There are three important aspects to initiating a claim:
- When and why to apply
- How to apply
- What you need (to apply)
Let's look at these one at a time.
When and why should you apply for disability?
The Social Security disability claims process can take a year or more; so if you suffer a serious illness or injury and 1) expect to be out of work for a year or more, or 2) there is a chance your condition could be terminal, you should file a claim for Social Security disability benefits immediately. If the condition stems from a work-related injury, don't wait until your worker's compensation ends. If you are entitled to sick leave or disability income insurance from your employer, don't wait until that income is exhausted before you explore how to get disability. Even if you are unsure if you will satisfy the disability requirements, don't put off applying. If you have a nest egg set aside for emergencies, don't deplete your savings before applying. (How much money you have in the bank will not influence your benefits.) Keep in mind, it does not cost you anything to apply, and if you get better and decide to return to work, you can always drop your claim.
Benefits will not begin until the sixth full month of disability (and it may take that long to get an initial determination). Many people make the mistake of waiting months or even years after becoming disabled before filing a Social Security disability claim. If you are entitled to receive Social Security disability benefits, you owe it to yourself and your family to take action.
If your Social Security disability claim is approved...
- You will receive monthly benefit checks for you and your family (based on your earnings during your working career) for as long as you are disabled or until you are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits.
- You will get a lump sum payment for any back benefits owed to you.
- You are entitled to extend the period of coverage you might have under COBRA, enabling you to keep health insurance benefits until you become eligible for Medicare.
- Even if you are getting workers' compensation and/or long-term disability benefits, your total income may be increased and you may be entitled to substantial back benefits.
- Your Social Security payments may be tax free depending on your other income. (Long-term disability benefits - if provided by your employer - are considered taxable income.
How do you apply for disability benefits?
You begin the disability applications process for Social Security benefits by contacting an attorney or the Social Security Administration.
What do you need to start the process?
You will need to complete a Disability Report (Form SSA-3368-BK). You will also need the following documentation and information:
- Your Social Security number and proof of your age (original or certified birth certificate).
- Names, addresses, and phone numbers of doctors, hospitals, clinics and institutions that treated you and the approximate dates of treatment.
- Names of all medications you are taking.
- A summary of where you worked and the kind of work you did.
- Your most recent W-2 form, or your tax return if you are self-employed.
A separate signed and witnessed Authorization to Release Medical and Other Information (SSA-827) will be needed for each place or person that will provide information.
Depending on your unique situation, there may be additional forms to complete and paperwork to gather.