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  health > story page AIDSAlternative MedicineCancerDiet & FitnessHeartMenSeniorsWomen

Dissecting disability procedures

July 2, 1999
Web posted at: 11:44 AM EDT (1544 GMT)

In this story:

Should you apply?

Where do you begin? What do you bring?

In addition, you will need to provide:

How is a disability determined?


By Randi Field, J.D.

(WebMD) -- Every year thousands of people find themselves unable to work due to illness or serious injury. If you or someone you know is in this situation, knowing how to apply for disability benefits could make a difficult time a little bit easier.

Should you apply?

You will be considered disabled if you can prove you are unable to work and your disability is expected to last at least a year or result in death. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a detailed step-by-step process for determining if an individual is disabled. If you have been disabled for six months or more and will probably be disabled for more than a year, you should apply for benefits. SSA generally will not accept your application until you have been disabled for at least six months. Benefits are only paid for one year prior to your application date, so don't delay in filing.

Where do you begin? What do you bring?

You can file a social security disability claim by going to your nearest Social Security office and waiting (often for a few hours) to see someone. You can also call 1-800-772-1213 and arrange for an interview.

When go for your interview with an SSA representative, you should bring several items to help process your claim: your social security number; birth certificate; military discharge papers; your spouse's birth certificate and social security number if he or she is applying; your children's birth certificates and social security numbers if they are applying; dates of prior marriages if your spouse is applying; and your checking or savings account information.

In addition, you will need to provide:

  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of doctors, hospitals, clinics, and institutions that treated you and dates of treatment
  • Names of all medications you are taking
  • Medical records from your doctors, therapists, hospitals, clinics, and caseworkers
  • Laboratory and test results
  • Work history for the past 15 years and last year's W-2 Form (Wage and Tax Statement).
  • Be honest and complete when giving information to SSA. Sometimes claimants fail to mention embarrassing conditions, such as psychiatric problems or learning disabilities. The agency is supposed to consider the combination of impairments an individual suffers when determining disability. If you have multiple health problems make sure you list them all so the combined effects of your health problems can be considered.

    How is a disability determined?

    After examining your medical history, SSA will determine if you are disabled using a five-step process:

    1. Are you working? If you are and your earnings average more than $500 a month, generally you are not considered disabled.

    2. Is your condition severe? Your impairments must interfere with basic work-related activities for your claim to be considered.

    3. Is your condition on the list of disabling impairments? SSA maintains a list of impairments for each major body system that are so severe they automatically qualify you for benefits. If your condition is not on the list, SSA decides whether it is of equal severity to an impairment on the list. If it is, your claim is approved. If it is not, SSA proceeds to next step.

    4. Can you do the work you previously did? Does your condition interfere with your ability to do the work you did in the last 15 years? If not, your claim will be denied. If it does, your claim will be considered further.

    5. Can you do any other type of work? If you cannot do the work you did during the last 15 years, the agency examines whether you can do any other type of work. SSA considers your age, education, past work experience, transferable skills, and the jobs' demands. If you cannot do any other kind of work, your claim will be approved. Otherwise, your claim will be denied.

    Once a decision is reached, SSA will send you written notice. If your claim is approved, the notice shows the amount of your benefit and when payments will start. If it is not approved, the notice explains why. In most cases the agency makes a decision within three to five months. Processing times for disability applications vary from state to state.

    Copyright 1999 by WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

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