We Help Clients Nationwide Make Sense of the Complex Social Security Disability Application Process

Are you considering applying for Social Security disability but feel slightly intimidated by the complex and lengthy application process? When you’re unable to work due to a disabling medical condition, it’s only natural to have a lot of questions about your eligibility for assistance. Fortunately, you've come to the right place for answers. Disability Services of America provides detailed guidance and compassionate support, tirelessly advocating to help people just like you obtain the Social Security disability benefits they deserve. Discover how we could assist you.

Answers to Common Questions About SSI and SSDI

When a medically determinable impairment (MDI) makes employment impossible, you could qualify for health coverage and monthly disability payments from the Social Security Administration (SSA). This federal agency manages two programs for people who can’t work because of a severe disability: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). How are they different? SSI is a needs-based program for people with low income and limited resources, while SSDI is a social insurance program for people who’ve worked in jobs that pay into the Social Security program

Applying for Social Security disability benefits can be complicated and frustrating, leaving you with an extensive list of questions. Read our responses to common Social Security disability queries below.

1. How can I qualify for SSI or SSDI?

  • Supplemental Security Income. You could qualify for SSI if you’re 65 or older, blind, disabled, earn less than $1,971 a month, and have $2,000 or less in the following resources: cash, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, vehicles, land, personal property, life insurance, and anything else you could convert to cash for food or shelter. 
  • Social Security Disability Insurance. Qualifying for SSDI requires having a medically determinable impairment (MDI) that has prevented (or is expected to prevent) substantial gainful activity (SGA) for at least 12 months or result in death. Objective evidence from acceptable medical sources (AMS) can help you establish your MDI.

2. Do I have a qualifying condition?

Though the SSA has a strict definition of disability, numerous physical and mental conditions qualify for SSI and SSDI benefits. You’ll find some of these ailments in the SSA’s Blue Book Listing of Impairments, a medical guide that lists qualifying illnesses and approval criteria. However, even if your disability isn’t in the Blue Book, you could still potentially qualify for benefits by showing that your condition is as disabling as one that qualifies.

3. How long does the disability application process take?

The wait time for an initial decision ranges from six to eight months. Unfortunately, if the SSA denies your SSI or SSDI claim and you must go through the appeal process, it could be several years before you see your first disability payment. Expedited processing is available for claims involving:

  • Terminal illness
  • Presumptive disability
  • Compassionate Allowances
  • Claimants who were on active military duty at the time of disability onset, are a danger to themselves or others, or are in dire need and in danger of losing access to food, housing, or medical care.

4. If the SSA denies most applicants, how can I increase my chances of approval?

The SSA denies approximately 75 percent of applications in the initial stage of its five-step sequential evaluation process. Common reasons for denials include application errors and insufficient objective medical evidence to establish the applicant’s MDI. Having a disability specialist assist you with your SSI or SSDI application could boost your chances of approval.

5. Do I need a lawyer to help me apply for SSI or SSDI?

Although receiving assistance with your application can be crucial for Social Security disability benefits approval, you don't need to hire an attorney. Disability Services of America provides step-by-step guidance and attentive support for every stage of the Social Security disability application process. The SSI and SSDI experts at our Social Security Administration-approved Employment Network (EN) could help you:

  • Review your SSI or SSDI eligibility.
  • Obtain objective medical evidence from AMS establishing the existence and severity of your MDI.
  • Gather non-medical evidence from friends, family, or former coworkers and supervisors who can offer information on how your condition has affected you and your ability to maintain substantial gainful activity (SGA).
  • Complete your application and review it for errors.
  • Submit your SSI or SSDI application, along with the medical and non-medical evidence and information.
  • Maintain communications with your SSA case manager and respond to requests for additional information promptly.
  • Meet critical deadlines throughout the Social Security disability application process. 
  • Advocate for you to receive the SSI or SSDI benefits you deserve.

6. What if the SSA denies my disability claim?

Don’t worry—Disability Services of America can help. After receiving a denial letter, you have 60 days to appeal. Our experienced disability specialists handle every aspect of your appeal, from notifying the SSA to representing you in a hearing before an administrative law judge. There are four levels in the appeals process:

  • Reconsideration. A team not involved in the previous decision thoroughly reviews your claim, along with any newly submitted information, to determine whether you qualify for SSI or SSDI.
  • Disability hearing. If you’re denied disability benefits at the reconsideration level, you can request a hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ) who reviews all the available information and issues their ruling. 
  • Appeals court. Denied again and disagree with the decision? You can ask the Appeals Council to review the ruling.
  • Federal lawsuit. If you disagree with the Appeals Council’s decision, you can file a federal court action with the U.S. District.

7. How does the SSA determine monthly benefit payment amounts?

The SSA determines SSI benefits based on your income, living situation, and various other factors. In 2024, single SSI recipients could receive up to $943 monthly, while couples could collect a maximum of $1,415 per month.

Calculating SSDI benefits is much more complicated. The SSA applies a formula to your average indexed monthly earnings (an up to 35-year summary of your indexed income) to determine your primary insurance amount.

8. If I’m approved for SSI or SSDI benefits, when will I start receiving monthly payments?

SSI recipients typically begin receiving benefit payments within one to two months. SSDI claimants, on the other hand, must wait five months after the SSA determines they’re disabled to get their first payment. However, this waiting period doesn’t apply to applicants with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) who were approved for SSDI benefits on or after July 23, 2020.

9. Do Social Security disability payment amounts ever change?

Payments to SSI recipients vary based on their income, certain family members’ income, living situation, and other factors. Additionally, SSI and SSDI benefit payment amounts increase periodically based on the cost of living, as measured by the Consumer Price Index. The SGA threshold also receives cost of living adjustments based on the same metric.

10. Will I lose my SSI or SSDI benefits if I get a job or return to full-time employment?

SSI and SSDI can be life-changing for people who can’t work because of severely disabling medical conditions. Most Social Security disability recipients are careful to avoid jeopardizing their monthly payments and health coverage. At Disability Services of America, we understand the importance of maintaining your benefits. However, if your condition has improved and you’re considering a return to work, our SSA-approved Employment Network can help you take advantage of the Ticket to Work program. This SSA incentive allows SSI and SSDI recipients to test their ability to return to full-time employment without losing their medical insurance.

Get Experienced and Empathetic Assistance With Your SSI or SSDI Application or Appeal

When you can’t work and are desperately waiting for Social Security disability benefits, there’s far too much at stake to go it alone. Don’t risk an unnecessary denial. Let Disability Services of America provide the skilled guidance you need to navigate the Social Security disability system and secure the SSI or SSDI benefits you deserve.