Establishing Disability



  1. If I am a disabled adult, can I apply for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA)?

    Yes. You can apply for either Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.

  2. What’s the difference?

    • SSD: If you worked before you become disabled and paid FICA taxes, you may be eligible for SSD. (FICA taxes come out of your paycheck for social security tax and Medicare).
    • SSI: If you never worked and you become disabled, you may be eligible for SSI. (In some instances, if you worked only a few years or earned very low wages, then you may also be eligible for SSI. If you are not sure, apply for both).

  3. How do I apply for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration?

    • In person at your local Social Security Office or,
    • Over the phone (1-800-772-1213)
    • Online (if you are applying for SSD)

  4. What do I have to prove to be found disable

    You will have to prove, with medical and other evidence, that
    • You have a physical and/or mental impairment;
    • That prevents you from working and
    • Has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or result in death.

  5. What will I need to prove my disability?ted?

    • Your medical records from past & current clinics and hospitals;
    • Lab test results and results from tests like MRIs, CAT-Scans, X-rays, EKG, etc.
    • Letters or reports from your treating doctors or psychiatrists that state what you suffer from; what symptoms you feel; what the doctor’s findings are, the medications you take and, how your disability causes you to have difficulty functioning physically or mentally or both.

  6. Will SSA send me to see doctors?

    Yes. During the application process, SSA sends applicants to doctors (consultative examiners) who write a report for SSA about your visit. It is best to also get reports from your own doctors because (a) your doctor is more familiar with your condition, and (b) SSA is supposed to give more weight to your treating doctor’s reports.

  7. What if my application is denied & I disagree?

    If your application is denied you will receive a written notice. You must appeal within 60 days of the denial notice. The next step depends on why your application is denied:
    • If denied for non-disability reason (like you have too much money in the bank; or you are not eligible because of your immigration status, etc.), you must request “reconsideration”. If that is denied also, you must request a “hearing”.
    • If denied for disability reason, in New York State, you must request a “hearing”.
    • All forms can be found online or you can get the proper form from your local SSA office.

  8. What happens at the hearing?

    Your disability file is sent from your local SSA office to the Hearing office in the borough where you live.

    You will receive a Notice of Hearing with a date and time to appear at the hearing where you will get the chance to explain to the Judge why you feel that you cannot work. Be patient - because of a huge backlog, it may take many months before your hearing is scheduled.

  9. What if I lose my Hearing?

    • You can appeal the unfavorable decision within 60 days by writing a letter to SSA’s Appeals Council. The address is on the Notice of Decision that you receive from the hearing office.
    • In your letter, you can explain to the Appeals Council why you think the judge was wrong. If you have a new report from your doctor about the disability you discussed at the hearing, you can send it in with your appeal letter. (You can also fill out SSA’s appeal form, “Request for Review of Hearing Decision/Order.” This form can be obtained online or at your local SSA office).
    • If the Appeals Council agrees with the Judge, you can then appeal to Federal Court.

  10. If I win my case and get disability benefits, will they be permanent?

    No. Periodically, SSA conducts reviews (called “continuing disability reviews”) to see if you are still disabled or if your condition improved.

  11. What is the best thing I can do to improve my chances of winning my case?

    • You should continue to go to your doctor’s appointments. If you cannot make an appointment, call your doctor’s office and reschedule.
    • You should take your medications as prescribed. If for some reason you don’t want to take a particular medication, discuss it with your doctor to see if there is an alternative you can take. (Otherwise, when SSA looks at your medical records, they will see that you did not follow your doctor’s treatment plan and that may hurt your case).
    • Tell the truth and don’t exaggerate.


(July 25, 2011)