The Social Security programs in our country are designed a little like insurance or retirement programs. We pay into the system as we work, and, when old age settles in or when unexpected accidents, injuries, or disabilities arise that make it unable for us to work, we can receive money back. Let’s take a look at how people apply for their earned benefits and get a better understanding of how the Social Security Administration (SSA) works.
People often look at disability benefits as free money—but it isn’t. It is money the government takes from each paycheck we earn to supplement the income of people who can minimally work, or can’t work at all. If you become injured or limited in your ability to work, you will receive benefits based on how much money you have already paid into the system.
Unfortunately, there are some people who try to abuse the system and get benefits even though they don’t qualify for them. The reason the SSA uses complicated forms with in-depth questions is to learn as much about you as they can to see if you qualify and need benefits. But, forms often don’t give the SSA a full picture of your disability and limitations. That’s why so many people are refused during the first round of the application process.
It helps to know exactly what it is that the SSA wants from your application. There is a lot of content to cover to answer this questions, so we’ll just list some basics. If you have specific questions about the application or need help, please call us at (801)890-1030.
How to Fill Out the Application
The online application for Social Security benefits is easier to navigate than the paper version, but it will stop applicants if the information is incorrect or appears suspicious. The form will ask simple questions and information like this on the first page:
1. Who is completing the application?
This question is asking whether you are filling out an application for yourself or for a loved one who might have a disability. The SSA is trying to gauge the relationship between the person filling out the application and the person who will receive the benefits.
2. Options for the blind or visually impaired
If you are blind or visually impaired, make sure you have selected this option to receive special notices on the option page.
3. Information about applicant
Section 3 asks for information to gather data and match your social security number. If you don’t get it right, you won’t be able to go further until you talk to someone at the administration.
In the next section of the application, the SSA wants to know if you meet their definition of “totally disabled.” Their definition has nothing to do with pain, embarrassment, or hardship, but is instead based on your ability to work. If you can’t work (or if your ability to work generally earns you less than $1,070 a month), they want to know how long it will be until you can go back to work. If it’s longer than one year and your disability will keep you from a new job, then you meet their definition and can continue the application.
4. When did you become unable to work?
The SSA wants to know how much back pay you can receive. People who qualify for benefits can receive benefits for up to a year before they applied, as long as their disability kept them from working during that time. The SSA is not interested in how long you have been hurt or how long you have suspected something was wrong. They want to know when you left the workforce.
5. Have you previously been denied Social Security benefits or Supplemental Security income in the past 60 days?
Here, they want to know why you’re applying multiple times (if you are) and why you’ve been denied before. They want to know what has changed. They assume that if you’re entering a new application, something must be different, which brings us to the next question:
6. Have you been diagnosed with a condition that is expected to end in death?
This fills two roles—first, if this is your second application and your answer has changed, they have a reason to review your information. Second, the answer gives them an idea of how long they will be paying out benefits.
The paper application (or digital PDF equivalent) has the same purpose. It’s designed to filter applicants and give an idea of what kind of work the applicant can do.
The “Why” Behind the Application
The application tells the SSA whether your condition is severe enough to keep you from working. We’ve found that people often want to explain to the Social Security Administration that their disability is extremely painful and makes it hard to do anything. The SSA has a tough job going through all the applications, and emotional stories very rarely help the process. The SSA is looking for hard facts.
The Social Security Administration turns down a large portion of applications, not because they were filled out incorrectly, but because they may need more information. Sometimes something as simple as wording can get an application denied. The SSA knows that there are a lot of people that apply for benefits without really being disabled. They have to be very discriminating to be fair, but that means people who deserve benefits are sometimes denied.
Though the SSA’s suspicious attitude can sometimes seem insensitive, understand that they receive thousands of applications and need a way to sort through those quickly. The questions themselves can also be discouraging and hard to answer, especially when you are already experiencing stress and difficulties with your health. But, don’t let these things keep you from receiving the benefits you deserve.
If you need any help, please call us at (801)890-1030. Or, get a free copy of our book, the “Utah Social Security Handbook,” for more information on the Social Security disability application and process.
I Got Denied. Now What?
Don’t lose hope. After an initial rejection, you can apply for a reconsideration of your application and add new, more detailed information. If you are denied again, you can appeal the decision and meet with an administrative law judge who will determine whether or not you should receive benefits. It may sound scary, but it’s a great opportunity for those who truly need help to meet with someone face to face and explain their difficulties. Everyone’s circumstances are unique, so this allows you to explain your circumstances in person, not just through forms.
Besides, the people who make it to this stage are more than six times as likely to receive benefits as people in previous stages of applying.
When meeting with a judge for a benefits appeal, our clients are often tempted to say things like “I just can’t go out anymore,” or “I can’t do the things I used to.” There are two reasons that this won’t help your case. The first you may already suspect—the judge only wants to know how your disability affects your ability to work. The judge won’t be interested in pain levels or hobbies. The second reason is a lack of solid information. When applicants use words like “always” or “never,” the judge immediately knows that they’re exaggerating. The SSA is looking for specifics, like whether or not you can lift a gallon of milk or how far you can walk before you need to rest.
The Secret Weapon
The SSA needs the information they receive to come from valid sources. That is why medical records are so important. Be sure to talk with your doctor regularly and explain the extent of your disability. Again, don’t exaggerate, but don’t hold back information either.
Sometimes medical records can’t give enough detail about your day-to-day limitations to prove to the SSA that you are unable to work. That is where a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form comes in handy. This is a questionnaire for your doctor to fill out that gives a more complete view of your disability. It provides clear and objective proof of your limitations, for example your ability to sit or stand for long periods of time.
The RFC form is something the SSA won’t tell you about. It is also something many doctors don’t even know about. That is why having the knowledge of an attorney who works with Social Security disability can make all the difference in your case.
An attorney can help by not only letting you know what the SSA expects from you, but by also explaining to your doctor what the SSA needs from them. All doctors have their own way of filling out medical records. An attorney can help your doctor understand what the SSA needs to see. They can also give your doctors forms—like the RFC form—that can be essential to winning your case.
Thankfully, many appeals are approved when the right information is given. That’s why it’s so important to get it right. If you have any questions, please visit or call us at (801)890-1030. We can help you with your application.