It used to be that, to file for disability, a Social Security or SSI disability claimant had to call the SSA (Social Security Administration), request that an application be taken for disability benefits, and then wait to be interviewed, either over the phone at a later date, or in person at the Social Security office.
To file for disability today, these options still apply. In fact, for many individuals who need to file for disability, a phone interview is convenient and, to others, an office interview is helpful. Many applicants like to have the assistance of an SSA field representative to fill out the application.
However, a third option, filing for disability benefits online, now exists for individuals who are applying for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) and for some who are applying for SSI (those who have never been married and who are filing for the first time).
You can go to www.ssa.gov/disabilityonline to start your online application. You'll be asked to enter basic information like your name, address, and Social Security number as well as information about dates of employment, employers’ names, the type of work you performed, your total income for the each of the last three years, the types of medical treatment you've received, the names of the doctors and hospitals you’ve visited, and more. (For a list of all the information you'll need to apply online and well as tips for applying online, see our article on applying online for Social Security disability.)
If you can't finish the application in one sitting, you can save your work and come back later (but be sure to write down your application number so you can re-access your application). In fact, it makes sense to start before you've gathered all of your information, since the date you begin your online application counts as your filing date, which affects the amount of disability backpay you’ll receive.
Once you've completed your disability application online, contact the Social Security office nearest to where you live if you have any questions that need to be answered or need to have some issues clarified. If you don't contact Social Security, an SSA claims representative will contact you if he or she has any questions to ask about your disability application.
It may also be a good idea to call your Social Security office simply to confirm that your electronic application was actually received. Not everything that is transmitted online actually arrives at its proper destination.
Consider carefully what date to enter as the date you became unable to work. This is called your "alleged onset date," and it can affect whether you're approved for benefits and how much backpay you receive. The farther back your onset date is, the more backpay you stand to receive. However, you should make sure there is evidence in your medical records going back to the date you claim you were disabled.
If you have had a disability for a long time, it may not do you much good to choose a disability onset date more than 17 months ago, since you generally won't get any more backpay for a disability onset date that goes back further than that. To learn more, see our article on picking a disability onset date.
Completing the necessary steps to file for disability is only the beginning. Getting an initial answer on a Social Security or SSI disability claim can easily take a number of months. And at the end of that time, most claimants will find that their case for benefits has been denied.
How many cases get denied? The numbers can vary significantly from state to state, but, nationwide, seven out of ten disability cases are turned down at the initial application stage. What this means for most disability claimants is that, to eventually win their disability benefits, they will need to file one or more appeals for SSI or SSDI. Most appeals require you to appeal at a disability hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), though a disability hearing doesn't usually occur until at least one year, sometimes two, after the initial application is filed.
You can file an appeal online to appeal either an SSDI or SSI decision, or you can file in person by filling out a request for appeal. For more information, see our disability denials and appeals section.