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Applying for Disability

How Do I Apply for Disability Benefits?

There are two ways that you can apply for disability benefits. You can:

  1. Apply at www.socialsecurity.gov; or

  2. Call to make an appointment to file a disability claim at your local Social Security office or to set up an appointment for someone to take your claim over the telephone. The disability claims interview lasts about one hour. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you may call between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on business days. If you schedule an appointment, we will send you a Disability Starter Kit to help you get ready for your disability claims interview. The Disability Starter Kit also is available online at www.socialsecurity.gov/disability.

When Should I Apply and What Information Do I Need?

You should apply for disability benefits as soon as you become disabled. It can take a long time to process an application for disability benefits (three to five months). To apply for disability benefits, you will need to complete an application for Social Security Benefits and the Disability Report. You can complete the Disability Report at www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityreport. You also can print the Disability Report, complete it and return it to your local Social Security office.

They may be able to process your application faster if you help them by getting any other information they need.

The information needed includes:

  • Your Social Security number;

  • Your birth or baptismal certificate;

  • Names, addresses and phone numbers of the doctors, caseworkers, hospitals and clinics that took care of you and dates of your visits;

  • Names and dosage of all the medicine you take;

  • Medical records from your doctors, therapists, hospitals, clinics and caseworkers that you already have in your possession;

  • Laboratory and test results;

  • A summary of where you worked and the kind of work you did; and

  • A copy of your most recent W-2 Form (Wage and Tax Statement) or, if you are self-employed, your federal tax return for the past year.

In addition to the basic application for disability benefits, there are other forms you will need to fill out. One form collects information about your medical condition and how it affects your ability to work. Other forms give doctors, hospitals and other health care professionals who have treated you permission to send us information about your medical condition.

Do not delay applying for benefits if you cannot get all of this information together quickly. We will help you get it.

Who Decides if I Am Disabled?

Your application will be reviewed to make sure you meet some basic requirements for disability benefits. They will check whether you worked enough years to qualify. Also, any current work activities will be evaluated. If you meet these requirements, your application will be sent to the Disability Determination Services office in your state.

This state agency completes the disability decision for us. Doctors and disability specialists in the state agency ask your doctors for information about your condition. They will consider all the facts in your case. They will use the medical evidence from your doctors and hospitals, clinics or institutions where you have been treated and all other information. They will ask your doctors:

  • What your medical condition is;

  • When your medical condition began;

  • How your medical condition limits your activities;

  • What the medical tests have shown; and

  • What treatment you have received.

They also will ask the doctors for information about your ability to do work-related activities, such as walking, sitting, lifting, carrying and remembering instructions. Your doctors are not asked to decide if you are disabled.

The state agency staff may need more medical information before they can decide if you are disabled. If more information is not available from your current medical sources, the state agency may ask you to go for a special examination. They prefer to ask your own doctor, but sometimes the exam may have to be done by someone else. Social Security will pay for the exam and for some of the related travel costs.

How They Make the Decision?


  1. Are you working? If you are working and your earnings average more than a certain amount each month, we generally will not consider you disabled. The amount changes each year. For the current figure, see the annual Update(Publication No. 05-10003).

    If you are not working, or your monthly earnings average the current amount or less, the state agency then looks at your medical condition.

  2. Is your medical condition “severe”? For the state agency to decide that you are disabled, your medical condition must significantly limit your ability to do basic work activities—such as walking, sitting and remembering—for at least one year. If your medical condition is not that severe, the state agency will not consider you disabled. If your condition is that severe, the state agency goes on to step three.

  3. Is your medical condition on the List of Impairments? The state agency has a List of Impairments that describes medical conditions that are considered so severe that they automatically mean that you are disabled as defined by law. If your condition (or combination of medical conditions) is not on this list, the state agency looks to see if your condition is as severe as a condition that is on the list. If the severity of your medical condition meets or equals that of a listed impairment, the state agency will decide that you are disabled. If it does not, the state agency goes on to step four.

  4. Can you do the work you did before? At this step, the state agency decides if your medical condition prevents you from being able to do the work you did before. If it does not, the state agency will decide that you are not disabled. If it does, the state agency goes on to step five.

  5. Can you do any other type of work? If you cannot do the work you did in the past, the state agency looks to see if you would be able to do other work. It evaluates your medical condition, your age, education, past work experience and any skills you may have that could be used to do other work. If you cannot do other work, the state agency will decide that you are disabled. If you can do other work, the state agency will decide that you are not disabled.

Special Rules for Blind People

There are a number of other special rules for people who are blind. For more information, ask for If You Are Blind Or Have Low Vision (Publication No. 05-10052).

They Will Tell You Their Decision

When the state agency reaches a decision on your case, they will send you a letter. If your application is approved, the letter will show the amount of your benefit and when your payments start. If your application is not approved, the letter will explain why and tell you how to appeal the decision if you do not agree with it.

What if I Disagree?

If you disagree with a decision made on your claim, you can appeal it. The steps you can take are explained in The Appeals Process (Publication No. 05-10041), which is available from Social Security.

You have the right to be represented by an attorney or other qualified person of your choice when you do business with Social Security. More information is in Your Right To Representation(Publication No. 05-10075), which is also available from Social Security.

How They Will Contact You

Generally, they use the mail or call you on the phone when they want to contact you about your benefits, but sometimes a Social Security representative may come to your home. Our representative will show you identification before talking about your benefits. It is a good idea to call the Social Security office to ask if someone was sent to see you.

If you are blind or have low vision, you can choose to receive notices in one of five ways. Your choices are:

  • A standard print notice by first-class mail; or

  • A standard print notice by certified mail; or

  • A standard print notice by first-class mail and a follow-up telephone call to read and explain the information in the notice; or

  • A standard print notice and a Braille notice by first-class mail; or

  • A standard print notice and a Microsoft Word file on a compact disc by first-class mail.

Other formats also may be available. For more information, visit this website at www.socialsecurity.gov/notices or call. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you may call this TTY number at 1-800-325-0778.