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Thank you for selecting The Social Security Law Center, our Social Security disability professionals are experienced and respected. Their goal is to provide you with reliable information to help make the best plans and decisions for yourself and your family. Understanding Social Security disability will help you avoid mistakes and reduce the stress of a complex process. If you need a disability lawyer to present your claim or appeal to SSA, we are ready to help.

For those who have a medical condition that prevents them from working, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has two separate programs that provide disability benefits. Social Security Disability (SSD) is available to wage earners or self-employed individuals who have contributed to Social Security through payroll taxes or estimated taxes. It is in essence an insurance program. If an individual has not worked enough to qualify for SSD, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) may be an option. Although there are no work requirements for SSI, there are income and asset limitations that restrict who can qualify, says a disability lawyer. SSI is a needs based program funded through general federal tax revenues.

Application Process

A person can apply for SSD benefits in one of three ways: an in-person application interview, a phone-in application, or online. SSI applications cannot be submitted online. Using a disability lawyer to help you with your application is a wise decision. They will be able to help you spot weaknesses and advise you on the steps necessary to ensure a successful submission. They can also represent you if something goes wrong and your claim is denied. 

Information Required

In addition to the basic personal information required, the claimant must provide information establishing eligibility for the particular program applied for. Therefore, an SSD applicant will need to provide a complete employment history and a SSI claimant’s financial situation will need to be reviewed. If sufficient information is not included initially, the SSA may either reject the application on technical grounds or request supplemental information. In either case, this causes a delay in the processing of the application.

Perhaps the most important part of the application process is the medical evidence supporting the claim of disability. A SSI lawyer will tell you that it is essential to provide the complete medical record from every medical professional who has treated the claimant. 

Application Review

In processing an initial application, the reviewer may request the claimant to submit to an independent medical examination to verify or supplement the information contained in the claimant’s application. Although the claimant may decline, it is important to comply with this request. Otherwise, the application will be assessed only on the information already provided and likely result in a denial. Unless an applicant qualifies for what is known as expedited processing, the soonest an answer approving or denying the claim can be expected is three to four months. In cases where supplemental information is required, an answer may take up to a year or longer. While a disability lawyer can help you with the finer details of the process, they do not have full control over the process.


It is disappointing to learn that most initial applications are denied; the national average for denials of SSD claims exceeds 60 percent. However, many people further compound this problem by responding in the wrong manner, says a SSI lawyer. Some simply give up, believing there is no point in continuing the process; others start all over again with a new application. The better approach is to appeal by using a qualified disability lawyer. 

Levels of Appeal

The SSA has established a multi-tier level of appeals. After denial at the initial application stage, the first level of appeal is called reconsideration. If reconsideration results in another denial, the next level of appeal is an Administrative Hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). That ruling can be appealed to the Appeals Council and subsequently to Federal court.

Each stage of appeal has specific guidelines and timelines for making the appeal that must be followed or the appeal will not be heard. Statistically, the hearing before the ALJ provides a claimant the best opportunity for approval. Approval statistics at this stage are approximately 60 percent.

The ALJ Hearing

There are several reasons why the ALJ hearing results in such high percentages of approval. First of all, this is the only stage of the process where the claimant is permitted to provide direct testimony and be heard. The ALJ will pay particular attention to the claimant’s words. Secondly, the ALJ will also give more weight to what the claimant’s treating physician has to say. Thirdly, the ALJ may hear the testimony of a vocational expert about the claimant’s inability to work. Lastly, the claimant’s disability attorney has the opportunity at the ALJ hearing to offer a compelling theory of the case.

Approval and Back Pay

An SSI claimant is not entitled to any retroactive pay. If they are found disabled, their disability is deemed to have begun on the date of application. If a SSD claimant is found to be disabled, it must also be determined when exactly that disability began, which is known as the date of onset. Although an SSD claimant is entitled to up to 12 months of retroactive benefits depending on the date of onset, the SSA has a five month “waiting period” during which time benefits are not payable. Based on how long approval took, retroactive pay can be owed for many months. 

Getting Social Security Disability Help 

If a medical condition is preventing you from working, it is important for you to understand the SSA disability process. It can be complex and the information provided by the SSA may seem confusing. If you are contemplating filing a claim, we can assist you in presenting the documentation and medical evidence in a manner best suited for a positive outcome. If you have been denied, we can review your claim and the basis for denial and explore avenues to achieve a different result on appeal. Disability benefits are an essential lifeline for most people who cannot work; our disability attorneys can help you get the benefits you deserve. 


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