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Applying for Disability

The Application Process

There are multiple appeals in the Social Security disability process. Here is a look at how it all works.

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Initial Application

Anyone who believes he or she may qualify for Social Security benefits should apply immediately. The process is a long one, and benefits are paid based on the date of application. If you are able to go back to work, you can always withdraw your application. The important thing is to get the process started.

Call the Social Security Administration (SSA) at 1-800-772-1213 to make your application. SSA will contact you for an interview day. You can also apply online through the SSA.

The SSA will notify you of their decision within four months of your application.


If the decision on your application is unfavorable, you have the right to request reconsideration, and you should do that because many applications are not granted until the third step in the process the hearing. Preserving your rights along the way may mean greater back benefits. Your request for reconsideration must be filed within 60 days of the day you receive your denial. You may be asked to see a doctor who will evaluate your condition. You should cooperate with any such examination. The process of initial application and reconsideration can take more than a year.

The Hearing

If your claim is denied on reconsideration, you have 60 days to request a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). In Oregon, it typically takes about 400 days for a hearing to be scheduled after you request it. This is the point in time when you need an attorney to help you.The hearing is the only time you get to present your case in person to a decision maker in Social Security. You are entitled to have a lawyer at your hearing. Your lawyer will argue your case to the judge and cross-examine witnesses the Social Security Administration is likely to call, such as medical experts and vocational experts.

The hearing is a very important stage because over two-thirds of denied claimants who go to their hearing have their cases finally approved. After the hearing, the judge will issue a written decision, but it can take months to receive it.

Appeals Council / Federal District Court

If the Administrative Law Judge finds you are not disabled, you can appeal this decision to the Social Security Appeals Council located in Fairfax, VA. The appeal takes about 18 months. If that decision is unfavorable, you can appeal that decision to United States District Court. District Court decisions can take as much as 6 to 8 months to adjudicate. Those decisions can then be appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Thus, a decision in a Social Security case can take several years to become final.

Ten tips for filling out a strong application for Social Security Disability Benefits

  • Go to your local field office of the Social Security Administration (SSA) and get assistance in person from SSA personnel when you fill out your application. Unless you’re very sure you can do it online, getting the help of these folks is definitely the way to go.
  • Bring with you a list of the names, addresses, phone numbers, and dates of service for all the doctors, hospitals, and clinics you’ve seen for your injury or illness.
  • Bring with you a list of all medications and dosages you are currently taking.
  • When applying, list ALL of your medical conditions, not just the one that is the worst. SSA will look at all of your conditions together and how they affect you. A medical condition that you leave out might limit you from work in a manner that you did not think of.
  • Your application should include a complete work history that describes all the kinds of jobs you’ve held over the past fifteen years. It’s a good idea to write down all your old work before meeting with SSA or filling out papers.
  • When filling out the forms about your prior work, don’t inflate your credentials to make it seem like you were a great worker. Be honest about your past work and how you performed it.
  • Fill out the application and all other forms completely. This is not the time to be hasty or incomplete.
  • If, after you submit your Social Security application, you’re asked for more information or paperwork, respond promptly.
  • SSA will send you a Function Report SSA- 3733. This form requests information about how you are limited in day-to-day functioning. Fill it out completely and with all details. Don’t exaggerate, but don’t under-report your symptoms either.
  • Be sure to make and keep copies of all documents.

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