If you have an illness or injury that prevents you from working for at least a year, or you are suffering from an illness diagnosed as terminal, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (SSDI).
The first step is to determine whether you have paid enough in Social Security taxes over your lifetime to qualify for disability benefits. You can order a Social Security statement from the Social Security website showing your lifetime earnings and an estimate of your benefits.
The next step is to fill out an application. You can apply online or make an appointment at your local Social Security office. Social Security should request your medical records from your doctors. You should tell your doctors that you are applying and follow up to see if they have sent in the records. Social Security will then decide whether to approve or deny your claim, usually within two to three months after they receive your medical records.
There are two different ways to qualify for SSDI benefits. The first is by meeting the criteria for a listed impairment. These are conditions and diagnoses that Social Security has already ruled are incompatible with holding down a full-time job. If you have one of these diagnoses, you are automatically approved.
If you do not meet the criteria for a listed impairment, you may qualify for a medical-vocational allowance if all of your health conditions, taken together, make it impossible for you to work 40 hours per week at any job for which you are qualified. You should list all of your doctors on the SSDI benefits application, because often, a combination of more minor conditions can make it impossible for you to be a reliable and efficient worker, even though each problem in itself is not disabling.
You should be aware that many SSDI claims are denied and that you must appeal within the time limits. Many people find that the complexity of the application or appeal process is just too difficult. An experienced Social Security Disability lawyer can help you to successfully apply or appeal a denial.