It’s easy to become overwhelmed applying for social security disability insurance (SSDI) or supplemental security income (SSI) benefits. There is the disability application to complete, which asks for basic identifying information, along with information about your medical condition and work history. There are medical records to collect to support the disability claim and information regarding your work history, which allows the Social Security Administration (SSA) to confirm you have sufficient work credits.

Luckily, the disability application process is the same no matter where you live, whether that’s Florida, Indiana, Illinois, or any of the other 47 states or the District of Columbia. That’s because social security disability is a federal program, so the eligibility and application requirements are standard across the country. If you are unable to work due to a medical condition and live in Florida or Indiana, here’s how to apply for disability benefits.

Determine your eligibility for disability benefits

The first step to applying for disability benefits in Florida or Indiana is determining whether you meet the SSA’s definition of disability. The SSA Blue Book contains more than 100 medical conditions that qualify for disability benefits, provided you meet the stated criteria. Even if you don’t meet all of the criteria for a listed condition (and most people do not), it is still possible to qualify for benefits if you can show that your condition meets or exceeds a listing or if the combined effect of all your conditions – for example, chronic back pain, anxiety/depression, and asthma – leaves you unable to work.

Because disability benefits are paid only for long-term or permanent disabilities, you must be able to prove that your condition has lasted, or is expected to last, at least 12 months or result in your death. Partial or short-term disability may interfere with your ability to work, but it won’t make you eligible for SSD benefits. The SSA considers a disability to be interfering with the ability to work if it prevents you from participating in substantial gainful activity (SGA). The Social Security Administration defines SGA as earning more than $1,470 per month, or $2,460 for people who are statutorily blind (there are some exceptions). The SGA amount changes annually.

In addition to meeting the medical and earnings criteria, you must also have sufficient work credits. Social security disability insurance is like any other insurance program – you pay premiums (in this case, social security tax withheld from your paycheck) that entitle you to benefits when you need them. Typically, you need 40 work credits to qualify for disability benefits, with a certain number of them earned in the 10 years immediately preceding your application; these requirements vary depending on your age when you apply.

Gather the necessary information

Once you have determined that you meet the SSA’s eligibility criteria, you must gather the information needed to complete the application. Collecting it ahead of time will make the process go more smoothly. You will need the following to apply for disability benefits:

  • Social security number
  • Birth certificate or other proof of birth
  • Name, address, phone number, and dates of all hospitals, doctors, clinics, therapists, etc., that you have visited for your disability
  • Medical records from each of the above related to your disability; this includes any diagnostic imaging (X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, etc.) and labs performed
  • Name and dose of any medication you currently take or have taken in the past, including dates of use
  • Information regarding your employment for the last 15 years, including the name of the employer, dates of employment, and salary information

Our first-time applicant guide includes detailed information about how to complete the disability application.

Apply for benefits

Once you have gathered the required information, you can begin the application process. There are three ways to apply for disability benefits:

  • Online: The disability benefits application can be completed online at the SSA’s website. This is the fastest and easiest way to apply.
  • By phone: To apply for disability benefits by phone, call the SSA’s toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213.
  • In-person: Apply in person at your local SSA office. You will most likely need to make an appointment to speak with someone, so make sure to call ahead.

You can also hire a social security disability attorney to help you complete the application and/or submit it.

Wait for a disability decision

It typically takes three to five months to receive a decision regarding your disability application, though those timelines can vary based on the completeness of your application and your local SSA office’s caseload. You will receive a notice of award if the SSA approves your application. The notice of award includes the monthly benefit amount, your disability onset date, the amount of any disability back pay you are entitled to, and when you can expect your continuing disability review (how the SSA determines you are still eligible for benefits).

If the SSA denies your application, you may appeal their decision. There are four levels in the appeals process – reconsideration, administrative hearing, review by the Appeals Council, and a federal court filing. Every level of the appeals process has strict deadlines. Miss a deadline and your appeal will be denied without any additional review – meaning you’ll have to restart the application process.

Hire a social security disability attorney

Although you can apply for disability benefits on your own, hiring a social security disability attorney greatly increases the chance that your application is approved. A disability attorney is familiar with the SSA regulations and understands not just what information the SSA needs to evaluate your disability claim, but the best way to present it as well.

The Good Law Group has more than 30 years of experience helping clients apply for disability benefits. We can help at any stage of the process, and there is no fee unless you are awarded benefits. If you need a disability attorney in Florida or Indiana, call us at 800-419-7606 to request a consultation.