1. Apply ASAP - Apply for your benefits as soon as possible. Realize that you can’t apply for benefits on the day you become disabled until 5 months after the onset of the disability is deemed to have occurred. It can take more than a year for your claim to be approved, and even longer if you appeal. At the time you apply, the maximum amount of time you can claim for the disability having started is 12 months. Payment for this time is considered Retroactive Pay. So, if you apply 18 months after the onset of your disability, you can only file for 12 of those months. But with the automatic 5 month waiting period, you could only apply for benefits dating back to 7 months before your application date, in addition to ongoing benefits you are applying for.
2. Be Detailed and Honest - Provide as much information and detail on your disabling condition. You don’t want to spend extra time going back and forth with the SSA if they need names, dates, or any details on your disability. Make sure also that the information you provide is accurate and transparent. Be prepared to back up any claims or accounts of your experience as much as possible with things like receipts, doctors’ notes, or work records.
3. Let Your Doctor Know - Your doctor or doctors will play an important role in your disability application process, or appeal. You will most likely need to request your records if they are relevant to your disability. This would include, but not limited to, doctors reports, prescriptions, test results, imaging results like MRIs and Ct Scans.
5. Personal Journal - Keep a journal of your day to day experience throughout the application process, and if possible, start before you are eligible to apply. This will help you recount events and experiences that are affected by your disability. What makes the bad days bad, and the good days maybe a little better. This can help you substantiate your disability claim than just going by memory.
6. Doctor’s Orders - Follow your doctor's orders, take your medications, keep and follow through with any doctor's appointments, tests, assessments, or physical therapy arranged for you. This can be particularly important when it comes to appointments arranged by the SSA, your claims examiner, or ordered by a judge. Failure to keep appointments or follow through with doctor’s instructions could create doubt in the mind of a claims examiner on the seriousness of your claim.
7. If you are working, pay attention to your earnings each month. Making over the allowable limit can stop you from receiving your benefits. As of 2022, the limit for earned income is $1,350 or $2,660 if you are blind. Earning over this amount is considered Substantial Gainful Activity by the SSA and that anyone earning more than this amount isn’t considered disabled for the purpose of receiving benefits. Note that income sources other than employment don't affect your SSDI claim. So receiving pensions, investment income, any form of royalties for your intellectual property, as well as gifts from friends and relatives are examples if income that would not impact your SSDI Claim.
8. Deadlines - While you want to apply as early as you can. It is very important to adhere to any deadlines within your appeal. This can include requests for medical records or other information made by the SSA. You are expected to cooperate with the SSA and your claims examiner. Failure to cooperate, or even the appearance of such, could jeopardize your claim, or at least impede your progress.
9. Appeal - If your claim is denied you are not alone. Nationwide more than two-thirds of initial disability applications are denied. You do have recourse through the appeals process that offers four levels of appeal. But you must act quickly. There is a 60-day limit on filing your first, or any subsequent appeal.
10. Social Security Attorney - You may want to consider hiring a Social Security Disability Attorney. Experienced disability attorneys are familiar with all of the protocols and procedures listed above and know what the SSA is looking for when it comes to approving or denying a disability application. When a disability attorney takes your case, you don’t have to pay a retainer fee or pay any money up front. Your attorney only gets paid if your case is successful through a percentage of your back pay.