To apply for disability benefits from the federal government, you can either go to your local Social Security office, call 800-772-1213, or, to apply for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance), start your disability application online at ssa.gov/disabilityonline. You cannot apply online for SSI disability benefits.
Applying for Disability in Person
If you aren’t familiar with filling out forms online, or if you’d like to be able to ask someone questions as you fill out the forms online, you may want to go into the Social Security office. If you decide to go into your local Social Security office, the field representative will lead you through the following paper forms:
- Form SSA-16-BK, Application for Disability Insurance Benefits
- Form SSA-3368-BK, Adult Disability Report,
- Form SSA-3369-BK, Work History Report, and
- Form SSA-827-BK, Authorization to Disclose Information to the Social Security Administration.
Applying for Disability Online
If you decide to file online, you may need some guidance filling in these forms. Here is some information about the answers you’ll need to provide to Social Security.
To apply online, you’ll need to enter information such as dates of employment, your employers’ names, your spouse’s information, and contact information for the doctors and hospitals you’ve visited. You’ll also need to provide routing information for your bank account so that Social Security can direct deposit your disability check. If you don’t have an account, you can sign up for a DirectExpress debit card.
But don’t wait until you’ve gathered all your information. You can get started now and save your application and go back to it as many times as you need. (Keep track of the application number you are assigned when you start the online application process. You’ll need this number to get back into the application, and also to track the status of your application.)
You should take advantage of getting an early filing date by starting your online applicaiton now, since the date you begin your online application counts as your application date, which is important for the amount of disability backpay you’ll receive.
Adult Disability Report
If you file online, you'll find that the Adult Disability Report has just been combined into the main application, along with the Work History Report. In this part of the online application, you will be asked in detail about your medical conditions. You’ll also need to include the types of medical treatment you have received and the names of the doctors and hospitals you’ve visited.
Make sure you enter all physical and mental conditions that you suffer from. Even if you think one of your medical conditions isn’t severe, the combination of your conditions can add up to an inability to work.
Pay careful attention to what date you put for “date you became unable to work.” This is your disability onset date, and it has some important implications. The farther back your onset date is, the more backpay you stand to receive from Social Security. However, make sure there is evidence in your medical records going back to the date you claim you were disabled. And even if you have had a disability for a long time, you probably shouldn't choose a disability onset date more than 17 months ago. For more information, see our article on picking a disability onset date.
In the section that asks how your condition keeps you from working, include detailed information on how your impairment limits your work activities. Here are some examples of how you can relate your limitations to your medical condition.
- My herniated disc keeps me from being able to sit more than one hour at a time without taking walking breaks.
- My doctor has restricted me from lifting more than 20 pounds because of the avascular necrosis in both of my hips.
- I cannot stand and walk more than four hours per day because of exhaustion caused by my chronic fatigue syndrome.
In the "Remarks" section at the end, you can add information on how your medical condition affects your activities of daily living.
Authorization to Disclose Medical Information
At the end of the application, you will be asked whether you consent to have your medical records disclosed to the SSA. You must select “yes” if you want the SSA to collect records on your behalf. This is instead of filling out the paper Form SSA-827-BK, Authorization to Disclose Information to the Social Security Administration.
Consider Contacting an Attorney
The application process can be lengthy and confusing. If you have questions about any stage of the process, you might want to contact an experienced disability attorney. To find a disability attorney in your area, visit our attorney locator page.