Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs provide assistance to people who meet our requirements for disability.
Before you apply, please review the basics to make sure you understand what to expect during the application process. Also, gather the information and documents you’ll need to complete an application.
The Basics About Disability Benefits
The SSDI program pays benefits to you and certain family members if you are “insured.” This means that you worked long enough – and recently enough - and paid Social Security taxes on your earnings. The SSI program pays benefits to adults and children who meet our requirements for a qualifying disability and have limited income and resources.
While these two programs are different, the medical requirements are the same. If you meet the nonmedical requirements, monthly benefits are paid if you have a medical condition expected to last at least one year or result in death.
The Disability Application Process
Whether you apply online, by phone, or in person, the disability benefits application process follows these general steps:
- You gather the information and documents you need to apply. We recommend you print and review the Adult Disability Checklist. It will help you gather the information and documents you need to complete the application.
- You complete and submit your application.
- We review your application to make sure you meet our basic requirements for disability benefits.
- We confirm you worked enough years to qualify.
- We evaluate any current work activities.
- We process your application and forward your case to the Disability Determination Services office in your state.
- This state agency makes the disability determination decision.
To learn more about who decides if you have a disability, read our publication Disability Benefits.
Once You've Applied
Processing time for disability applications vary depending on the nature of the disability, necessary medical evidence or examinations, and applicable quality reviews.
Once we receive your application, we’ll review it and contact you if we have questions. We might request additional documents from you before we can proceed.
Look For Our Response
When the state agency makes a determination on your case, you’ll receive a letter in the mail with our decision. It generally takes three to six months for an initial decision. If you included information about other family members when you applied, we’ll let you know if they may be able to receive benefits on your record.
Check The Status
You can check the status of your application online using your personal my Social Security account. If you are unable to check your status online, you can call us 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Appeal A Decision
You have the right to appeal any decision we make about whether you’re entitled to benefits. You must request an appeal in writing within 60 days after you receive the notice of our decision. There are four levels of appeal:
- Hearing by an administrative law judge.
- Review by the Appeals Council.
- Federal Court Review.
Information You Need to Apply
Before applying, be ready to provide information about yourself, your medical condition, and your work. We recommend you print and review the Adult Disability Checklist. It will help you gather the information you need to complete the application.
Information About You
- Your date and place of birth and Social Security number.
- The name, Social Security number, and date of birth or age of your current spouse and any former spouse. You should also know the dates and places of marriage and dates of divorce or death (if appropriate).
- Names and dates of birth of children not yet 18 years of age.
- Your bank or other financial institution's Routing Transit Number and the account number.
Information About Your Medical Condition
- Name, address, and phone number of someone we can contact who knows about your medical conditions and can help with your application.
- Detailed information about your medical illnesses, injuries, or conditions:
- Names, addresses, phone numbers, patient ID numbers, and dates of treatment for all doctors, hospitals, and clinics.
- Names of medicines, the amount you are taking, and who prescribed them.
- Names and dates of medical tests you have had and who ordered them.
Information About Your Work:
- The amount of money earned last year and this year.
- The name and address of your employer(s) for this year and last year.
- The beginning and ending dates of any active U.S. military service you had before 1968.
- A list of the jobs (up to five) that you had in the 15 years before you became unable to work and the dates you worked at those jobs.
- Information about any workers' compensation, black lung, and similar benefits you filed, or intend to file for. These benefits can:
- Be temporary or permanent.
- Include annuities and lump sum payments that you received in the past.
- Be paid by your employer or your employer's insurance carrier, private agencies, or federal, state, or other government or public agencies.
- Be referred to as:
- Workers' Compensation.
- Black Lung Benefits.
- Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation.
- Civil Service (Disability) Retirement.
- Federal Employees' Retirement.
- Federal Employees' Compensation.
- State or local government disability insurance benefits.
- Disability benefits from the military. These include military retirement pensions based on disability but not Veterans' Administration (VA) benefits.
Documents You Need to Provide
Along with the information listed above, we may ask you to provide documents to show that you are eligible, such as:
- Birth certificate or other proof of birth.
- Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the United States.
- U.S. military discharge paper(s) if you had military service before 1968.
- W-2 forms(s) or self-employment tax returns for last year.
- Medical evidence already in your possession. This includes medical records, doctors' reports, and recent test results.
- Award letters, pay stubs, settlement agreements, or other proof of any temporary or permanent workers' compensation-type benefits you received.
We accept photocopies of W-2 forms, self-employment tax returns, and medical documents, but we must see the originals of most other documents, such as your birth certificate. (We will return them to you.)
Do not delay applying for benefits because you do not have all the documents. We will help you get them.
Apply for Benefits Online
You should apply for disability benefits as soon as you develop a disability. Follow these easy steps to apply online for disability:
- To start your application, go to our Apply for Benefits page, and read and agree to the Terms of Service. Click “Next.”
- On that page, review the “Getting Ready” section to make sure you have the information you need to apply.
- Select “Start A New Application.”
- We will ask a few questions about who is filling out the application.
- You will then sign in to your personal my Social Security account, or you will be prompted to create one.
- Complete the application.
You can use the online application to apply for disability benefits if you:
- Are age 18 or older.
- Are not currently receiving benefits on your own Social Security record.
- Are unable to work because of a medical condition that is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death.
- Have not been denied for disability in the last 60 days.
You may be able to file online for SSI at the same time that you file for SSDI benefits. Once you complete the online process described above, a Social Security representative will contact you if we need additional information.
Other Ways You Can Apply
Apply With Your Local Office
You can do most of your business with Social Security online. If you cannot use these online services, your local Social Security office can help you apply. You can find the phone number for your local office by using our Office Locator and looking under Social Security Office Information. The toll-free “Office” number is your local office.
Apply By Phone
Call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, to apply by phone.
If You Do Not Live in the U.S. Or One of Its Territories
Contact the Federal Benefits Unit for your country of residence if you live outside the U.S. or a U.S. territory and wish to apply for retirement benefits.
Mailing Your Documents
If you mail any documents to us, you must include the Social Security number so that we can match them with the correct application. Do not write anything on the original documents. Please write the Social Security number on a separate sheet of paper and include it in the mailing envelope along with the documents.
Information for Advocates, Attorneys, and Third Parties
What do I need to know about Advance Designation?
You should be aware of another type of representation called Advance Designation.
Advance Designation allows capable adult and emancipated minors who are applying for or receiving Social Security benefits, Supplemental Security Income, or Special Veterans Benefits the option to choose up to three people in advance who could serve as their representative payee, if the need arises.
In the event that you can no longer manage your benefits, you and your family will have peace of mind knowing that someone you trust may be appointed to manage your benefits for you. If you need a representative payee to assist with the management of your benefits, we will first consider your advance designees. We must still fully evaluate them and determine their suitability at that time.
You can submit and update your advance designation request when you apply for benefits or after you are already receiving benefits. You may do so through your personal my Social Security account, contacting us by telephone at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), or at your local office.
- Disability Publications
- Nutrition Assistance Programs
- Career Support for People With Disabilities
- The Faces and Facts of Disability
- Benefits for People with Disabilities
- Information for Representatives
- Helping Someone Apply Online
- What You Need to Know About The Online Disability Application
- Adults with a Disability that Began Before Age 22