How to Apply for Disability Insurance Benefits

Understand the process of getting approved

Social Security Disability Claim Form filling and obtaining Concept

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You might be considering applying for disability insurance benefits if you've become disabled and are unable to work due to an illness or injury. Depending on your circumstances, you could be eligible for thousands of dollars each month to cover your personal and health care needs. Disability benefits can provide much-needed cash for paying rent, mortgage payments, food, utilities, and for ongoing care to make sure you have the best quality of life possible.

How to Get Started: Workers' Compensation

The process of applying for disability benefits starts with your employer's or former employer's human resource department. Consider how you became disabled if it occurred on the job, and determine if the injury or illness was directly work-related. If so, you should have already been approved for workers’ compensation coverage and received some level of medical care and benefits, at least for a short period of time.

Speak with an attorney to learn about your rights and find out where you stand if you haven't been approved for workers' compensation.

Short- and Long-Term Disability Benefits

You might also be eligible for short-term disability and/or long-term disability benefits if your employer offers them and if they were something you signed up for. These benefits can equal 40% to 60% of your former salary.

Ask your HR representative about this, or talk directly with the disability plan provider to get more information about eligibility requirements. Each plan can vary.

If You've Left Your Job

You'll also want to talk with a qualified disability attorney if you developed a health care concern while you were employed and later resigned because of it. An attorney might be able to get you approved for work-related disability benefits even if you've left your job. Repetitive injuries from work tasks, unreported accidents, and harmful work conditions can affect your wellbeing months after leaving a job.

Life-Long Disabilities

Your next course of action is to apply for permanent disability benefits if your condition developed over a period of time through no fault of your employer, or if you've been diagnosed with a life-long disability. You can apply through your local Social Security office.

The process is long—it can take up to two years to be approved for benefits in some cases. You'll have to rely on your personal savings and assets in the meantime, as well as the support of friends and family. The good news is that benefits are retroactive to the date you originally applied. You can expect a lump sum payment after you're approved, followed by regular monthly payments thereafter.

Submit your application for Social Security disability insurance as soon as possible. You can use an online form, or visit your local Social Security office. Call 1-800-772-1213 toll-free to make an appointment.

What You'll Need

You'll need certain information to fill out the application for benefits. Take this information with you if you apply in person:

  • Medical records: Know what you have been diagnosed with, the date you were diagnosed, and your physician information.
  • Workers’ compensation records: You can request this through your employer’s HR office.
  • Names and birthdates of all your household members: You might be eligible for additional benefits based on family size.
  • Checking and savings account numbers: These will be used to verify income eligibility for SSI benefits and for direct deposit of benefits.
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship status and your address: Your U.S.-issued driver’s license and birth certificate should suffice.
  • List of any prescription medication you take for your condition: You might be eligible for medical coverage under Medicare.
  • Your detailed work history for the last 15 years: The Social Security Administration will want to know about your jobs, tasks, and your ability to work.

You'll receive notification of a time for an interview when you'll meet with a Social Security case manager who will review your documentation with you, ask you for additional information if needed, and schedule a follow-up visit if necessary.

Now the waiting game begins. You should be notified in about 45 days of the status of your case. Don’t be shocked if your initial request is denied, because 70% of cases are denied the first time. You can appeal if necessary, and you should retain a Social Security disability attorney to represent you the second time around.