“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” This should be the mantra for applicants for Social Security disability benefits.
If you’re applying for Social Security disability benefits, be prepared. Odds are, your first application will be rejected, so you’ll need to file an appeal.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) routinely denies 70% of its more than 2 million initial Social Security benefits applications. Many of these applications are denied because they don’t meet basic eligibility requirements or because the application was incomplete or lacks sufficient medical documentation. But it doesn’t have to be this hard.
How to win a Social Security Disability Insurance claim
The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program provides income support for those who have become permanently disabled due to an illness or injury. To win your disability benefits claim, you must show you have a severe medical condition that has lasted or is expected to last one full year. You also have to show that the condition is so severe that you cannot go back to your past work or perform another type of work based on your age, skills, and education.
If you can work in your current position or with accommodations or modifications, then the SSA will deny your SSDI application.
The reality is that most applicants will need to familiarize themselves with the SSA’s comprehensive appeal process to prevail on their disability benefits claim. Statistically, the best chance to succeed is at the disability hearing, where you can present your claim to an administrative law judge using witnesses and additional or new evidence to support your claim.
The appeal process can be quite challenging, cumbersome, and complex, so it’s helpful to consult with an experienced disability lawyer who can improve your application at any stage, including appeal, to ensure it has the best possible chance for success. Most disability lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, meaning you won’t have to pay up front for their service.
Here is some guidance for maximizing your chances of initial SSDI success.
1. Check your work
Ensure that you’re submitting a complete application. The SSA provides a checklist you can use to double-check that you’ve provided all the information and documentation required.
2. Consult the Blue Book
The SSA maintains a comprehensive list of medical conditions, commonly called the Blue Book, that it uses to categorize conditions, diagnoses, symptoms, and treatments. When you create your initial application, refer to the Blue Book to determine what medical evidence you’ll need to establish your case.
3. Talk to your doctor
Tell your doctor that you’re applying for disability benefits. Make sure you explain the severity and impact of the condition on your ability to work. Your doctor needs to know this information so they can be prepared if the SSA requests them to complete a residual functional capacity (RFC) form to determine how much work you can perform given the limitations of your condition.
Don’t be discouraged
If your initial application for SSDI benefits is denied, don’t be discouraged. The vast majority of disability claims must be pursued to the appeal stage. If you haven’t already asked a lawyer for help, you’ll benefit from bringing in a disability benefits lawyer to strengthen your appeal.