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In this article I will tell you what to expect when you apply Social Security disability benefits in United States. Also, I will tell you step by step process to apply for disability benefits. Applying for disability can be a confusing process, so I am going to explain five of the most common steps that most of the people experience when they are going through the process. It is important to note that these will be general steps that you are likely to go through, but each person and each set of circumstances is different.

Step one (the initial application)

The initial application consists of a series of paperwork where you are going to need to explain to the Social Security Administration (SSA) that why you cannot no longer work and what medical condition you are dealing with.

Social Security Administration will also certainly ask you for your medical records for the conditions that you are claiming are making it difficult for you to work, as well as your work history very often and your description of the types of tasks that you are able to do on a day-to-day basis. I hereby suggest you to follow up with the Social Security Administration after you submit your initial application, whether that be in person, in writing, or by phone, to make sure that your application has not gotten lost and that they are processing it.

Step two (Supplemental or Secondary Paperwork)

It is important to note that the Social Security Administration often asks for additional information after you submit your initial application. This paperwork often asks the same or similar questions that you have already answered for the SSA, but they are looking for more detail.

Step three (the initial decision)

Occasionally, the Social Security Administration may ask you to go to one of their medical examiners after you have provided that initial application. It is like routine medical check-up but I have no exact information to share with you.

Aside from that, unfortunately, there is just a waiting period. It normally takes about five to six months for the SSA to process your initial application. And when you do hear back from the SSA, after that five to six months, it might not be good news. Almost 80% of people are denied at the initial application. It is important to note here that you should not get discouraged when you get that initial rejection as most people are approved at a later stage.

It is important to note that if you are amongst the majority who receive a rejection after the initial application, the SSA is required to tell you why. Occasionally it’s a technical reason. Like you are working too many hours or you do not meet the income requirements to qualify.

But, there is not much that you can do when you receive this kind of rejection except for changing your income or the number of hours that you work. Most often it’s a denial for medical reasons. The SSA is looking for more proof that you cannot work. Whatever the reason would be, you should request a reconsideration.

Step 4 (reconsideration)

This is the easiest step and you have 60 days to request reconsideration. And for the most part, all you need to do is check a box. Unfortunately, very few people receive benefits at the reconsideration stage and about 90% get a rejection. But you need to complete this step to go to a hearing. Only after your reconsideration is denied are you able to request a hearing.

Step 5 (the hearing)

At this point, you need to have a lawyer, as without one you won’t be able to prove your case to disability judge. Over 80% of people at the hearing stage have a lawyer or legal representative when they go before a judge.

At the hearing, a judge or your lawyer will ask you questions about your condition. The SSA will bring somebody to the hearing called a vocational expert. Vocational expert’s job is to understand your work history, the job requirements, and whether you can do other types of work. It is important to note that your lawyer can cross-examine this expert, trying to prove that you cannot do the job that they may be claiming that you can.

Since COVID-19, almost all hearings are virtual, so it will be important to find a quiet space with good connectivity. Different questions could be asked at your hearing, so you should prepare yourself with help of your lawyer. Your lawyer must be an expert in disability cases so he can prove your case.

Step 6 (get a decision).

It normally takes one to two months to get the decision from the Administrative Law Judge, and often your lawyer will hear first. If you are approved, you will start getting monthly checks from the Social Security Administration. And often you will receive a lump sum in your first check, which includes your back pay. This covers all payments you would have accrued during your application period. However, not everyone gets back pay, but most people do.

What if your application is rejected?

However, if you are rejected, you can talk to your lawyer about the next stage of appeals, which is in federal court, but that is a rare and complicated process. I must admit here that applying for disability benefits can be complicated and overwhelming process but getting an approval is life-changing, and can even be life-saving for some people.

Too many qualified people give up because the process is so daunting. But having the right legal team can really help. People are three times more likely to win benefits at the hearing stage with a lawyer compared to without one.


Some people think it’s easy to get disability benefits, you just need to get the form from the Social Security Administration, apply, wait for a decision, and you are done. While some others think it’s hard to get Social Security benefits and process is so difficult to complete, as it takes forever, complex and your chances of approval of low. However, neither are completely true. So, in today’s article I coverd all the details of the disability application process. I made it easy to understand the whole process and what to expect when you apply and what to do if you are rejected.

I hope this article would benefit you. If you need more information on this topic or any other topics related to Social Security benefits, please visit my website: I regularly post different articles and if you have any questions about any issue related to Social Security and other financial matters, you can leave me a comment with your name and email and I will respond you as soon as I could, please.

Thanks for reading

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