Answer: To be considered disabled by the Social Security Administration, you must have one or more “medically determinable impairments” that result in the inability to perform “substantial gainful activity” or are likely to result in death. The inability to work due to such medical conditions must be for one year or more.
There are at least three ways disabled individuals can apply for Social Security Disability Benefits:
◆ Go online: The Social Security Administration prefers that you use the Internet to apply for these benefits. Go to www.ssa.gov/disabilityssi/. Be sure you are on the government website www.ssa.gov before you fill out the application. Many search results will give you private sites that want you to hire someone to represent you; www.ssa.gov is the only authorized site.
◆ Call for an appointment: If you are not sure how to use the Internet or do not feel comfortable with a computer, call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 to make an appointment to apply at your local office.
◆ Start with a form: The third way to start the application process is to get a form known as a “3368-Adult Disability Form” from your local office or online. On that form, you provide personal, occupational, medical and vocational information.
◆ Appealing denials: If you are turned down for disability benefits, you must appeal within 60 days from the date on the notice of denial. If you are denied again (on reconsideration), then you can request a hearing again (within 60 days) before an administrative law judge.
The whole process, from application to hearing date, can take up to two years unless you qualify under the “dire need” definitions.
It is a good idea to have an attorney help you with the disability process. You can expect to pay him or her a percentage of past-due benefits, such as 25 percent, not to exceed $6,000, but only if you win the case.