Filing a Social Security Disability Benefits Claim

Find out how to claim your Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits.

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It is important to file your claim for Social Security disability benefits as soon as you become disabled, because there is a waiting period of five months after you file before you can begin receiving payments. The Social Security Administration imposes this waiting period to ensure that your disability is a lasting one, as required. If you wait a long time to file, you will be disappointed to learn that back payments are limited to the 12 months before the date on which you file.

You file your claim online or at one of the Social Security Administration offices located in most cities, listed through the ZIP Code search feature of the Social Security website at www.ssa.gov. Learn more about filing for Social Security disability.

Documentation Required

If you visit a Social Security office, a field representative will complete the forms and other paperwork necessary to file a disability claim. You will need to provide as much documentation as you can, including:

  • medical information including the names, addresses and phone numbers of all doctors, hospitals and clinics; patient ID numbers; dates you were seen; names of medicines you are taking
  • any medical records you have
  • an original or certified copy of your birth certificate; if you were born in another country, proof of U.S. citizenship or legal residency
  • if you were in the military service, the original or a certified copy of your military discharge papers (Form DD 214) for all periods of active duty
  • if you worked, your W-2 form from last year, or if you were self-employed, your federal tax return (IRS 1040 and Schedules C and SE)
  • workers’ compensation information, including date of injury, claim number and proof of payment amounts
  • Social Security numbers of your spouse and minor children
  • your checking or savings account number, if you have them
  • name, address, and phone number of a person to contact if the agency is unable to get in touch with you, and
  • kinds of jobs and dates you worked in the 15 years before you became unable to work.

Admittedly, this is a fairly comprehensive list. Do the best you can—and do not put off applying or cancel a planned visit to the Social Security office if you don’t have it all in hand.

If you have dependents who may be eligible for benefits under your Social Security disability insurance claim, you will have to present similar documentation for them when you file your claim. (Or they can file their own claim.)

Determining Disability

The Social Security Administration will then investigate your claim—and will pay for any examinations and reports it requires to verify your claim. The Social Security staff will help you with the paperwork and procedures required for approval if needed.

The results of any consultative examinations you attend will be sent to your state’s vocational rehabilitation agency (Disability Determination Services), which is responsible for determining whether or not you are considered sufficiently disabled to qualify for benefits. In some cases, the vocational rehabilitation office will conduct its own personal interviews before giving the Social Security Administration a decision on your case.

Calculating Benefits

Like other Social Security benefits, the amount of your monthly disability check is determined by your age earnings record. The amount of your benefits will be based upon your average earnings for all the years you have been working—not just on the salary you were making most recently. Although the amount may be substantial, it alone will not likely equal your preinjury income.

Monthly payments for individuals qualifying for disability benefits average $1,148. The average disability payment for a disabled worker, spouse, and child(ren) is $1,943 per month. There is also usually a yearly cost of living increase based on the Consumer Price Index. 

Some people—generally only those with high total incomes—may have to pay federal income taxes on part of their Social Security disability benefits. At the end of the year, you will receive a Social Security Benefit Statement showing the amount of benefits you received.

If you receive only a small disability benefit, and you do not have a large amount of savings or other assets, you may be eligible for SSI benefits in addition to your Social Security disability benefit. 

To find out how much your benefit will be, go to a page called My Social Security on the Social Security Administration's website. Once you log in, you'll be abeto see the amount of your estimated retirement benefits as well as disability and survivor benefit amounts.

There are also three types of benefits calculators available at www.ssa.gov/planners/benefitcalculators.htm.:

  • A quick calculator: This gives you a simple, rough estimate when you input your date of birth and this year’s earnings.
  • An online calculator: You can input your date of birth and your complete earnings history to get a benefit estimate. You may project your future earnings until your retirement date.
  • A detailed calculator: This calculator provides the most precise estimates. It must be downloaded and installed on your computer before you can use it.

You should also receive some back payments from Social Security; read our article on Social Security disability backpay to estimate the amount of backpay you'll get.

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