The process of filing and pursuing a Social Security or SSI disability claim
can be daunting at best, especially if one has not dealt with the "System"
before. There are a myriad of forms and procedures, and it is easy to get
lost in the process. The unfortunate result many times is that your case is
delayed or not enough information is received by the evaluators to determine
fairly what your condition is.
It is important, first of all, to understand that there are two types of
disability claims administered by the Federal government. The first is
Social Security disability, which depends on the amount you have worked and
paid into the system to determine your eligibility to apply. Basically, if
you have worked enough in twenty of the last forty quarters, you are covered
for Social Security disability benefits. The second kind of benefits is
Supplemental Security disability benefits, which do not depend on how much
you have worked, but on an "income and resources" formula to determine if
you are eligible to apply. Under both programs, the rules of disability
are the same, and the two are often applied for and evaluated at the same
What is disability? To be considered totally disabled (and there is no
other kind under these programs), you must have a medically determinable
impairment that prevents you from doing any kind of significant work for
twelve continuous months, or that would be expected to result in your death.
There is no percentage of disability under these programs-you are disabled
or you are not.
What do you do to file a disability claim? This process starts at your local
Social Security office, where they will assist you in completing the proper
forms. After you have filed the application, it is put into a folder and
sent to an agency of the state in which you live, usually referred to as
the Disability Determination Services or DDS. In your state it may be
referred to by a different name, but in all states the same standards are
used. When your folder reaches the DDS, it is assigned immediately to an
evaluator. The evaluator may also be called different things in different
states, but the process is exactly the same everywhere. The evaluator will
then begin the actual process of collecting your medical records and
obtaining the other evidence needed to determine what your condition is.
Based on over 25 years of experience in the process of disability
evaluation, I offer the following tips to smooth the process for both you
and your evaluator. Consider these not just as suggestions, but as good
advice, for they will make a difference.