Washington Disability Benefits: Qualifying, Applying, and Getting Approved
February 16, 2023 · 8 min read
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In Washington state alone, there are more than 177,000 people who receive disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA). Remember that number, because while the application process may seem daunting, hundreds of thousands of others have been through it and received the support they needed.
To help you apply, this guide will explain what you need to know about qualifying for benefits in Washington, how to start the application process, and the amount of benefits you may receive.
Skip the reading. See which benefits you qualify for in 2-minutes or less.
What Washington disability program should I apply for?
The state of Washington doesn’t have its own disability program. However, Washington residents can qualify for both federal and private disability benefits — likely one (or more) of the following programs:
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): Americans with long work histories typically qualify for SSDI, which is a federal program. The longer you’ve worked and paid taxes, the more likely it is that you’ll qualify for SSDI. As a rule of thumb, someone who has worked for at least five of the past 10 years is eligible. A long work and taxpayer history also corresponds with larger benefit checks.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI): SSI is also a federal program, but it’s reserved for people who either don’t have a long work history or haven’t held a job recently enough to qualify for SSDI. It’s also needs-based so you need a low income without many savings or assets to qualify. SSI and SSDI share an application.
Veterans disability benefits: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers benefits for active and retired veterans who were injured during their military service if that injury makes it impossible for them to work. You can get VA benefits at the same time as SSDI and SSI. Learn more about how to apply for VA benefits.
Long-term or short-term private disability insurance: Private insurance plans are available through your employer or through your own insurer. If you become unable to work while you have a disability plan, you should file a claim with your insurer to receive the benefits of your policy. Payments are typically up to 60% of your former paycheck and can last for months or years. Review your individual plan details to see the specifics of your policy.
The rest of this guide will focus on SSDI and SSI since most Washington residents are likely to qualify for one or both of those programs. Even if you are receiving VA benefits, you can still qualify for Social Security disability. Private long-term insurance policies may also require you to apply for SSDI as part of claiming your policy’s benefits.
You must meet rigorous medical and technical criteria to qualify for both SSI and SSDI. The two programs share the same medical requirements, but the technical requirements vary.
Medical qualifications for disability benefits
The first and most important medical requirement is that you must have a disability or medical condition that makes it impossible for you to work. Secondly, your healthcare provider must expect that your condition will continue for at least a year or for the rest of your life. Terminal conditions do qualify for disability.
Applicants under the age of 50 have to prove to the SSA that they are unable to do any job because of their health condition. Qualifying for disability is easier after age 50 because you only need to prove that it’s impossible for you to continue the same work you’ve been doing.
Technical SSDI qualifications
The two criteria you must meet to qualify for SSDI are:
You’re at or below 66 years of age.
You’ve paid enough taxes into the Social Security program to meet work credit requirements. You’re likely to qualify if you’ve worked at least five out of the past 10 years. Use your free SSA.gov account to find a complete list of qualifications.
Conditions that qualify for disability in Washington
Many conditions can qualify for Social Security disability benefits if they leave you unable to work and are expected to continue for at least a year. If you have a medical condition that meets those criteria, you may be able to qualify.
Most common conditions among Washington residents
SSA data from 2022 shows that disability benefits recipients in Washington state have qualified with a variety of conditions. The list below shows the most commonly approved conditions and how many Washingtonians on disability had each condition:
The disability application is long. Make sure you set aside enough time to complete the application in full. Don’t forget about the supplements — the entire process might take longer than you expect. Though a lawyer can help you organize your documentation, here’s what you should do to facilitate their work:
Gather your personal records. This includes medical records, treatment forms, education forms, bank account information, and contact information for relevant healthcare providers.
Submit the application and all supplemental documents. Make sure you’ve answered questions honestly and been realistic about the pain or injuries associated with your condition. The SSA looks for inconsistencies throughout all your forms, so avoid contradicting yourself.
Follow up with the SSA right after you submit. Thousands of people apply for disability every month. You or your lawyer should follow up immediately to ensure the SSA received and is processing your application.
Respond to any requests from the SSA immediately. If the SSA requests additional information, you’ll have up to 10 days to respond. However, try to respond as soon as possible to avoid additional processing delays.
If you choose not to work with a lawyer, applying in person can be helpful because the SSA staff can advise you on how to accurately answer the questions on the application. It’s important to note, though, that they can’t give you specific legal advice on the strength of your answers. If you do choose to work with a lawyer, they can also submit your application for you.
Talking with a disability lawyer is the best way to get help filing for disability. Your lawyer can complete the application and communicate with the SSA on your behalf. They can also handle all appeals, which takes a lot of the stress out of the application process. At Atticus, we can provide free legal advice on completing your application or finding the right lawyer for you. Take our 2-minute disability quiz to get started.
What happens after I apply for disability?
After you apply for disability, the SSA will check to see whether or not you meet the technical requirements. If you do, the Disability Determination Services (DDS) will check your medical eligibility, which typically requires a quick consultative exam with an SSA doctor. Then, the SSA will decide whether or not you qualify. While this may sound fast, this process usually takes more than six months.
Your chances of getting approved for benefits
As many as 70% of applications are rejected upon first review, at which point they can file for reconsideration. If you’re among the 90% of reconsidered applications who also get rejected, you’re entitled to appeal the decision and appear for a hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ).
This may seem daunting, but many applicants have a positive outcome after appearing in front of a judge. In 2022, more than 50% of the people who appealed their case in front of an ALJ won benefits. Applicants who work with a lawyer are also three times more likely to get approved.
The average wait time to receive an initial decision in 2022 was 184 days, or 6.1 months. Reconsideration requests added 147 days, or 4.9 months, to that timeline. After the reconsideration, your wait time for a hearing depends on which SSA office oversees your application. Washington state applicants can expect to wait two years and three months, on average, from when they apply until they get a hearing.
Still, the average wait time varies even within Washington. Below are the wait times for the three hearing offices in the state:
Wait time for a hearing
Because it can take a long time to get disability benefits, it’s important to submit your application as soon as you can. Though there is no way to reduce your wait time, you can respond to the SSA quickly to prevent other delays. Working with a lawyer can also handle appeals and follow up with the SSA to keep your application moving.
Though the wait time may be long, it doesn’t mean you’ll miss out on benefits. Your first benefits check will include back pay benefits that cover the months and years of payments you missed while waiting.
Your disability benefits will vary based on your personal work and income history and whether you receive SSDI or SSI. You can also receive benefits from both programs at the same time.
Average SSDI payments in Washington
The average monthly SSDI benefit for Washington residents is $1,371.51. This is close to the national average, but your actual monthly payment may vary since the maximum possible payment is around $3,600 for 2023.
Though monthly benefit amounts do vary between states, your location doesn’t determine how much you’ll receive each month. Your income and work history are the two most important factors that guide the size of your disability check.
You can see what your SSDI payment will be through your SSA.gov account:
Visit the SSA’s mySocialSecurity page.
Log in or create an account with your Social Security number (SSN).
Scroll to the section titled “More Benefits.”
Average SSI payments in Washington
Washington residents receive an average of $638.93 per month from SSI, but the maximum monthly payment for 2023 is $914.
Your current monthly income weighs heavily into your personal payment. The SSA starts with the maximum amount, then subtracts any money you have coming in each month — including SNAP benefits, part-time work income, and stock earnings. If you have no monthly income, you’ll receive the full $914 per month from SSI.
Finding a good disability lawyer isn’t easy, but it’s well worth it. Applicants who work with disability lawyers typically save time, money, and stress. Their lawyers communicate with the SSA, file appeals, and handle court proceedings. If your case requires a hearing, your lawyer will help you make your case, including cross-examining witnesses. For all these reasons, working with a lawyer is one of the best ways to increase your odds of approval.
To find the best lawyer in Washington for your case, consider the following criteria:
Reviews: If a lawyer has a lot of positive reviews from satisfied applicants, it’s a good sign that they have the skills to win your case and that they’ll be easy to work with. And instead of just dismissing someone with negative reviews, look for patterns. Why are people giving a bad review? Every lawyer loses cases but someone who doesn’t communicate well with clients is a red flag.
Primary area of practice: Lawyers that specialize in other legal areas, like personal injury, might not have the right background to effectively represent you. Look for a lawyer that works primarily with disability benefits cases. You can ask about their experience during your initial consultation.
Location (to an extent): Local lawyers are often more familiar with local judges, which can help your case. A remote lawyer who can consult over the phone is still helpful, though, since disability law is the same nationwide.
Communication: A good lawyer will communicate clearly with both you and the SSA. You want a lawyer who is easy to reach, and who will connect with you over the phone or in person even if they don’t have an update on your case.
Practice history: If a lawyer has worked on and won disability cases like yours, there’s a good chance they can do it again. There are skilled new lawyers, but it’ll be more difficult to prove that they have what it takes to help you win.
Searching for a lawyer on your own can be overwhelming. Atticus makes the process easier. We’ve spent years vetting a pool of experienced disability lawyers, and we can match you with one of them — for free! Fill out our disability quiz so we can learn more about your situation and find the right lawyer for your case.
Ready to get benefits today?
Frequently asked questions about benefits in Washington
How do I qualify for disability in Washington?
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?
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?
It takes an average of 6.1 months to get an initial disability decision in Washington. 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?
The average SSDI payment in Washington is $1,371.51 per month. The average SSI payment is $638.93 per month. What you’ll earn is dependent 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?
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 have a state disability program?
No, Washington doesn't have a state disability program. Only five states (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island) have a state program. Residents of Washington can apply for federal disability programs (SSDI and SSI). Read more about SSDI and SSI here.
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