What Benefits Do I Apply For?
While there are a variety of disability programs, most people are going to apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability (SSD). If you fill out an application for SSI, Social Security considers that an application for all benefits you might be entitled to. This includes SSD. But, the opposite is not true. You can apply for SSD only and not SSI. A person might do this if he or she knows that he or she is not going to qualify for SSI. This is most commonly true for claimants who have too much income to qualify for SSI. If you have a pension, other disability income from the VA or private insurance, or even a spouse with a good-paying job, applying for SSI is likely to prove fruitless. Even if Social Security determines you are disabled, they will not pay you any benefits if your other income is too high. How much is too much depends on a variety of factors. You can examine the basic regulations on the Social Security website: https://www.socialsecurity.gov/ssi/text-eligibility-ussi.htm SSI eligibility is simply too complicated to properly address in such a forum as this. If you have questions about it, please contact me.
When Do I Apply?
Regardless of which method you choose to start your disability application, one thing remains true: do it as soon as you can.
The very first time you contact Social Security about applying for disability is called your protective filing date. This is very important because this is the date Social Security will use to calculate when they began to owe you benefits. For SSI claims, Social Security cannot pay you back benefits any earlier than your protective filing date. This means for every day you delay contacting Social Security, you could be losing one day's benefits. For SSD claims, Social Security can go back one-year from the your protective filing date. While this is better, it does mean that delay could still cost you back benefits.
In Person or Online?
You can apply for SSD benefits online. At present, however, you cannot apply for SSI online. If you are applying on line for SSD, you will come to a place where Social Security will ask you if you want to apply for SSI. If you do not check that box, you will not apply for SSI. In a long and complicated application, it is easy to miss indicating you want to apply for SSI. This one mistake could mean the loss of thousands of dollars in benefits.
It is for this reason that I believe you are better to apply for Social Security disability in person. Too many things can go wrong when you depend on a website. I have had clients who thought they had finished their disability applications online. They sat back and waited from Social Security to contact them. Which never happened because nobody as Social Security ever processed the application.
I hate going to government offices and waiting around as much as anybody. But, for something as important as starting your disability application, it is worth doing. If you apply in person, you will leave with a written confirmation that you applied. That alone makes it worthwhile. Keep in mind, too, that the Social Security workers are much better at filling out Social Security forms than you are. The workers there can fill out the application much faster than you could. The Social Security workers also know what to avoid to make an application incomplete.
What Will I Need?
Social Security is going to want to know the usual information about you, such as your name and age and address and, of course, Social Security number. They are also going to want the names of all your employers over the past 15 years. Social Security will want you to tell them what medicines you take and what doctors you see. If you gather this information before heading to the Social Security office, the entire process will be much faster.
There is no need to bring your medical records with you. After you apply, Social Security is going to gather your medical records from all the doctors you told them about. Social Security wants their own, complete set of your medical records to review. So, save yourself the time and effort of gathering medical records before you go to the Social Security office.
Do I Need A Lawyer to Apply?
Simply put, no. Lawyers do not have access to secret information about applying for disability. Having a lawyer will not make your application process go any faster. It will not make your application any better or more complete. The application is simply a government form you need to fill out. Many lawyers advertise that they do the applications for clients. There is nothing wrong with this. But there is not much right either. You will need a lawyer, but not at the time you apply. You will need a lawyer when Social Security denies your application.