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Social Security Disability Benefits Q&A

The following information was provided by the Social Security Administration.

How do I apply for disability benefits? How long does it take to get a decision after I apply for disability benefits?

Answer: You can apply for disability benefits online at www.ssa.gov/benefits. To get a decision on your disability application usually takes three-to-five months. The timeframe can vary depending on:

  • The nature of your disability.
  • How quickly we can get your medical evidence from your doctor or other medical source.
  • Whether it’s necessary to send you for a medical examination.
  • Whether we review your application for quality purposes.

Create or sign in to your personal my Social Security account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount to check your claim status. 

I have been getting Social Security disability benefits for many years. I’m about to hit my full retirement age. What will happen to my disability benefits?

Answer: When you reach “full retirement age,” we will switch you from disability to retirement benefits. But you won’t even notice the change because your benefit amount will stay the same. It’s just that when you reach retirement age, we consider you to be a “retiree” and not a disability beneficiary. To learn more, visit www.ssa.gov.

I need to apply for disability benefits. Where do I start?

Answer: Begin by looking at our Disability Starter Kit. You can find it online at www.ssa.gov/disability/disability_starter_kits.htm or you can request a copy by calling 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). The Disability Starter Kit will help you prepare for your application and interview. When you are ready, you can apply online at www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability or make an appointment to apply in person at a local Social Security office. Remember, our online disability application is convenient and secure. Don’t stand in line, go online at www.ssa.gov.

Will my Social Security disability benefit increase if my condition gets worse or I develop additional health problems?

Answer: No. We do not base your Social Security benefit amount on the severity of your disability. The amount you are paid is based on your average lifetime earnings before your disability began. If you go back to work after getting disability benefits, you may be able to get a higher benefit based on those earnings. In addition, we have incentives that allow you to work temporarily without losing your disability benefits. For more information about disability benefits, read our publications Disability Benefits and Working While Disabled — How We Can Help. Both are available online at www.ssa.gov/pubs.

I applied for disability benefits, but was denied. I’d like to appeal. Can I do it online?

Answer: Yes. In fact, the best way to file a Social Security appeal is online. Our online appeal process is convenient and secure. Just go to www.ssa.gov/disability/appeal to appeal the decision. For people who don’t have access to the internet, you can call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) to schedule an appointment to visit your local Social Security office to file your appeal.

What are Compassionate Allowances?

Answer: Compassionate Allowances are Social Security’s way of quickly identifying severe diseases and other medical conditions that qualify a person for disability benefits without waiting a long time. Compassionate Allowances permit Social Security to target the most obviously disabled individuals for allowances and faster payment of benefits based on objective medical information that we can obtain quickly. Compassionate Allowances are not separate from the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. Find out more at www.ssa.gov/compassionateallowances.

Currently, the following types of Ataxia are listed as a Compassionate Allowance:

I am applying for disability benefits. Why do I have to answer questions about my previous job and education?

Answer: When making a decision regarding disability benefits, the Disability Determination Services, or DDS, uses information related to your prior work and education levels to supplement the medical information. This helps DDS to determine how your conditions relate to your past relevant work. For more information on the disability process, visit www.ssa.gov/disability.

How does Social Security decide if I am disabled?

Answer: If you are an adult, you must be unable to work for a year or more because of a medical condition or combination of medical impairments. Overall, we use a five-step evaluation process to decide whether you are disabled. The process considers any current work activity you are doing. It also considers your medical condition and how it affects your ability to work. To be found disabled:

  • You must be unable to do work you did before you became disabled and we must decide you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition.
  • Your disability must last, or be expected to last, for at least one year or to result in death.

Social Security pays only for total disability. We do not pay benefits for partial or short-term disability. For more information, read our publication Disability Benefits at www.ssa.gov/pubs/10029.html.

New Online Tool for People Interested in Applying for Supplemental Security Income

We are pleased to tell you about a new tool people can use to tell us they, or someone they are helping, wants to apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and other benefits. The process takes only 5 – 10 minutes and asks for basic information about the person who wants to apply for SSI. A Social Security representative will schedule an appointment and send the appointment information by mail (or email, if provided). In some cases, a Social Security representative may call to schedule the appointment.

Using this tool documents intent to file an application and establishes a protective filing date. The protective filing date determines when payments can begin if an application is approved.

Certain third parties, such as parents of minor children, family members, representatives, or members of advocacy groups, can also use the tool to express interest about applying for SSI on behalf of someone they are helping. For someone unable to use the tool, we will continue to establish the protective filing date based on a written statement of intent to apply or an oral inquiry about program eligibility.

This tool is part of our ongoing commitment to expanding online services and making it easier for people who face barriers to service get the support they need from us.

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