.  
  • Average Monthly Earnings: In calculating your SSDI benefits, the federal government uses a formula based around a number called ‘Average Indexed Monthly Earnings’ or ‘AIME’. Essentially, the SSA uses a complex weighted curve to determine exactly how much should be paid in SSDI benefits based on an applicant’s age, work history, and career earnings. To get a better understanding of your potential compensation, the agency offers a basic Social Security benefits calculator that you can use to reach an estimate. 
  • Offsets (Reductions): Your current monthly income (or lack of income) will impact your benefits. Some SSDI beneficiaries will have their benefits offset (reduced) because they are receiving support from another program. Most often, this is an issue for people who are getting workers’ comp benefits or some other type of retirement benefits.

Most SSDI beneficiaries receive between $800 and $1,800 per month—with the maximum disability benefit being just over $3,000 per month. Calculating SSDI benefits can be complicated. We do not want people or families to leave money on the table. You need the full financial support that you are entitled to under federal law. If you believe that you are owed more than you are actually receiving, an SSD lawyer can help. 

What Happens After You Submit Your Application?

After submitting your application or working directly with an SSA representative, your application will go through the determination process. Your local office will review your application before transmitting it to the Tennessee Disability Determination Section. Your application will be reviewed to be sure all requested information has been provided and that everything is accurate. It will then be determined whether you qualify for benefits.

It will generally take several weeks to find out whether your initial application has been approved. Though the time frame varies, depending on several factors, you can expect the wait to be anywhere between 30 to 90 days, or longer. It is important not to submit a second application before you hear back about your first. If SSA receives a second application, it can lead to a denial.

Many Initial SSDI Applications are Denied

Most initial applications for SSDI benefits are denied by SSA. The reason for many of these denials is that technical errors or omissions were made when filling out the application. SSA might also deny your application if it believes you do not qualify for benefits because you do not meet their criteria.

If an applicant wishes to remedy an error that led to the denial or to make the case that their condition does meet the SSA’s criteria, they can then begin the process of an appeal. Appeals are common, but they are just as likely to lead to a denial as the first application if the errors aren’t addressed or a better argument isn’t made about the qualifications of the applicant. If an appeal is made, it is vital to determine why an application was denied so adjustments can be made.

As a general rule, you have 60 days to file for reconsideration after receiving a denial letter. Reconsideration is essentially the first stage of appeal. If your claim was denied, it is imperative that you consult with a Tullahoma SSDI lawyer right away. Do not give up on your rights. A lawyer will help you build a compelling appeal. 

How to Maximize Your Chances of a Successful SSDI Application

A thoroughly prepared application is the best way to maximize your chances of being approved for benefits. As you can see, SSA requires a great deal of information, and it is generally a stickler for details. Even minor oversights or omissions can lead to a denial, so it is best to invest a significant amount of time and effort into an application. For many applicants, working with an SSDI attorney is the preferred approach.

As a firm that helps people prepare their initial applications and appeals, it is our experience that enlisting the services of a Social Security Disability Insurance attorney can help applicants avoid common errors that prompt a denial. We have helped many clients apply for benefits and appeal a denial, and this experience allows us to make sure an application has the best possible chance of being approved.

Contact John R. Colvin For Help with Your SSDI Application

Tennessee Work Attorney John R. Colvin helps clients apply for SSDI benefits, and he knows how to steer applicants clear of pitfalls they might encounter when submitting an application. For someone struggling with a disability, the added stress of applying for benefits can seem overwhelming. For more than 20 years, John R. Colvin has worked with SSDI applicants throughout Tennessee and Alabama to get them the benefits they deserve.

If you have questions about applying for SSDI or appealing a denial from the Social Security Administration, we encourage you to contact John R. Colvin to speak to an attorney who can help you or your loved one.

Licensed to Practice in Tennessee & Alabama