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Information about all aspects of finances affected by a serious health condition. Includes income sources such as work, investments, and private and government disability programs, and expenses such as medical bills, and how to deal with financial problems.
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Whether you are ready to file your claim for disability benefits now, or are preparing for filing for it in the future, there are steps to take before filing for SSDI and/or SSI that will make it more likely your claim will be successful. (If you're preparing for the future, it is worthwhile to read: It's Never Too Early To File A Claim).

If you're not ready yet, it is advisable to start getting prepared. Proper preparation will:

  • Speed the process.
  • Make it more likely to receive an SSDI award.
  • Save you time and energy later when you may not be feeling as well as you do now.

Social Security will determine if all the legal requirements are satisfied for you to be eligible for SSDI and/or SSI. A state agency, generally referred to as DDS, will determine whether you are "disabled." While these agencies are charged with doing the work, you still have the burden of proving you're entitled to SSDI and/or SSI. As a result, it is better that you do as much work as you can before filing, and that you stay on top of the process.

The steps to take before filing for SSDI or SSI that will make it more likely your claim will be successful are:

  • Check your Social Security earnings record. You receive one in the mail annually if you are working.  If you do not have your most recent form, or don't usually receive one, click here for information about getting a copy. If the information Social Secuerity has about your work credits is not correct, see: What To Do If Social Security's Record Of Your Earnings Is Not Correct
  • Look for a "friendly" office: If you can do it in a short period of time, try to locate a "friendly" office -- one that seems friendly to people with your particular health condition. While all Social Security offices are supposed to be alike, there may be differences. You don't have to file your application at the Social Security office nearest you. You can file in any office. Your local disease specific non-profit organization or friends, or support group members who have gone through a similar situation, may be able to steer you to offices that are better for SSDI claims in general and for people who have survived your health condition in particular. For contact information about Social Security offices, click on offsite link. All you do is type in the zip code in which you're interested.The DDS office that processes your claim is located in your state of residence. You will not have a choice where your medical claim is processed.

For more information, see:

When you are ready to file your claim, see: SSDI: Applying For Benefits

For an overview of SSDI: click here.

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SSI 101 SSDI 101

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Disability Income

Check Eligibility Requirements

Both Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits require that you be "disabled" as defined by Social Security.

With SSDI, there much also be sufficient work credits - either yours or a close family member's.Get a copy of your earnings record from Social Security and check it for accuracy. It's critical to the process. If it's wrong, now is the time to start the correction process. This record can affect whether you receive SSDI at all, and if so, how much.

With SSI, you are only permitted limited amount of resources and income. This doesn't mean you have to be broke. Certain assets and income aren't counted for these purposes.

Document Your Difficulties At Work

  • If you can, get a copy of, or at least look through, your personnel file. Look to see what it says about a deterioration in your job performance. A personnel record can be strong evidence to back up your claim that you are unable to work.
  • If you haven't told your employer about your health condition, and you think you will be filing a disability claim, this may be the time to disclose your condition. To learn more, see: Disclosing At Work.
  • Tell your employer about the difficulties you are having working, or the time you can't work due to a medical situation. If this is the reason you use your sick or vacation time, let the employer know that as well.
  • If you haven't been doing this already, start keeping a Work Journal that includes:
    • How your health condition affects your ability to perform your job. Be specific about what your condition affects, and how.
    • Notes about each conversation with your employer about your health and how it affects your work. Include: the date, who you told, and what you reported.
    • Anything that indicates your employer is happy with your performance, as well as any actions which could seem to be discriminatory. To learn more about why to keep these notes, see: Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Start keeping track of people at work who witness the difficulties you are having because of your health condition. You may want to ask them to supply statements or affidavits confirming the difficulties you've been experiencing. See: Affidavits And Statements From Friends, Family And Co-Workers

Document How Your Health Conditions Affects Daily Living

Consider keeping track of your health condition. For instance, appointments, symptoms and how it affects your daily life. For tips, see: How To Keep A Health Journal.

If you find it difficult to keep a journal, at least consider keeping an ongoing symptoms diary. In addition to being helpful to claim a benefit from Social Security, the diary will be maximize your time with each of your doctors.

Start keeping track of people who witness how your symptoms affect  your activities of daily living. You may want them to supply statements or affidavits about what they have witnessed. (To learn about the document you may ask them to sign, see: Affidavits And Statements From Friends, Family And Co-Workers

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Get Your Medical Affairs In Order

Get regular, ongoing medical treatment from mainstream doctors.

  • The strongest medical evidence about your claim will be that in spite of your following every medical treatment recommended by your mainstream doctors, you are still unable to work.
  • It's difficult to win SSDI without the help of a medical professional who supports your application. Great weight is given to the opinions of treating doctor(s).
  • Your case becomes even stronger if the recommendations are from a doctor who is a specialist in your health condition and has observed you over a period of time.
  • If it's financially difficult to see a doctor on a regular basis, at least try to be seen at a free clinic, county health department or emergency room. Perhaps your state's Vocational Rehabilitation department can assist you in getting examined.

If you haven't been seeing a mental health professional, consider seeing one now.

  • It is very common for a mental condition such as depression or a nervous condition to accompany a diagnosis and living as a survivor.
  • A mental condition such as depression may be enough to qualify you as disabled for purposes of Social Security. If it is not enough on its own, it may be enough when when combined with a physical condition when the physicial condition is not sufficient on its own or is border line.
  • For information about choosing a mental health professional, click here.

Review your medical records to learn what, if anything, they include about your symptoms and how they affect:

  • Your ability to work.
  • Your activities of daily living.

From now on, at each visit, tell your doctor about your physical and mental difficulties and how they impact your daily living as well as your inability to undertake work tasks.

  • Look at the Work and Daily Activities Worksheets which will become important once you apply for SSDI and/or SSI. The worksheets will give you an idea of the kind of information to tell your doctor. To learn more, see: Work Activities Worksheet, Daily Activities Worksheet.
  • Every time you see a doctor, ask that this information be noted in your medical record.

When you're ready to apply, be sure your doctor is supportive. A supportive doctor(s) who is willing to take the time needed to help you keep and retain a disability income is necessary for a variety of reasons:

  • Few disability claims are approved strictly on the basis of lab results or other objective data. Your medical record and statements by your doctor are usually critical to approval of a claim. If a claim is initially denied, a doctor or doctors will be needed at each step of the appeal. The doctrors will be needed to provide information, and to rebut the payor's point of view.
  • Once your claim is approved, your records and a doctor statement are likely to be requested periodically as long as you continue to receive a disability income. If the payor wants to stop payment, a doctor's support will be necessary to rebut the payor's claims why you are no longer "disabled."
  • It is helpful if the doctor not only writes reports, but is willing to let you and/or a representative review them prior to submission, and then to rewrite as needed. A review makes sure that all the relevant facts are included and that those facts are stated in a manner most likely to get your claim approved.

Prepare For A Period Without Income

If you qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you will have a six month waiting period from the time you become disabled until you receive an SSDI payment.

If you qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you may receive money right away, but it preferable not to count on that in case it doesn't happen.

Think about how you will pay your bills until you receive your award.

For information, see: How To Deal With A Financial Crunch Or Crisis

Consider At Least Speaking With A Lawyer Or Other Professional

Unless your situation is cut and dry, consider speaking with a lawyer or other professional who specializes in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to discuss the best way to present your case, to possibly oversee what you do, and/or to represent you.

Since it can be difficult to deal with a big government organization and a serious health condition at the same time, consider asking a friend or family member to help you -- whether officially as your representative, or just as a person to work with you. Review our information about hiring a representative to see whether you want to hire professional help during the initial determination process, or (as we strongly suggest) just if you appeal.

If you want a lawyer but can't afford one, see 

If You Are Between Age 62 And Full Retirement Age

If you're between age 62 and full retirement age, when you apply for SSDI, also apply for your Social Security Retirement Benefit (SSR). While the amount you will receive for SSR at a younger age is less than you'd receive at full retirement age, you will begin to receive a payment immediately -- without a 5 month waiting period or the time required for an SSDI claim to be processed. If you are approved for disability, the amount of your benefit will be reduced for each month that you received retirement benefits. For most people, this will result in a small overall reduction. 

If you are awarded SSDI, the amount you receive is what you would receive at full retirement.

The retroactive payment which includes the months you received a lesser payment, will include an amount for the difference between what you received and the full benefit. For example, if your early SSR is $700 a month, and full retirement benefit would be $900 a month, if you're awarded SSDI, you will receive a check for the difference between $700 and $900 for the months you received early SSR but are now receiving SSDI.  If you're denied SSDI, at least you have an income.                   

If You Need Money Immediately

When you apply for SSDI, tell the representative you also want to be considered for SSI (Supplemental Security Income), the program which provides an income if you have a limited amount of income and resources. (A house and car don't count as resources for SSI purposes.) It is possible to obtain immediate payment under SSI to help tide you over the period until SSDI starts. If this is of interest you, see SSI, Presumptive Disability.

NOTE: Social Security representatives are supposed to automatically advise you about all benefits to which you may be entitled.