How Do I Apply for Social Security Disability BenefitsHow Do I Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits?

Most people believe that applying for disability benefits is as simple as filling out a few forms.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  The initial application process requires the submission of multiple forms, extensive paperwork, medical records, and detailed personal information.

Approximately 67% of all disability claims are denied on the first application, often because applicants make minor errors and mistakes that compromise their eligibility.[1] While you are not required to hire an attorney to complete the Social Security Disability application process, it can significantly increase your chances of being approved.  At the Law Offices of Mark T. Hurt, we can prepare and submit your claim, or represent you if benefits are initially denied.  We can walk you through every step of the process and help ensure you receive the benefits to which you are entitled.

Legal Fee Costs and the Cost of Benefit Denial

As social security disability lawyers, we are only entitled to a percent of backpay (usually 25%) if we assist and a claim is accepted.  Thus if we are retained at the outset of a claim, our fee is often fairly minimal.  With significant experience, we have a much higher rate of initial success than the average success rate.

The costs of a denial of the initial claim, however, can be tremendous.  It may take many months before a denial is even issued, and thereafter, many more months before a claim can be appealed and potentially ultimately approved.  During this time, a claimant may be without much-needed income for an extended period, which may lead to taking extreme actions (like borrowing at high interest on credit cards).

How Do I Apply for SSD?

The first step in the Social Security Disability claims process is to file an application for disability benefits.  During the initial stage, you will submit your application to the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) along with the Adult Disability Report.  Extensive medical evidence and supporting documentation (such as medical records from all physicians, therapists, hospitals and clinics, prescriptions, and names and contact information for all applicable healthcare entities) must be provided so that the SSA can determine a claimant’s ability to work.  It can take between 90 to 120 days to complete this stage of the disability claims process.

It’s important to understand that the default position of the SSA is to deny claims regardless of the nature.  The SSA simply does not have any ability to approve a claim that does not strictly meet all applicable requirements. As a result, most applications are denied upon initial review; however, this does not mean that benefits will not ultimately be awarded.  At our firm, we assist in both claim preparation, as well as help clients whose applications have been denied. 

Does My Injury or Condition Automatically Qualify as a Disability?

The SSA provides a Listing of Impairments that describes, for each major body system, impairments that are so severe that they automatically qualify as a disability.  Most of the listed conditions are those that are permanent, long-lasting, or expected to result in death.[2]

The following are some of the qualifying conditions for adults over the age of eighteen:

  • Musculoskeletal System – Major joint dysfunction, spine disorders, amputation, upper-extremity fractures, soft tissue injuries, surgical arthrodesis of a major weight-bearing joint.
  • Special Senses and Speech – Loss of visual acuity or efficiency, loss of speech, hearing loss treatable or not treatable with cochlear implantation.
  • Respiratory Disorders – Chronic Respiratory Disorders, cystic fibrosis, chronic pulmonary hypertension, lung transplant, respiratory failure
  • Cardiovascular System – Chronic heart failure, ischemic heart disease, recurrent arrhythmias, congenital heart disease, aortic aneurysm, chronic venous insufficiency
  • Digestive System – Chronic liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease, gastrointestinal hemorrhaging requiring blood transfusion, liver transplant
  • Genitourinary Disorders – Chronic kidney disease, kidney transplant, Nephrotic syndrome
  • Hematological Disorders – Thrombosis and hemostasis disorders, bone marrow failure disorders
  • Skin Disorders – Ichthyosis, bullous disease, chronic infections of the skin or mucous membranes, dermatitis, hidradenitis suppurativa
  • Endocrine Disorders – Pituitary, thyroid, and adrenal gland disorders, diabetes mellitus, chronic hyperglycemia, diabetic ketoacidosis
  • Congenital Disorders that Affect Multiple Body Systems – Non-mosaic downs syndrome
  • Neurological Disorders – Epilepsy, benign brain tumors, Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, post-polio syndrome, neuropathy
  • Mental Disorders – Schizophrenia, neurocognitive disorders, autism, personality impulse-control disorders
  • Cancer – Malignant neoplastic diseases
  • Immune System Disorders – Systemic vasculitis, dermatomyositis, lupus, inflammatory arthritis, HIV[3]

How Does the SSA Decide If I am Disabled and Eligible for SSDI?

In order to obtain Social Security Disability benefits, you must qualify under very stringent guidelines that the SSA has put forth.  These requirements must be met even if your doctor has labeled you as disabled.  The following are the five considerations considered when making an SSDI determination:

  • Are you working? If you are working in 2020 and earn more than $1,260 a month, you generally will not qualify.
  • Is your condition “severe”? Your condition must significantly limit your ability to perform basic tasks such as standing, walking, sitting, lifting, or standing for at least one year.
  • If your condition found on the list of disabling conditions? As mentioned above, The SSA maintains a comprehensive list of medical conditions that it considers so severe that it prevents a person from completing substantial gainful activity.  If your injury is not listed, the SSA must make an individual determination as to whether your condition is as severe as another condition on the list.  If it is, you will be considered disabled.
  • Can you do the work you previously accomplished? If your impairment does not prevent you from performing any of your past work, you will not qualify.
  • Can you do any other type of work? Even if you can’t do past work, the SSA will evaluate whether there is other work that you can perform despite your impairment.  Age, education, past work experience, and any transferrable skills will be considered when deciding whether you can perform other tasks.  If you can do other work, you will not have a qualifying disability, and your claims will be denied.[4]

Can My Doctor Submit a Social Security Disability Application for Me?

Physicians cannot submit SSDI applications on behalf of patients, and a report certifying disability is not enough to support a claim for benefits.  However, your doctor will still need to provide the SSA with a written statement regarding the extent and circumstances of your disability.  This statement should be detailed and supported by objective medical findings, such as laboratory test results and x-ray images.

What Documents Will I Need to Provide for SSDI?

When you apply for SSDI, you may be asked to provide documents to show that you are eligible, such as:

  • Birth certificate
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status
  • S. military discharge paperwork if you have military services before 1968
  • W-2 forms and/or self-employment tax returns
  • An Adult Disability Report that collects details about your illnesses, injuries or conditions, and work history
  • Medical evidence in your possession (including medical records, doctors’ report, and recent test results)
  • Award letters, pay stubs, settlement agreements, or other proof of any temporary or permanent workers’ compensation-type benefits[5]

We Look Forward to Learning About How We May Be Able to Help with Your SSD Claim

The Social Security Disability application process can be complicated.  We offer a free consultation, and there is no fee unless benefits are awarded.  We help clients with claim preparation and filing, as well as those seeking to overturn benefit denial. Call our offices to schedule a free consultation to learn how we can help secure the benefits to which you may be entitled.


[1] Annual Statistical Report on the Social Security Disability Insurance Program, 2018, SSA, https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/statcomps/di_asr/2018/di_asr18.pdf.

[2] Benefits Planner, Disability Evaluation Under Social Security, https://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/listing-impairments.htm

[3] Listing of Impairments – Adult Listings (Part A), SSA, https://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/AdultListings.htm.

[4] Benefits Planner: Disability|How You Qualify, SSA, https://www.ssa.gov/planners/disability/qualify.html.

[5] Form SSA-16|Information You Need to Apply for Disability Benefits, SSA, https://www.ssa.gov/forms/ssa-16.html.

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