Understanding the Social Security Disability Application Process

Applying for Social Security benefits can present many challenges and frustrations. At the Disability Benefits Law Center, our attorneys provide experienced legal assistance to help our clients overcome these obstacles. We have helped thousands of people obtain Social Security Disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, and we can help you. Whether you need help with your Social Security application, need assistance with your SSI application or have questions about filing for Social Security, contact us to arrange your free consultation.

What Are the Steps in the Decision-Making Process?

  • The application is filed with the Social Security Administration. See our "essential advice" page for printing information about your application and improving your application.
  • State agency (initial) determination. This is the first decision in all cases. It can take three to six months and can involve a state agency medical exam or testing. You have 60 days to appeal an unfavorable decision for reconsideration or an administrative hearing.
  • State agency reconsideration. This is the second level of review in most states. Please note: in Pennsylvania and nine other states, this step is eliminated.Claimants have 60 days to appeal an unfavorable reconsideration decision for an administrative hearing.
  • SSA Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. Appeals from state agency denials go to these SSA hearing offices where the case is heard by an Administrative Law Judge of the Social Security Administration. The wait for a hearing can be one year or longer after the hearing request is filed. Waiting times vary and can change.
  • Federal Court review. We represent claimants at this stage when they have been denied at the hearing level.
  • Appeals Council review. We represent claimants at this stage when they have been denied at the Appeals Council level.

Tips as You Fill Out Your Social Security Disability Application:

  • Know the disability definitions: Depending on your age, you do not have to be "totally disabled."
  • List all of your severe medical conditions, not just the most obvious ones.
  • Be honest with your doctor(s). Don't deny the severity of your symptoms-document your symptoms and functional limitations with your doctors.
  • Get support from your treating doctors. Tell them you are applying for disability benefits.
  • Obtain treatment for depression and/or anxiety or other mental symptoms.
  • Get help from an attorney early. If you are in doubt about anything, contact us.
  • Apply as soon as you know you will not be returning to work.
  • Apply immediately if have been out of work for at least a year due to medical conditions.

Things to Remember When Applying for Social Security Disability:

  • Apply early.
  • Include all of your medical conditions in the application. If you are experiencing depression or anxiety, include them and obtain treatment for all medical conditions.
  • Provide complete information on the SSA forms.
  • Your primary doctor and/or specialist must support your claim.
  • If you are denied, do not give up. You can continue with disability appeals review and should. Appeals are often successful.
  • Continue with your treatment and keep track of and report all your symptoms and functional limitations to your doctors.
  • Remember: the process can take a year or more.
  • Keep your own copies of all forms and medical records.
  • Keep a record (journal) of symptoms and limits on standing, walking, lifting or hand use. Take your journal with you to your medical appointments.
  • Contact one of our experienced lawyers to improve your chance for success.

Contact the Disability Benefits Law Center for help with your Social Security Disability application.