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How do I apply for disability?

Disability is something most people don't like to think about, but studies show that a 20-year-old-worker has a 1-in-4 chance of becoming disabled before reaching full retirement age. Those who cannot work due to a medical condition that is expected to last one year or result in death can receive disability benefits; however, federal law has a very strict definition of disability.

To determine if someone is disabled, the Social Security Administration (SSA) asks these five questions:

1 . Are you working?

If you’re working and your earnings average more than a certain amount each month, the SSA generally won’t consider you to be disabled. The amount changes each year. If you’re not working, or your monthly earnings average to the current amount or less, the state agency then looks at your medical condition.

2 . Is your medical condition “severe”?

For you to be considered to have a disability by the SSA's definition, your medical condition must significantly limit your ability to do basic work  activities—such as lifting, standing, walking, sitting, and remembering—for at least 12 months. If your medical condition isn’t severe, the SSA won’t consider you to be disabled.  If your condition is severe, the SSA will  proceed to question three.

3 . Does your impairment(s) meet or medically equal a listing?

The SSA's list of impairments describes medical  conditions that the SSA considers severe enough to prevent  a person from completing substantial gainful activity,  regardless of age, education, or work experience. If your medical condition (or combination of medical conditions) isn’t on this list, the state agency looks to see if your  condition is as severe as a condition on the list. If the  severity of your medical condition meets or equals the severity of a listed impairment, the state agency will decide that you have a qualifying disability. If the severity of your condition doesn’t meet or equal the severity level of a listed impairment, the state agency goes on to question four.

4 . Can you do the work you did before?

At this step, the SSA decides if your medical impairment(s) prevents you from performing any of your past work. If it doesn’t, the SSA will decide you don’t have a qualifying disability. If it does, then the SSA will proceed to question five.

5 . Can you do any

other type of work?

If you can’t do the work you did in the past, the SSA looks to see if there’s other work you can do despite your  impairment(s). The SSA considers your age, education, past work experience, and any skills you may have that could be used to do other work. If you can’t do other work, the SSA will decide that you’re disabled. If you can do other work, the SSA will decide that you don’t have a qualifying disability.

To apply for  disability benefits, you’ll need to complete an application for Social Security benefits. You can apply online at The information needed to complete your application includes:

• Your Social Security number;

• Your birth or baptismal certificate;

• Names, addresses and phone numbers of the doctors, caseworkers, ho-spitals and clinics that took care of you, as well as the dates of your visits;

• Names and dosage of all the medicine you take;

• Medical records from your doctors, therapists, hospitals, clinics and caseworkers that you already have in your possession;

• Laboratory and test results;

• A summary of where you worked and the kind of work you did; and

• A copy of your most recent W-2 Form (Wage and Tax Statement) or, if you’re self-employed, your federal tax returns for the past year.

In addition to the basic application for disability benefits, you’ll also need to fill out other forms. One form collects information about your medical condition and how it  affects your ability to work. Other forms give doctors,  hospitals and other healthcare professionals who have treated you, permission to send the SSA information about your medical condition.

When the state agency makes a determination on your case, the SSA will send a letter to you. If your application is approved, the letter will show the amount of your benefit,  and when your payments start. If your application isn’t approved, the letter will explain why and tell you how to appeal the determination if you don’t agree with it.

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