The process of filing a disability application is detailed and inflexible. In other words, if you don’t follow the letter of the guideline from the Social Security Administration, they could deny your application. It also can make the claim review process take much longer. This means your payments cannot start or continue as soon as you’d potentially like. The rules and guidelines exist because of the sheer volume of applications the SSA receives and processes every year. In years past, it was possible to schedule in-person appointments with a SSA employee to review your documentation and ensure your file was complete. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, however, that’s not currently an option. Right now, you can only file a disability application online, through an attorney, or via telephone.
This means that in order to apply — or even to find out what’s required to apply — you must have access to a computer and/or have the time to wait on the phone to speak to a person. The average wait time people spend on hold with the SSA is about 13.6 minutes.
Organizing your documents and information prior to starting your disability application can simplify the process and reduce the amount of time it takes to submit your claim.
Create Your Online SSA Account
The first thing you need to do is create an online account. This is called a my Social Security Account. To do this, you need access to a computer (if you don’t have a personal computer, most public libraries allow anyone access with a guest pass or library card). You must answer a series of security questions to create or log into your account.
Documents You’ll Need for Your Disability Application
The documents you need to apply for disability fall under these broader categories: proof of citizenship, employment records, marital records, military records, and medical records.
Some documents must be originals (see notes below). In those cases, the SSA will return those originals to you once they process your disability application.
Here is a comprehensive list of required documents that apply to everyone:
- Form SSA-3368-BK, titled Adult Disability Report. This form includes information such as your work history, illnesses, education, and more. Think of it as a summary form that includes information from the rest of the required documents.
- Your birth certificate. You must submit the original document; the SSA will not accept photocopies.
- Were you born outside the United States? Then you must submit original documentation (no copies allowed) that prove you are a lawful alien or naturalized citizen.
- Copies of your most recent W-2 forms. You can also submit copies of your income tax return for the past year if you’re self-employed. It’s important to note here that you must have worked within the past five years to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.
- Your current banking information, if you want your payments direct-deposited into your account. This could be a canceled check or a letter from your bank that includes both your routing and account numbers.
Optional Documents to Keep Handy, If Applicable
You may need to also submit these documents along with your disability application, if they apply:
- Did you serve in the military before 1968? If yes, then you must provide original military discharge papers.
- Have you received any worker’s compensation benefits? If yes, then you must submit any award letters, settlement agreements, pay stubs, or any other documentation related to those claims.
- Are you married and/or do you have any children? If so, you must submit that documentation. This includes marriage license(s), divorce decree(s), death certificate(s) and children’s birth certificate(s). Remember that these must be originals; the SSA won’t accept any photocopies.
Questions the SSA Might Ask After Submitting Your Disability Application
The SSA might ask you follow-up questions about any or all of the documents you provide. They might also ask you the following questions:
- Has anyone else has ever filed for benefits on your behalf?
- Have you ever used another Social Security number?
- Were you or your spouse every employed by the railroad industry?
- Did you ever earn any Social Security credits under another country’s system?
- Do you have any unsatisfied felony or arrest records for escape from custody, flight to avoid prosecution or confinement, or flight-escape?
These are just a few of the possible questions they might ask you. For a more comprehensive list, see the SSA’s website here.
An Easier Way to Apply: Consult a Disability Lawyer
If all this sounds like a hassle, there’s an easier way to file your disability application: Going through an attorney. Those who apply with legal assistance are nearly 3x more likely to secure disability benefits than those who apply on their own.
Ready to see if you may qualify? Complete your free online SSD benefits evaluation now!
Lisa Allen is a writer and editor who lives in suburban Kansas City. She holds MFAs in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry, both from the Solstice Low-Residency Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. Prior to becoming a writer, Lisa worked as a paralegal, where she specialized in real estate in and around Chicago.