Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) FAQs

Completing an application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) for the first time can feel overwhelming, as can reapplying after receiving a rejection. You might feel like you don’t even know where to begin because you have so many questions. Morrison & Hughes would like to make the process a bit easier for you. Below are the answers to 10 common questions that people have about applying for SSDI.

How Do I Apply to Receive SSDI Payments?

You have two options. The first is to locate the nearest social security office and schedule an appointment to apply in person. You should plan to be there for at least a couple of hours. The second option is to schedule a telephone interview to complete your application. You have the right to work with a disability advocate or an attorney from the start of your SSDI application process.

What Counts as a Disability Under SSDI Guidelines?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) enforces a strict definition of disability. You must have a qualifying medical condition for at least 12 months or that is likely to cause your death. Because of your disability, you cannot do the same work you did before or adjust to another type of work even with training.

What Types of Documents Do I Need to Produce When Applying for SSDI?

Not including the proper documentation or completing forms incorrectly is one of the leading reasons for the initial denial of an SSDI application. You will need to submit documentation from an acceptable medical professional the outlines the onset and worsening nature of your disabling medical condition. The following are just some acceptable sources of medical documentation:
• Laboratory reports
• Copies of prescriptions and your response to medications
• Your doctor’s assessment of your ability to perform any type of work-related activities
• Diagnosis and current prognosis of your medical condition
• In-depth medical history
• Description of functional limitations you experience due to your disability

What Percentage of Applicants Receive an Approval on the First Submission?

Unfortunately, only about 30 percent of applicants for SSDI receive an approval the first time they apply for benefits. Several factors play into this such as errors on the application, the large number of applications the SSA receives, federal budget cuts, and inability of the SSA to predict the future economy. You stand a significantly better chance of approval on your first application or on subsequent appeals when you retain the services of a social security disability attorney.

Is SSDI the Same Thing as SSI?

No. The SSA operates two different programs for disabled individuals. SSDI is for those who worked for at least 10 years prior to their disability and earned enough credits based on their employment income to qualify to apply for SSDI.
SSI, which stands for Supplemental Security Insurance, is a program for disabled individuals who have not earned enough credits from work over the past 10 years or who have been unable to work at all during the past decade. The payment for SSI is typically lower than it is for SSDI. Although not common, some people can collect payments from both programs if they meet certain eligibility requirements.

What is the Review Process After I Submit My Initial Application for SSDI Benefits?

After you have completed your application and gathered all required documentation, you will send the entire packet to the closest Disability Determination Services Office in your state. Once received, a disability examiner works in partnership with a medical doctor to review your claim. If you receive an initial denial and request reconsideration, your information will go to a different disability examiner and medical doctor working in the same office. If denied a second time and you decide to appeal, your case will go before an Administrative Law Judge who will make the final determination.

What Are Work Credits and How Many Do I Need to Apply for SSDI?

In most cases, the SSA requires applicants to have worked at least five out of the past 10 years before they qualify to apply for disability benefits. You receive work credits from the SSA when working at an income-producing job and paying into the social security system. The SSA bases your credit amounts on earnings alone. In addition to disability programs, the SSA uses the number of credits a person has earned to determine survivor income and retirement benefits. You can receive a maximum of four credits per calendar year. That means you will need at least 20 credits to apply for SSDI.

Can I Apply for SSDI if My Disability is Not Permanent?

In some cases, yes. However, your disability must still last at least 12 months or be expected to last at least 12 months according to the initial determining criteria of the SSDI program. You will become ineligible for SSDI benefits if you are able to return to work at some point in the future.

Is There a Waiting Period to Collect SSDI Benefits After Receiving an Approval?

Yes. To ensure that it does not pay benefits to a person with only a short-term disability, the SSDI has instituted a five-month waiting period before approved applicants receive their first payment. You will receive a payment starting with the sixth full month provided you can prove total disability for the five months preceding the payment date. Having a severe disability such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or late-stage cancer can expedite the approval process, but you will still need to wait until the sixth month of disability to collect your first payment.

Can I Apply for SSDI with a Diagnosis of a Mental Disorder?

Yes, as long as your mental illness falls within one of the 14 categories listed in the SSDI Blue Book. This is a manual that lists qualifying disorders for obtaining SSDI benefits. Keep in mind that each category also has several sub-categories listed with it.

I paid into Social Security all my life. Isn’t disability mine for the asking?

The federal government doesn’t make anything that easy. The process of proving disability involves a maze of complex federal regulations defining what it means to be “legally disabled.” You will need an experienced and aggressive disability attorney to navigate the process—if you’re serious about winning your case!

Can I apply for disability if I’m still working?

While every case is different, a person should generally apply for disability if their job has ended for reasons directly related to certain physical and/or mental impairments. And a person should only apply for disability if those physical and/or mental impairments are severe enough to prevent a successful return to work. Even if a motor vehicle accident or surgical recovery is particularly rough, something will only be considered “disabling” if it lasts or is reasonably expected to last at least 12 months, or is expected to result in death.

Can I try to work or collect unemployment insurance benefits while a disability claim is pending before the Social Security Administration?

You can, but doing so can have very serious implications for your case. These are matters that should be immediately discussed with an experienced disability attorney.

Once I apply for disability, when will I learn of a decision?

Think of the process as multiple rungs on a ladder. Most important are the Initial, Reconsideration, and Hearing Levels. Most individuals will be denied at the initial two stages before their claims are finally scheduled to be heard before a U.S. Administrative Law Judge. In the Atlanta region, it can take two years to get your day in court, and everything typically boils down to that one day! At that point, decisions are usually mailed within 60-90 days.

What happens at a Disability Hearing?

A Hearing before a judge involves a comprehensive review of multiple years of medical records, detailed testimony from you, as well as the testimony of vocational and/or medical experts, in addition to your lawyer’s arguments on the application of Social Security law to the facts of your case. A Hearing presents your best statistical chance of winning, but not without a highly skilled disability attorney at your side.

Contact Us to Schedule a Disability Claim Evaluation

Morrison & Hughes, a disability advocacy law firm located in Marietta, Georgia, offers free consultations for people applying for SSDI for the first time and applicants requesting a second or third consideration. We invite you to meet with us for a disability claim evaluation where one of our experienced disability attorneys will review your claim and advise you accordingly. Morrison & Hughes serves clients in the entire Atlanta metropolitan area.