Disability Benefits in Washington, D.C.: What You Need to Know in 2023
July 1, 2023 · 8 min read
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Atticus offers free, high-quality disability advice for Americans who can't work. Our team of Stanford and Harvard trained lawyers has a combined 15+ years of legal experience, and have helped over 10,000 Americans apply for disability benefits.
Nearly 14,000 residents of Washington, D.C., received disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) in 2022. That’s 14,000 reasons why you don’t have to fear the application process, no matter how intimidating it may seem. To help you apply, this guide will explain who is eligible for benefits, how the disability application process works, and the monthly benefit payments you can receive.
What Washington, D.C., disability program should I apply for?
Washington doesn’t have its own disability program, but residents can access federal disability benefits and private insurance policies. If you live in Washington, D.C., you may eligible for one of the following programs:
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): SSDI is a federal program that covers people who’ve worked for years but can’t continue because of a medical condition. SSDI offers the largest benefit amount of any disability program since it’s based on the income you’ve earned and taxes you’ve paid. If you receive SSDI, you’ll also receive Medicare for health insurance.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI): SSI is also a federal program, but it covers low-income people who’ve either never worked or haven’t worked enough to qualify for SSDI. SSI also covers children and older Americans. If you get approved, you’ll also get Medicaid for health insurance.
Veterans disability benefits: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers disability benefits for active duty and retired veterans who can’t work because of an injury they sustained during their service. It’s also possible to get VA benefits alongside SSDI and SSI. Learn more about qualifying for VA disability benefits.
Long-term or short-term private disability insurance: Many employers offer private insurance plans. You can also purchase a policy directly from a private insurance company. If you had your policy in place before you had to stop working, you can file a claim. Payments may last months or years and are typically worth up to 60% of your former paychecks. Your insurer may require you to apply for SSDI even if you qualify for your plan’s long-term benefits.
Washington, D.C., residents are most likely to qualify for disability through SSDI or SSI, so the rest of this guide will explain the application process for both programs. You can also use our guide to the types of disability benefits to get help applying for the other programs.
Skip the reading. See which benefits you qualify for in 2-minutes or less.
How to qualify for disability in Washington, D.C.
To qualify for disability, you’ll have to prove that you meet two different criteria. The first is medical criteria, which is the same for SSDI and SSI. Second is the technical criteria, which vary between the two programs.
Medical qualifications for disability benefits
The SSDI and SSI medical requirement has two parts: You must have a disability or medical condition that makes it impossible for you to work, and your condition must last for at least one full year. You’ll need to provide thorough medical evidence from your doctor or healthcare providers.
Your age also plays a factor. It’s easier to qualify if you’re over age 50 because you only need to prove that you can’t do the kind of jobs you’ve done in the past. If you’re under age 50, you’ll have to prove that your condition keeps you from doing any kind of work — even if you retrain.
Technical SSDI qualifications
To qualify for SSDI, you must meet two technical criteria:
You’re 66 or younger (below your full retirement age).
You’ve earned enough work credits, meaning you’ve paid enough tax into Social Security. You’re more likely to qualify if you’ve worked at least five of the last 10 years. To see how many work credits you have, create a free account on SSA.gov.
The disability application process has a few different steps. Start with the main application, which is the same for both SSI and SSDI. Then, you’ll likely need to fill out supplemental forms. Common examples include a work history report, which covers your work experience, and a function report, which explains how your condition affects your daily activities. You may need to fill out additional forms or provide more medical information if the SSA requests it.
You can complete all of these forms yourself, though they are long and you can also work with a disability lawyer if you want help.
To prepare your application, first set aside plenty of time. It will take at least one to two hours to fill out the forms. You also need however long it takes to gather the required documentation and records. A lawyer can help fill out the application, but there are some important steps for you to know:
Prepare all your personal records. Gather medical records, treatment forms, bank account information, work and income history, and contact information for your healthcare providers before you start. The more documentation you have, the better.
Make sure to fill out the whole application. If you don’t answer every question on every form, you may be subject to processing delays.
Answer questions honestly and consistently. Your medical information and the answers you give across all your forms should match. The SSA will look for contradictions and it could hurt your application. Reduce inconsistencies by being honest about your condition and how it impacts you, including symptoms and pain levels.
Follow up with the SSA right after you submit. Contact the SSA to verify they received your application and are processing it. Your lawyer can take care of this.
Respond to SSA requests immediately. You’ll generally have 10 days to respond to the SSA, but following up more quickly is a great way to prevent delays.
Applying online is a convenient option, but applying in person can be more helpful if you don’t have a lawyer. SSA employees can explain what application questions are asking and clarify the application process. That does have its limits, though. Only a lawyer can offer personalized legal advice, like how to make your answers stronger or whether you should include different details.
If you want help with the application, working with a Washington lawyer can be the best option. Your lawyer will strengthen your responses, communicate with the SSA, and handle all court hearings. A disability lawyer also won’t charge anything up front.
We at Atticus are a law firm, which means we can provide advice on filling out your application and finding the right lawyer for your case. To get help today, fill out our free 2-minute disability benefits quiz.
What happens after I apply for disability?
After you apply, the SSA will determine whether you meet the technical requirements for SSI or SSDI. You may need to schedule a phone interview with the SSA to provide more details, especially if you’re applying for SSI.
This process may sound simple, but it takes time. Applicants waited an average of just over six months for a decision as of early 2023.
Your chances of getting approved for benefits
Expect to go through a few rounds of denial and appeal before you receive a final decision from the SSA. Your chances of winning benefits actually improve after a couple of appeals.
About 70% of initial applications are rejected. At that point, you can file for reconsideration, but the SSA rejects 90% of those. You can then request for a disability hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ). A hearing may sound scary, but it’s actually your best chance of approval. More than half of hearings result in winning benefits. If you work with a lawyer at this stage, you’re also three times more likely to win.
How long does it take to get disability benefits in Washington, D.C.?
As of March 2023, the average wait time to get disability benefits is about two and a half years — 29 months — in Washington, D.C. That’s from the time someone applies until the time they are approved. This is a couple of months longer than the average wait in the United States.
The long wait is a result of the multiple rounds of appeal that most applicants go through. You can expect the following average wait times for each round:
Initial decision: 6.1 months (184 days)
Reconsideration decision: 6.1 months (183 days)
Wait time for a hearing: 13 months (plus 1-3 months to get a decision)
Keep in mind that exact wait times depend on how many cases your hearing office is handling. There is one SSA hearing office in Washington, D.C., and the average wait time is listed below.
Wait time for a hearing
How to speed up the process
Unfortunately, there’s no way to speed up the process. That said, you can keep your application moving by preventing delays. Submit your application as soon as it's complete, then get in touch with the SSA right away. Stay on top of additional requests from the SSA. Your lawyer can also keep your application moving by filing appeals quickly.
How much are disability benefits in Washington, D.C.?
How much you earn through disability benefits will depend on your work experience and how much you’ve paid into Social Security (for SSDI) or your current monthly income (for SSI). Where you live and your exact medical conditions won’t affect how much you get.
How to find a disability lawyer in Washington, D.C.
Applying for SSDI and SSI isn’t easy, but a lawyer can take a lot of the stress out of the process. Your lawyer can help you apply, oversee appeals, communicate with the SSA, and represent you during court hearings. This makes the application process much easier to navigate and it’s also why applicants who work with lawyers are more likely to get approved.
As you look for a Washington, D.C.,disability lawyer, consider the following factors:
Reviews: You want to see positive reviews, but what you’re really looking for is patterns within the reviews. Expect a bad review here or there — even the best lawyers lose cases sometimes — but if you’re seeing a lot of the same negative feedback then it may be a sign the lawyer isn’t a good fit. Prioritize lawyers who treat their clients with respect.
Communication: Your lawyer may not be in touch during months-long waiting and processing periods, but they should be easy for you and the SSA to get a hold of as your application progresses or as questions come up.
Primary area of practice: Social Security disability law is unique. So while there are many skilled lawyers, look for a firm that specializes in SSDI or SSI cases.
Location (but it’s less important than you think): A local lawyer may know the judges and their preferences. But a lawyer who consults over the phone can be just as helpful. Social Security disability law is the same in every state.
Atticus can help you find an experienced lawyer who will make your case a priority and treat you with respect. Start with our free disability benefits quiz to see if a lawyer could help with your case. A member of our team will reach out to learn more and connect you with a qualified lawyer. (You’ll still get to choose whether to work with us and you won’t pay anything until after you win benefits.)
Ready to get benefits today?
Frequently asked questions about benefits in Washington, D.C.
How do I qualify for disability in Washington, D.C.?
To qualify for disability you need to have a condition that prevents you from working for at least a year. You’ll also need to meet certain work history requirements (for SSDI) or be within certain income limits (for SSI). For more on these requirements, read our full write up here.
What conditions qualify for disability in Washington, D.C.?
Any condition that will prevent you from working for a year or more can qualify for disability benefits. Some of the most common conditions include musculoskeletal disorders, mental disorders, nervous system diseases, and circulatory system diseases. See our full list of conditions that qualify here.
How long does it take to get approved for disability in Washington, D.C.?
It takes an average of 6.1 months to get an initial disability decision in Washington, D.C. Most people who apply are initially rejected, and need to appeal this decision. If you appeal and go to a hearing, the process takes around two years on average. Read more: How Long It Takes to Get Approved for Disability Benefits
How much does disability pay in Washington, D.C.?
The average SSDI payment is $1,209.39 per month in Washington, D.C. The average SSI payment is $670.24 per month. What you’ll earn depends on your income, or the amount you’ve historically paid into the Social Security program. Read more on what amount you can expect.
How should I prepare my disability application in Washington, D.C.?
Answer the application questions truthfully, consistently, and succinctly. You should also ensure that you gather and submit all your medical records with your application. The SSA paperwork can be complicated, so our legal team has written a full guide to the application here.
Does Washington, D.C.,have a state disability program?
No, there is no District of Columbia disability program. Only five states (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island) have a state program. Residents of Washington can apply for the federal disability programs of SSDI and SSI. Read more about the differences between SSDI and SSI here.
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Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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