Many claimants do not know where to begin in regard to a social security disability claim. When I say "claim" I am referring to the two types of disability programs available. SSD which is similar to an insurance plan, in that you must have worked long enough and recently enough as well as meet the SSA's definition of disabled to qualify, and SSI which is the general social security fund aimed at helping claimants who are disabled but do not have the requisite amount of work credits, but have few assets, resources and income. While you may not be qualified for both, it is rare, if you are disabled, that you would not qualify for either of the two programs.
So where do you begin? Well first things first you need to have a little understanding of the SSA's definition of disabled. According to the Social Security Administration disabled is defined as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (work) due to any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which may result in death or has lasted for twelve months or can be expected to last continuously for at least twelve months. If after reading this definition you feel you are disabled then SSD or SSI may be an option for you.
The application process is quite simple. You can apply online through the Social Security Administration's website at www.ssa.gov/disability/ The website is very easy to navigate. There is an application button on the left hand column of the page. Click on that link and follow the step by step instructions. If you are "computer challenged" like me you can also apply the old fashioned way. The SSA's toll free phone number is 1-800-772-1213. You can apply over the phone or you can set up an interview time to go to your local social security office.
The process itself can take a long time. The Social Security Administration is currently working on ways to expedite the process, but as it stands right now the first two phases of a typical claim can take between 3-5 months and the hearing stage can take between 12-18 months. So you see the longer you delay in applying the longer you make this already long process. Once you apply the Social Security Administration is good at keeping you informed as to the status of your claim. If you are denied at any stage you have 60 days to appeal the denial. If you miss this deadline you start the process from square one.
Do you need an attorney to file for disability? No. A social security disability lawyer makes the process easier on you. You attorney will file all the necessary documents, obtain medical records and doctor source statements and basically handle all the leg work. Not to mention social security disability attorneys are much more successful in receiving benefits than you would be on your own. Unless you have a slam dunk claim, I would highly recommend you think about having an attorney handle your case.
The toughest part of this whole process is the waiting. If you have a legitimate claim and have a social security disability attorney handling your case all you will need is patience. You attorney will do the rest.