Applying for Social Security disability benefits

Dear Editor:

Did you know that one of the fastest growing segments of our population is men and women aged 50-59? In fact, this age group will increase by more than 33 percent in this decade!

It so happens that this age group of workers is also most prone to becoming disabled. At Social security we expect the number of disability applications to increase in the next few years, so we are making every effort to let workers of all ages know how the disability program works and what they can do to speed the disability application process.

To be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, you need to have worked and paid Social Security taxes for a sufficient period of time to be “insured” for Social Security disability. You become insured by working, paying social Security taxes and earning “credits.” This year, for example, if you earn $3,500 or more, you get the maximum four credits that can be earned this year. The number of credits you need to be eligible for disability benefits depends on your age. For example, if you become disabled at the age of 54, you would need 32 credits, and 20 of those credits must have been earned in the 10-year period immediately before you became disabled. You can find a table listing the credit requirements for different age groups at Once there, click on “How Much Work Do I Need?”

If you’re “insured” by Social Security – and if you are forced to stop working because of an illness or injury and your doctors tell you that you may be out of work for at least a year, or if your condition is fatal – you should file for Social Security disability benefits. Just go online and visit our home page at Then click on “Apply for disability benefits online.” If you prefer to file by phone or in person at your local Social Security office, call us at 1-800-772-1213 to make an appointment.

No matter how you choose to file, here’s a quick primer on what you need to know about how the process works.

You will be asked a series of questions about your disability. The law says your disability must be severe enough to keep you from doing any “substantial” work. When completing this section, please be as thorough as you can. List all impairments you have that keep you from working, and explain how these impairments prevent you from going about you’re your normal daily activities.

You will also be asked to provide us with the names, addresses and phone numbers of all doctors and other healthcare professionals who have treated you, as well as any clients or hospitals where you received treatment for your disability. And we will ask you to sign several copies of a form that authorizes doctors and treatment facilities to release your private medical records to us. (Health care professionals will be pleased to know that our disclosure form has been updated to comply with the provisions of the recently enacted Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.)

After you complete the initial application, you may be contacated by our representatives who evaulage your disability claim. They may ask you to complete another form that requests more information about your work history. Or they may set up an appointment for you to see a medical professional (usually a doctor) who will examine you to help us decide if you qualify for disability benefits.

The initial application process generally takes about three months. But remember, you can help speed along the process by: 1) giving us a thorough explanation of you’re your disability keeps you from working; 2) giving us any medical records you may have and a complete list of all the medical professionals who have treated you and 3) promptly responding to any follow-up requests you get from us.

And, finally, remember that if your disability benefits application is denied, you can appeal our decision. That means you can ask us to look at your case a gain. When you ask for an appeal, we will look at the entire decision, not just the part you disagree with. If our decision was wrong, we’ll change it.

Yvonne Bryant
Social Security District Manager, Jersey City


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