You can apply in person at your local SSA field office, or over the phone at 800-772-1213. Some people can apply online. SSA can tell you if you qualify to do this.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal program that pays benefits to adults with disabilities who have limited income and resources, and who have little or no work history.
Adults with a work history might also be eligible for Social Security Disability (SSD). The Social Security Administration (SSA) runs both programs. While there are differences in the two benefits, the criteria for being found “disabled” are the same for both. Learn more about eligibility and process expectations below.
How do I apply for SSI from the Social Security Administration (SSA)?
How do I apply for SSD/Social Security?
You can apply online, in person at your local SSA field office, or over the phone at 800-772-1213.
Who is considered “disabled” under SSA's rules?
SSA will consider you “disabled” if you have a physical and/or mental condition that:
- prevents you from working; and
- which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.
What will I need to prove my disability?
SSA will need to see your medical records. You can get them or you can ask SSA to help you get your medical records from past & current clinics and hospitals; your lab test results and results from tests like MRIs, CAT-Scans, X-rays, EKG, etc; and letters or reports from doctors or psychiatrists treating you that state the diagnosis, symptoms, findings, medications and their side effects, and how your medical condition causes you to have difficulty in working or doing other life tasks.
Will SSA send me to see doctors?
Yes, most likely. During the application process, a State agency that SSA works with sends applicants to doctors called “consultative examiners” who write reports for SSA about the visit.
What if my application is denied and I disagree?
If your application is denied, you will receive a written notice. If you want to appeal it, you must file a Request for Reconsideration within 60 days of the date of the denial notice, plus 5 days for mailing. You can file it online or in person at your local Social Security field office.
If your Request for Reconsideration is denied, and you want to appeal that denial, you must request a “hearing” within 60 days of the date of the denial notice, plus 5 days for mailing.
All forms for appeals can be found online or you can get the proper form from your local SSA office.
What happens when you request a hearing?
Your disability file is sent to the hearing office that handles the borough where you live. Eventually, you will receive a notice of hearing with a date and time to appear at the hearing where you will get the chance to explain to an administrative law judge (ALJ) why you feel that you are disabled.
It may take a long time before your hearing is scheduled. While you wait, you should continue to go to treatment and should comply with the treatment.
What if I have medical or other evidence to give to the judge?
You should make a copy for yourself and then send or hand-deliver the evidence to the hearing office. You must do this at least 5 days before the hearing. If you cannot get the medical or other evidence in time, then you must notify the judge at least 5 days before the hearing to explain that despite your efforts, you were unable to get the evidence. If you are unable to get the evidence yourself, tell the judge that you need help to get it.
Do I have to testify at the hearing?
Yes. While in some cases, an ALJ might approve benefits just by reading the file, this rarely happens. In most cases you will have to appear at the hearing and tell the judge about your medical conditions and what you have difficulty doing every day because of them.
What if I lose the hearing?
You can appeal the decision within 60 days from the date of the Unfavorable Decision or Partially Favorable Decision, plus 5 days for mailing, by writing a letter to SSA’s Appeals Council. In your letter, explain why you think the judge was wrong. If you have a new report from your doctor about the disability you discussed at the hearing (not a new disability), you can send it in with your appeal letter. Or, you can re-apply for benefits at your local SSA office. Please note: generally, you cannot do both. In most cases, you must either appeal or re-apply.
If I win my case and get SSI and/or SSD benefits, will they be permanent?
Maybe. Periodically, SSA conducts “continuing disability reviews” to see if you are still disabled or if your condition improved enough to allow you to work. You will receive notices about this from SSA. SSA cannot stop your benefits without letting you know and giving you a chance to appeal.
What is the best thing I can do to improve my chances of winning my case?
You should continue to go to your doctor appointments. If you can’t go, call your doctor(s) and reschedule. You should take your medications as prescribed. If you have a problem with the medication, discuss it with your doctor. It is important for your health and to show that you are compliant with your doctor’s treatment plan.
How can I get help?
- Call our Helpline: 888-663-6880 – Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday from 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
- Contact your Neighborhood office:
- Brooklyn: 718-722-3100
- Bronx: 718-991-4600
- Manhattan & Harlem: 212-426-3000
- Queens: 718-883-8147
- Staten Island: 347-422-5333
More Resources about Establishing Disability for Adults
The information in this document has been prepared by The Legal Aid Society for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. You should not act upon any information without retaining professional legal counsel.