Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits

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About Edmond Brown

Edmond G. Brown (not the governor) has served as a trusted counselor to individuals, families and businesses for over 20 years in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. He understands that personalized, detail oriented service is essential to helping you achieve financial security.

Disclaimer: Applying for and receiving Social Security Disability Benefits can take time and patience is required.  The information below is meant as a basic introduction to a very complex topic.  Make sure you seek professional advice from a licensed and authorized professional before acting.

If a disability prevents you from working, it’s crucial to know how to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Here’s an overview of the application process, eligibility requirements, and what happens after you submit your application.

Understanding Social Security Disability Insurance

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal initiative financed by payroll taxes collected from workers and their employers. Each party—employees and employers—contributes 6.2% of the employee’s wages towards Social Security, with contributions capped at an annually adjusted limit ($168,800 in 2024). These contributions are regulated by the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA).

The primary aim of SSDI is to offer financial assistance to individuals who are unable to work due to serious medical conditions. Statistics from the Social Security Administration (SSA) highlight the program’s significance, noting that one in four Americans will experience a disability before they reaching retirement age.

Eligibility Criteria for SSDI

To qualify for SSDI, applicants must meet specific criteria:

  1. Work History: Applicants generally need to have worked and paid Social Security taxes for a minimum of five of the ten years immediately before becoming disabled. There may be allowances for this, it depends on the specific situation of the applicant.
  2. Medical Condition: The disability must be significant enough to prevent any substantial gainful activity and is anticipated to last for a minimum of one year or result in death.
  3. Documentation: Medical records, doctor diagnoses, and other relevant documentation are crucial to support your claim.

Preparing to Apply

Before starting your application, gather all necessary medical documentation. This includes:

  • Medical Records: Detailed medical history, diagnoses, and records of all doctor visits.
  • Medications: List of medications you are taking, including dosages and side effects.
  • Doctor’s Statement: A statement from your medical provider outlining your inability to work can be particularly persuasive.

Additionally, it’s important to understand your disability’s long-term outlook. For instance, if you require surgery but are expected to recover fully within a few months, you may not qualify for SSDI.

How to Apply for SSDI

Applications for SSDI can be submitted online through the Social Security Administration’s website, by phone, or in person at a local Social Security office. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Online Application: Visit the SSA’s website to complete and submit your application. This method is convenient and allows you to upload necessary documentation.
  2. Phone Application: Call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 (or 1-800-325-0778 for TTY) to apply over the phone.
  3. In-Person Application: Schedule an appointment at your local Social Security office. An in-person interview allows the SSA representative to make “field office observations” about your condition, which can be beneficial.

After You Apply

Once your application is submitted, the SSA will review it, a process that can take several months. During this time, your case will be evaluated based on the medical evidence provided and the severity of your condition.

If approved, SSDI benefits typically replace about 40% of the average worker’s income. As of March 2024, the average monthly benefit amount was $1,537.

If Your Application is Denied

If your initial application is denied, you have the right to appeal. Many applicants find it helpful to hire a lawyer to assist with the appeals process. Be sure to choose a qualified attorney, as non-attorneys cannot represent you in federal court if necessary. Lawyers are only paid if they win your case, and their fees must be approved by the SSA.

Ongoing Eligibility

Once you begin receiving SSDI benefits, the SSA will periodically review your case to confirm that you still meet the eligibility criteria. Keep thorough records of your medical condition and treatments, as you may need to provide this information during reviews.


Applying for Social Security Disability Insurance can be a complicated and lengthy process, but understanding the requirements and preparing thoroughly can increase your chances of approval. If you are unable to work due to a disability, SSDI can provide essential financial support, helping you maintain stability during challenging times.

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About Edmond Brown

Edmond G. Brown (not the governor) has served as a trusted counselor to individuals, families and businesses for over 20 years in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. He understands that personalized, detail oriented service is essential to helping you achieve financial security.

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