When applying for Social Security disability benefits, the first step is filling out an SSDI application form. Figuring out how to fill out an SSDI application requires some basic personal and medical information, as well as an understanding of the application process. If you don’t have access to the information required or don’t understand how to get the information, consider working with a disability lawyer who can help you through the claims process.

Ways to Apply for SSDI

The first step in applying for Social Security disability benefits starts with an SSDI application form. The Social Security Administration (SSA) allows you to file your application online or through a local SSA field office. In Illinois, SSDI claims are handled by the Bureau of Disability Determination Services (DDS), the state agency that makes the initial determinations about SSDI eligibility for benefits.

Filing an Application Online

To submit an online application, you need to first review the Adult Disability Benefits Checklist to determine whether your case qualifies for benefits. You will be required to establish your personal my Social Security account and agree to a “Terms of Service Agreement.” If the SSA is not able to process your request, you will receive information on how to contact the SSA by phone or schedule an appointment with a local field office.

When applying for disability benefits online, you must complete 4 steps in the online process, and each step must be completed before you move to the next step. However, you are not required to complete all 4 steps at once. The 4 steps include:

  1. Provide background information
  2. Provide disability information
  3. Sign a Medical Release
  4. Confirmation

Since the SSDI online application requires a lot of information, you should plan on spending one to two hours to complete all the necessary steps in the application process. If you can’t complete your application in one session, you can use your “Re-entry Number” issued earlier to come back later. The online application does not allow you to make changes after you select “Accept and Continue” to move to the next step in the process.

Filing an Application at a Local Field Office

If you are not familiar with online applications or prefer talking to someone in person, it’s best to file your application at a local field office with a representative who can explain how to fill out disability forms.

Although Social Security disability is a federal benefit program, each state’s disability determination agency is responsible for making medical decisions on disability claims. In Illinois, SSDI applications are filed through the Illinois Disability Determination Services (DDS) office. The DDS office can give you the location of your nearest field office.

What Is Required for an SSDI Application?

Before you fill out an SSDI application form, you can request the Disability Starter Kit to help you with your disability application and interview process. These kits are available for all adults and to children under 18 years of age. Each disability starter kit contains a fact sheet that answers questions about disability, a checklist of required information and documents, and a worksheet that makes it easier to gather and organize information.

To prepare for filing your SSDI application and avoid mistakes that will cause processing delays, it’s important to gather essential information that includes the following:

  • Personal Information – Your personal information should include: your date and place of birth, your Social Security number, your spouse’s age, date of birth, and Social Security number, your children’s names and birthdates (if children are under 18 years old), and your bank account number and routing number.
  • Medical Records – Your medical records should include: detailed information about your medical condition or disability, the names, addresses, and phone numbers of doctors, clinics, and hospitals that have treated you, the dates of medical treatments or tests, and any prescription medications you are taking.
  • Work History – Your work history should include: the amount of money you earned working for this year and last year, the name and address of all employers for this year and last year, the beginning and ending dates of any U.S. active military service prior to 1968, and a list of up to 5 jobs you had in the 15 years before you became disabled.
  • Workers’ Compensation Benefits – When you apply for SSDI, the SSA will require information about any temporary, permanent, or lump sum payments you received from workers’ compensation, civil service retirement, federal employees’ compensation or retirement, military disability, and state or local government agencies.

When filling out an SSDI application form, it’s essential to provide specific information, especially for your medical condition and your work history. SSDI benefits are available to individuals and their family members if the individual applying for benefits has a qualified medical condition and a work history that lasted long enough to pay Social Security taxes and accumulate a required number of work credits.

Medical Conditions

The SSA has strict guidelines on medical conditions that get approved for SSDI benefits, and medical records are a major factor in claim approvals. The SSA requires medical evidence to support the following conditions:

  • Medical conditions must meet the SSA’s definition of a disability described in the SSA Blue Book Listings under Part A or Part B
  • Medical conditions must have lasted or be expected to last for at least one year or result in death
  • Medical conditions must prevent a person from working or engaging in any substantial gainful activity (SGA)
  • Medical conditions must prevent a person from performing previous job duties
  • Medical conditions must prevent other job duties or other types of work

Work Credits

To qualify for SSDI, you must have been employed in jobs covered by Social Security, paid Social Security taxes on your earnings, and earned a certain number of work credits. Social Security work credits are based on your total yearly wages or self-employment income, and you can earn up to 4 work credits each year. The number of work credits you need to qualify for disability benefits depends on your age when your disability begins.

When filling out an SSDI application form, you will need to provide specific personal information, medical information, and work history. SSDI benefits are available to individuals and their family members if the individual applying for benefits has a work history that lasted long enough to pay Social Security taxes and accumulate a required number of work credits. The amount of monthly benefits is based on the worker’s Social Security earnings record and the number of work credits acquired.

Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years, ending with the year your disability begins. However, younger workers may qualify with fewer credits. In 2023, you earn 1 Social Security and Medicare credit for every $1,640 in covered earnings each year. To get 4 credits for the year, your earnings must be at least $6,560.

How Long Does an SSDI Application Take?

The time it takes to fill out an SSDI application may vary significantly between applicants, but having the required information prior to filing will expedite the process. To avoid delays and unnecessary time spent online or with a representative, gather the information that is required for the application first.

Once you have submitted your SSDI application, it will be reviewed by the SSA and you will be notified if your claim is approved or denied. Your lawyer can tell you what to do if you disagree with your SSDI determination. If additional information is needed to determine approval, you will be notified and that information must be received by the SSA in a timely manner. Generally, the review process for claims takes approximately 3 to 5 months, but if required information is missing, claims can take significantly longer.

If your claim is approved, there is an automatic five-month waiting period for SSDI and your benefits will begin on the sixth month. This can be a difficult wait period for an individual who has been out of work, without a regular income for at least one year. For Illinois workers, the good news is that the state exempts 100% of Social Security benefits and SSDI benefits from tax liability, however, the federal government may tax a portion of SSDI benefits for individuals with higher incomes.

How an SSDI Lawyer Can Help

Filing an SSDI disability claim is often a complicated and lengthy process due to strict federal SSA regulations, but a Chicago disability lawyer can make it less complicated to get approval. A lawyer can make sure your SSDI application is submitted with the correct information, gather important medical documentation to support your claim, file a timely claim, and follow up with SSA officials to check the status of your claim. If your claim is denied for any reason, your lawyer can file an appeal with the SSA to make sure your claim will be reviewed and reevaluated for approval.

If your SSDI claim is denied, it’s better to file an appeal as soon as possible instead of waiting and filing a new claim for benefits, because 50% of appeals filed are successful. When you hire a disability lawyer for SSDI benefits, he or she can expedite three types of important appeal processes for a successful claim:

Request for Reconsideration

If your SSDI claim is denied or if your benefits are reduced, the SSA will send you a notice by mail. Once you receive this notice, you will have 65 days from the date on the notice to make a written “Request for Reconsideration.” The SSA may ask you to submit further information that is necessary to validate your claim. This may include personal information and medical information. You may also be asked to undergo a medical exam by an appointed physician. During the request for reconsideration period, make sure that the SSA has all the necessary supporting documents to approve your claim.

Request for an Administrative Legal Hearing

If your Request for Reconsideration is denied, you will receive another notice from the SSA stating that your claim was denied, and you will have 65 days from the date on the notice to make a written request for an Administrative Legal Hearing. These hearings are conducted by administrative law judges (ALJs) hired by the SSA. During this hearing, the ALJ may arrange for medical experts or vocational experts to attend the hearing and testify on pertinent matters.

During this process, your Chicago disability lawyer will be a significant asset to your case, because he or she will be familiar with the administrative law judges in the district, how those judges prefer to conduct hearings, and certain biases judges have toward claim approvals for medical conditions. During an administrative legal hearing, a large percentage of denied SSDI claims are approved.

Request for Review by the Appeals Council

If your claim is still denied after your administrative legal hearing, you will have 65 days from the date of the ALJ notice to make a written request for Review by the Appeals Council. Generally, reasons for requesting a review by the Appeals Council include an ALJ decision that is not supported by substantial evidence, an abuse of discretion in the ALJ process, or errors made by the ALJ.

At this stage in the appeals process, a case review is somewhat limited, but your lawyer can help to expedite a review by explaining the reasons for requesting the review and requesting additional time to submit a written argument to the Appeals Council. At this point, the Appeals Council can make one of three decisions: 1- rule that the ALJ was correct in its decision, 2- send the case back to the ALJ with specific instructions on how to handle things, or 3- approve the claim for disability benefits.