How to Get Your Social Security Disability Approved Fast
Note: If you're trying to scam the government and get Social Security Disability with a false claim of an injury, illness, or condition, read no further. This article is intended to help people who are legitimately unable to work a full-time job because of a physical, emotional, or mental condition.
You’ve probably heard all the horror stories about how hard it is to get approved for Social Security Disability, also known as SSDI. Many people who claim to have extremely debilitating illnesses and conditions take years to get approved, and some never get approved. Some have to resort to hiring a disability lawyer to finally get their Social Security Disability Income, and of course they have to share their award with their attorney.
On the other hand, you hear cases in which people claiming dubious illnesses breeze right through the process and get their claims approved quickly—some of which should never have been approved at all.
I was lucky to get my Social Security Disability case approved very quickly. Some people, however, aren't so fortunate. I read everything I could get my hands on about the process, and I talked to numerous people who had gone through it. I learned what to do and what to avoid doing, and I'm sharing it with you here.
The problem is that to the Social Security Administration, you’re just a number. These employees are overworked and underpaid and deal with all sorts of job-related stress. I’m not trying to sound callous, but it’s a fact. These workers deal with thousands of cases every week. Some applicants have legitimate cases, and some don’t. You have to convince Social Security that you honestly cannot work any longer.
Get Documents Showing That You Are Unable to Work Full Time
How do you do this? First of all, make sure everything is documented—all the medications you’ve been taking, all your doctor visits, all your trips to the emergency room, all your visits to the chiropractor, all your visits to the massage therapist, all your visits to any sort of counseling, and all your visits to rehab or physical therapy. When any of these health care professionals assess your condition, ask for their findings in writing. Get copies of everything and keep them all together, in a safe place.
It’s also important to find a doctor who believes in you. If you have a condition like fibromyalgia, for example, you can’t prove it with a blood test, an x-ray, or an MRI. Even though Social Security Disability does award payment for such conditions, they’re harder to prove. It’s easier to prove if you’ve been seeing a doctor who specializes in your condition.
When you go to a doctor’s appointment, ask the doctor to document any findings he makes. He might say your condition is debilitating, but if he doesn't write down what he says, it's like he never said it. Many doctors will also write a letter or a narrative for Social Security explaining why you can no longer work a regular job. You will probably have to pay extra for this, but it’s definitely worth the price.
Social Security Disability has “listing level impairments” that they go by. Supposedly, if you have one of these and can prove it, you’re automatically approved. But you don’t have to have one of these exact conditions or illnesses to get approved for Social Security Disability; you might have a combination of lesser impairments that will get you approved. That’s why it’s so important to list, document, and keep up with all your physical, mental, and emotional conditions.
I had terrible pain, tingling, and numbness in my neck that ran down my left arm. I had the same thing in my lower back than ran down my right leg. After I had an MRI of my neck, it showed bulging discs, but the radiologist reading the report said the bulging was very mild. I knew this would not help me get SSDI. I requested the discs from the MRI and took them to a doctor who specializes in back problems, and he went over the MRI with me, frame by frame. He pointed out all the nerve damage shown. When I asked him why the radiologist had said the problem was not severe, he explained that many radiologists are not experts in nerve damage or in back problems. That’s why you have to be proactive!
If you really are disabled, and one doctor says you aren't, get a second opinion. I actually got several opinions, and all the rest agreed with me and disagreed with that first radiologist. Don’t give up! As it turned out, I probably wouldn’t have needed those other opinions, anyway. When I had the MRI of my lower back, there was no disputing the damage there. And I also discovered I had severe carpal tunnel in both hands and no cartilage in my right knee. As a result of my CTS, I have to get my daughter to do almost all of my typing for me.
Make an Honest Case
I think one reason my SSDI was approved so quickly was that I was honest on my questionnaire. I told them I didn’t have terrible pain every day, but I had it often enough to prevent me from working a full-time job. There are probably days now that I could work for a few hours, but there’s no way I could work eight hours a day, five days a week. And Social Security is all or nothing: if you can work, but the number of hours you’re able to work is less than forty a week, they consider you disabled.
Here's a catch, however: to get approved for SSDI, you have to be deemed unable to work any job, not just the job you've had in the past. In other words, if you have a job that requires heavy lifting, and you can't perform those duties any longer, Social Security will decide whether or not you have the skills necessary to work a desk job. If you do, you won't be approved for SSDI.
In my quest to get approved for Social Security Disability, I also wrote them a letter explaining how much I loved my job. I’d had the same job as a teacher for almost 20 years. I explained that if I could continue to work, I would. I didn’t just wake up one day and decide that I didn’t want to work any longer. I also had a letter from my former principal. He explained how much I enjoyed teaching and how many awards I had earned. I think that served as evidence that I was a dedicated employee who really did like her job.
My age also helped me. If you’re 50 or over, SSDI is easier to get. If you’re over 60, it’s even easier to get. Generally speaking, the younger you are, the harder it is to get approved for Social Security Disability.
If you truly are not able to work any longer, do everything you can to make your case stronger. Even things that you don’t consider important can help your case. These might include letters from friends, employers, co-workers, and family members. I also kept a daily journal that described my symptoms on that specific day.
If You Are Approved, You'll Get Paid
Once you get approved for SSDI, you'll get a big check that includes back payments. After that, you'll get a monthly check on a specified day. I chose to have mine directly deposited into my bank account so that I don't have to depend on the postal service. I've never had a late payment—I know that money will be there on the fourth Wednesday of every month.
If You Are Refused, File an Appeal
With SSDI, there are several levels of appeals. Almost everyone gets turned down on the initial application, and many are refused the second time. If you're turned down, go through with the Social Security appeal process. If you continue to get turned down after several appeals, that’s when you need to hire a disability lawyer. Just make sure you hire a disability attorney who specializes in Social Security Disability claims. These attorneys are experts, and they know how to deal with the agency. If you've done all you can do, seek expert legal help. The disability lawyer will get a chunk of your award, but that's sure better than ending up with nothing. Don't let the Social Security appeal process discourage you!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Is it wise to go ahead and hire a disability attorney right from the very start, prior to sending even the first application in applying for disability?
I'd try it on my own for the first step.Helpful 55
If I sign up for disability at sixty-one, and if I'm not approved by the time I am sixty-two, can I sign up for early retirement while waiting for approval?
Please reference the SS website for the answer to your question.Helpful 35
I applied for disability. I claimed physical issues: degenerative disc disease, broken wrist pins, plate unable to fully use left hand, recurring skin cancer, surgeries. I said I could only work part-time. I was denied. Three months later, and I've been diagnosed with stage four cervical cancer. Can I get disability?
I'd think you had a very good chance, but I'm not an attorney.Helpful 20
What do I do if Social Security sends me to one of their doctors?
You should go, but if his/her findings differ from your own doctor's findings, make SS aware. Evidence from a doctor who has been treating you for a long period should carry more weight.Helpful 27
Should I tell my orthopedic doctor I’m thinking of applying for SSDI?
Yes, as long as he knows your case well.Helpful 18