How do you apply for Social Security disability benefits? Actually, it is quite easy. There is no cost to apply and you cannot get in trouble for applying, even if it later turns out that you do go back to work or if your case is denied.
Social Security's online application process functions as your fastest and most recommended method to apply. Just go to www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability and follow the on-screen prompts. We recommend that you print out each page of your application as you go - you will want to keep a copy of your application and it is difficult to log in later to retrieve a copy.
You can also apply by phone - call 800-772-1213, but prepare yourself to navigate a lengthy voice mail tree and the live operator you eventually reach may or may not be helpful.
The least desirable method would be applying in person at your local Social Security office. Long lines? Yes. Lengthy delays? You'll get that too. Overworked employees in a bad mood? Need I say more?
Here are a couple of tips for applying:
1. You'll be asked about the date you stopped working. What this means is "what is the date you stopped working a full time, regular job?" This may be the date you actually last set foot in an employer's location or it could be months earlier. Perhaps you tried to work a couple of times but were unsuccessful. Use the earliest date possible here.
2. You'll be asked "when did you become disabled?" Here, too, the earliest possible date, the better. Choose the earliest possible date when your medical condition reached the point where you lost the capacity to work full time in any job. We can change this later but try to come up with a logical date.
3. You'll be asked "why do you consider yourself disabled?" Here, use a medical diagnosis as opposed to just symptoms.
4. If you cannot work anymore, and you're in pain, and you're struggling financially, it stands to reason you would be depressed. I recommend that you include depression as one of the reasons you cannot work. Including depression will trigger a free psychological consultative evaluation that my help your claim down the road.
Finally, you should expect some sort of written follow-up within 2 to 3 weeks. If you do not get a follow-up letter, start calling Social Security - you can use the 800 number. SSA has been known to lose files.
The disability adjudication process can take years, so start the process now if you think you qualify.
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