The Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs provide assistance to people with disabilities. This page provides detailed information about disability benefits and can help you understand what to expect from Social Security during the disability process.
Before you apply, take time to review the basics, understand the process, and gather the information and documents you’ll need to complete an application.
The Basics About Disability Benefits
The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program pays benefits to you and certain family members if you are “insured,” meaning that you worked long enough – and recently enough - and paid Social Security taxes on your earnings. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources.
While the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs are different, the medical requirements are the same. If you meet the non-medical requirement criteria, monthly benefits are paid if you have a medical condition that’s expected to last at least one year or result in death.
The Disability Application Process
The disability benefits application process follows these general steps, whether you apply online, by phone, or in person:
- 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 you need to complete the application.
- You complete and submit your application.
- We review your application to make sure you meet some basic requirements for disability benefits.
- We check whether 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 completes the disability determination decision for us.
To learn more about who decides if you are disabled, read our publication Disability Benefits.
Once You've Applied
Once we receive your application, we’ll review it and contact you if we have any questions. We might request additional documents from you before we can process your application.
Look For Our Response
You’ll receive a letter in the mail with our 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 from your application.
Check The Status
You can check the status of your application online using your 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 a right to appeal any decision we make about whether you’re entitled to benefits. You must request an appeal in writing within 60 days of receiving our decision. There are four levels of appeal:
- A hearing before an administrative law judge.
- A review by Social Security’s Appeals Council.
- A review by the federal courts.
To learn more, visit Appeal A Decision.
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 your minor children.
- 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 you are taking and who prescribed them.
- Names and dates of medical tests you have had and who sent you for 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 5) 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/or similar benefits you filed, or intend to file for. These benefits can:
- Be temporary or permanent in nature.
- 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; and
- 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 (This includes 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) and/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, or medical documents, but we must see the original 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 become disabled. 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 into your 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; and
- Have not been denied for disability in the last 60 days.
Note: If your application was recently denied, our Internet Appeal application is a starting point to request a review of the determination we made.
You can now also file for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) online but only if you:
- Are between the ages of 18 and 65.
- Have never been married.
- Are a U.S. citizen residing in one of the fifty states, District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands.
- Haven’t applied for or received SSI benefits in the past.
- Are applying for Social Security Disability Insurance at the same time as your SSI claim.
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. Although our offices are closed to the public, employees from those offices are assisting people by telephone. 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 Advanced Designation. This relates to the Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act of 2018, which was signed into law on April 13, 2018.
Advance Designation allows capable adult and emancipated minor applicants and beneficiaries of Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, and Special Veterans Benefits to choose one or more individuals to serve as their representative payee in the future, if the need arises.
To help protect what’s important to you, we now offer the option to choose a representative payee in advance. In the event that you can no longer make your own decisions, you and your family will have peace of mind knowing you already chose someone you trust to manage your benefits. If you need a representative payee to assist with the management of your benefits, we will first consider your advance designees, but we must still fully evaluate them and determine their suitability at that time.
You can submit your advance designation request when you apply for benefits or after you are already receiving benefits. You may do so through your my Social Security account, by telephone, or in person.