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How to Go on Disability: A Step-by-Step Guide

I know firsthand how overwhelming it can be when you’re trying to figure out how to go on disability. It’s like being thrown into a maze without a map, right? Well, I’m here to be your guide. I’ve been through the process myself, and I want to share what I’ve learned to make your journey a little easier.

First things first, let’s talk about what disability benefits actually are. In a nutshell, they’re financial assistance programs designed to help people who can’t work due to a medical condition. There are two main types: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSDI is for folks who have worked and paid into Social Security, while SSI is for those with limited income and resources.

But here’s the thing: qualifying for disability insurance benefits isn’t as simple as just filling out a form. There are medical and financial requirements you have to meet, and the application process can be pretty daunting. That’s why I’m here to break it down for you, step by step. Ready? Let’s do this.

how to go on disability

Qualifying for Social Security Disability Benefits

Navigating the world of Social Security disability benefits can feel overwhelming. I remember when I first started looking into it for myself.

The good news? You don’t have to go it alone. In this post, I’ll break down everything you need to know about qualifying for Social Security disability benefits.

Understanding Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal program that provides financial assistance to individuals who are unable to work due to a disability.

To qualify for SSDI, you must have worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes. The amount of work credits you need depends on your age when you become disabled.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is another federal program that provides financial assistance to disabled individuals with limited income and resources. Unlike SSDI, SSI does not require a work history.

Medical Eligibility Requirements

To qualify for disability benefits, your medical condition must be severe enough to prevent you from engaging in substantial gainful activity (SGA) for at least 12 months or be expected to result in death.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) maintains a list of impairments that automatically qualify as disabilities. If your condition isn’t on the list, the SSA will determine if it’s severe enough to prevent you from working.

Financial Eligibility Requirements

For SSDI, you must have earned enough work credits based on your age and years of employment. The older you are, the more work credits you’ll need.

For SSI, your income and assets must fall below certain thresholds set by the SSA. As of 2021, the income limit for SSI is $794 per month for an individual and $1,191 for a couple.

Types of Disabilities Covered

The SSA recognizes a wide range of physical and mental impairments that can qualify for disability benefits. Some common conditions include:

  • Musculoskeletal disorders (back injuries, arthritis, fibromyalgia)
  • Cardiovascular conditions (heart failure, coronary artery disease)
  • Neurological disorders (multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, epilepsy)
  • Mental disorders (depression, anxiety, autism, intellectual disability)
  • Cancer
  • Immune system disorders (HIV/AIDS, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis)

How to Apply for Social Security Disability

Once you’ve determined that you may qualify for disability benefits, it’s time to start the application process.

Gathering Required Documents

Before applying for disability benefits, gather all necessary documents. This may include:

  • Medical records
  • Work history
  • Proof of income
  • Birth certificate
  • Social Security card

Having these documents ready will help streamline the application process and provide the SSA with the information they need to make a determination.

Completing the Disability Application

You can apply for disability benefits online, by phone, or in person at your local Social Security office. The application will ask for detailed information about your medical condition, work history, and daily activities.

Be as thorough and accurate as possible when completing the application. Any missing or inconsistent information could delay the processing of your claim.

Attending the Disability Interview

After submitting your application, you may be asked to attend a disability interview with an SSA representative. During this interview, you’ll be asked questions about your medical condition and how it affects your ability to work.

Be prepared to discuss your symptoms, treatments, and any limitations you experience in your daily life. It’s important, to be honest, and forthcoming during this interview.

Tracking Your Application Status

Once your application is submitted, you can track its status online through your my Social Security account or by contacting your local Social Security office.

The SSA will review your application and may request additional information or documentation. They may also send you for a consultative exam with an independent medical professional.

Appealing a Denied Claim

If your initial disability claim is denied, don’t give up hope. You have the right to appeal the decision.

The appeals process involves several stages, including:

  1. Reconsideration
  2. Hearing before an administrative law judge
  3. Review by the Appeals Council
  4. Federal court review

It’s important to file your appeal within the designated timeframe (usually 60 days from the date of the denial notice). Consider hiring a disability attorney or advocate to help you navigate the appeals process.

The Disability Determination Process

Once you’ve submitted your application, the SSA will begin the disability determination process. Here’s what you can expect:

Initial Application Review

The SSA will review your application to ensure that you meet the basic eligibility requirements. If you do, your application will be forwarded to your state’s Disability Determination Services (DDS) office for a medical review.

Medical Evidence Collection

The DDS will gather medical evidence from your doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers. They’ll use this information to assess the severity of your condition and how it impacts your ability to work.

It’s crucial that you provide complete and accurate information about your medical sources. The more evidence the DDS has, the better they’ll be able to evaluate your claim.

Consultative Examination

If the medical evidence provided is insufficient, the DDS may schedule a consultative examination (CE) with an independent medical professional.

The CE is a one-time exam paid for by the SSA. It’s important to attend this exam if one is scheduled, as failure to do so could result in the denial of your claim.

Vocational Factors Considered

In addition to your medical condition, the SSA will consider your age, education, past work experience, and transferable skills when determining whether you can engage in any type of substantial gainful activity.

If the SSA determines that you can’t do your past work, they’ll evaluate whether there are any other jobs you could perform given your limitations.

Approval or Denial Decision

Based on the medical and vocational evidence collected, the DDS will make a determination on whether to approve or deny your disability claim.

If approved, you’ll receive a notice detailing your benefit amount and when payments will begin. If denied, you’ll receive an explanation of the decision and information on how to appeal.

Receiving Disability Benefits

If your disability claim is approved, you’ll start receiving benefits. Here’s what you need to know:

Payment Methods

Disability benefits are typically paid via direct deposit into your bank account or loaded onto a Direct Express debit card. You can choose your preferred payment method when you apply for benefits or by contacting the SSA.

Reporting Changes in Your Condition

If your medical condition improves or you return to work, you must report these changes to the SSA. Failure to do so can result in overpayments, which you may have to pay back.

You can report changes by calling the SSA, visiting your local office, or updating your information online through your my Social Security account.

Working While on Disability

It is possible to work while receiving disability benefits, but there are limits on how much you can earn. The SSA offers work incentives that allow you to test your ability to work without losing your benefits.

One such incentive is the Trial Work Period (TWP). During the TWP, you can work and earn any amount for up to 9 months (not necessarily consecutive) without affecting your disability benefits.

Trial Work Period

The TWP is a great opportunity to see if you’re able to return to work without risking your benefits. If you’re able to consistently work above the SGA level after the TWP, your benefits may be adjusted or stopped.

It’s important to keep detailed records of your work activity and earnings during the TWP and report them to the SSA.

Continuing Disability Reviews

The SSA periodically conducts continuing disability reviews (CDRs) to ensure that beneficiaries are still eligible for benefits. The frequency of these reviews depends on the severity of your condition and the likelihood of improvement.

During a CDR, the SSA will request updated medical information and may send you for a consultative exam. It’s important to comply with these requests to avoid any disruption in your benefits.

Resources and Support for Disability Applicants

Applying for disability benefits can be a complex and lengthy process. Fortunately, there are resources available to help you navigate the system and get the support you need.

Social Security Administration Offices

The SSA has a network of local offices across the country where you can apply for benefits, ask questions, and get assistance with the application process. You can find your nearest office using the SSA’s online office locator tool.

Disability Advocacy Organizations

There are many non-profit organizations that provide support and advocacy services for individuals with disabilities. Some notable organizations include:

These organizations can provide information, referrals, and even legal assistance with your disability claim.

Legal Assistance

If your disability claim is denied and you decide to appeal, you may want to consider hiring a disability attorney or advocate. These professionals can help you navigate the appeals process and present the strongest case possible.

By federal law, disability attorneys are paid the same amount: 25% of your back-pay, up to a maximum of $6,000, and only if your claim is approved. You can find a disability attorney through referrals from advocacy organizations or by searching online directories.

Online Support Communities

Online forums and support groups can be a valuable resource for individuals applying for disability benefits. These communities offer a space to connect with others going through similar experiences, ask questions, and share advice.

Some popular online communities include:

Multilingual Resources

The SSA provides resources and assistance in multiple languages to ensure that all individuals have access to the information and support they need. This includes publications, interpreters, and bilingual staff at local offices.

Some available resources include:

Don’t let language barriers prevent you from getting the benefits you deserve. Reach out to the SSA or a disability advocacy organization for assistance.

Applying for Social Security disability benefits can be a daunting process, but remember – you’re not alone. With the right information, resources, and support, you can navigate the system and get the financial assistance you need.

Stay persistent, advocate for yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. You’ve got this.

FAQs in Relation to How to Go on Disability

What is the easiest condition to get disability?

No single condition guarantees a quick win. Approval hinges on how a condition impacts your work, not just diagnosis.

What qualifies you for disability in KY?

In Kentucky, qualifying involves proving severe impairment that stops you from working for at least 12 months or ends fatally.

What is considered to be a disability?

A disability significantly limits one or more major life activities due to physical or mental conditions, as recognized by law.

What qualifies you for disability in Washington state?

You need evidence of an impairment preventing substantial gainful activity for at least 12 continuous months in Washington state.


Phew, that was a lot of information to take in, wasn’t it? But here’s the thing: you’ve got this. Applying for disability benefits may seem like an uphill battle, but with the right knowledge and preparation, you can navigate the process with confidence.

Remember, the key is to be thorough and persistent. Gather all your medical evidence, be honest about your limitations, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Whether it’s from a disability advocate, an attorney, or even an online support group, there are resources out there to guide you through the process of how to go on disability.

And if your initial application gets denied? Don’t lose hope. Appeal, appeal, appeal. Many people get approved at the hearing level, so keep fighting for the benefits you deserve.

At the end of the day, going on disability isn’t about giving up. It’s about giving yourself the support you need to live your best life, despite your medical challenges. So take a deep breath, take it one step at a time, and know that you’re not alone in this journey.

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how to go on disability