Social Security Disability (SSDI) Application Process

Get info on how to apply for benefits

The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program is a Federal program which provides assistance to people with disabilities. The program is administered by the Social Security Administration and only individuals who have a disability and meet medical criteria may qualify for benefits under the program.


Step 1 - Get The Starter Kit

Social Security Disability and Medicare
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The first step, once you decide that you are going to apply for Social Security Disability, is to obtain and review the Adult Disability Starter Kit. The kit contains a:

  • Factsheet - The factsheet includes the definition of disability and answers questions about applying for disability benefits.
  • Checklist - This is a checklist of information and documents to have ready for your disability interview or when you complete the Disability Report, which is available online but needs to be mailed in.
  • Worksheet - The worksheet can help you prepare for your disability interview or complete the Adult Disability Report downloaded from the Internet. It lists information that Social Security will ask you and provides space to write down this information.

An interesting fact - studies show that a 20-year-old worker has a 3-in-10 chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement age.


Step 2 - When to Apply

Apply as soon as you become disabled. Disability benefits do not begin until the sixth full month of disability. The waiting period begins the first full month after the date the Social Security Administration decides your disability began. To be found disabled according to Social Security's definition of disability you must meet the following criteria:

  • You must be unable to do any substantial work because of your medical condition(s). Social Security refers to this as a substantial gainful activity.
  • Your medical condition(s) must have lasted, or be expected to last at least 1 year, or be expected to result in your death.

Step 3 - Where to Apply

Most Social Security Administration (SSA) offices do claims-related business by appointment. You can apply for benefits in person at an SSA office or by mail or phone. You can apply for Social Security Disability benefits online by filling out the Social Security Benefit Application.

If you prefer not to apply over the Internet, you can apply over the phone by calling the toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213, Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST.


Step 4 - Checklist for Interview

If you have chosen not to apply online and not to fill out the online Disability Report, you will be interviewed by phone or in the local Social Security office by a Social Security Claims Representative. The interview usually takes at least one hour. Make sure you have the following information listed on the checklist with you for the interview.


  • Original or certified copy of birth certificate.
  • If born in another country provide proof of U.S. or legal residency.
  • If you were in the military, provide the original or certified copy of your military discharge papers.
  • Your W-2 form from last year, or if self-employed your federal tax return (IRS 1040 and Schedules C and SE).
  • Worker's compensation history.
  • Social Security numbers of your spouse and children.
  • Your checking or savings account number.
  • Name, address, and phone number of someone who can get in touch with you.

Step 5 - Fill Out Worksheet

Fill out the "Medical and Job Worksheet - Adult" which comes with the Starter Kit. The worksheet helps prepare you for your interview or to complete the Disability Report online. To fill out the worksheet you will need:

  • Names, addresses, phone numbers of all healthcare providers who treated your medical condition.
  • Dates you were seen by your practitioner and/or dates you were treated at the hospital or clinic.
  • It is helpful to have your patient ID number from each place you have been treated.
  • Names of medications you are taking, the reason you are taking the medication, and what healthcare provider prescribed the medication. Some representatives suggest bringing in the actual medication bottles if applying in person.
  • What medical tests you have had. You will need to know where you were tested, the date of the test, and who ordered the test.
  • Have medical records in your possession.
  • The jobs and dates you worked in the 15 years before becoming disabled.

Even if you apply online and fill out the Disability Report online, you will copy the information from the worksheet to the online form. So, filling out the worksheet ahead of time is helpful.


Step 6 - Points to Remember

Be prepared to explain in detail why you can no longer work and how your disabling condition has affected your daily activities.

Besides meeting Social Security’s definition of disability, to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, you must have worked and paid into the program for five of the last 10 years.

1 Source
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  1. Social Security Administration. What young workers should know about Social Security and saving.

By Carol Eustice
Carol Eustice is a writer covering arthritis and chronic illness, who herself has been diagnosed with both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.