When your disability makes it impossible to work, there are benefit programs in place to financially protect you. Unfortunately, applying and getting approved for disability can feel like another full-time job.
We put together this guide to ease the confusion, simplify the complexities, and accurately set your expectations as you apply for disability. We’ll cover what programs are worth applying for, how much you could stand to earn if you’re approved, what you need to qualify, and how long the process will take.
What disability programs can I apply for in Arizona?
Arizona doesn’t have a state-specific disability program — but there are some national and private disability options you might qualify for.
Here’s a brief overview of your most common options:
1. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): SSDI supports Americans who can no longer work due to a medical condition. Most Americans pay into Social Security through their taxes, and the amount you receive from SSDI largely depends on how much you’ve historically paid in. For this reason, your work history — as well as your medical history — determines whether or not you qualify (we’ll cover qualifications in more depth later in this article).
2. Supplemental Security Income (SSI): If you haven’t worked enough, or worked recently enough, to qualify for SSDI, SSI is an option. It’s another federal program, and you apply on the same application as SSDI. SSI is needs-based, and to qualify you have to meet certain income and asset limits.
3. Long-term or short-term private disability insurance: If you (or your employer) purchased disability insurance prior to you becoming disabled — you can file a claim with the insurer. These pay out a percentage of your former income — but the exact amount and duration of the benefit will depend on the policy. As you would guess, the primary difference between these policies is the duration for which they pay out.
4. Veterans disability benefits: If you served in the military and suffered an injury that left you unable to work, you should apply for disability benefits through Veterans Affairs. For more information, visit the VA’s disability benefits website.
For the rest of this article, we’re going to focus on SSDI and SSI. These are the programs that most Arizonians qualify for. It’s generally what someone means when they talk about “applying for disability.”
It’s also frequently necessary to apply for SSDI and SSI when trying to qualify for other programs (like most long-term disability plans). Or, they’re advantageous to apply for in conjunction with other programs (like VA benefits).
How to qualify for disability in Arizona
To qualify for either SSDI you have to meet two types of requirements: Medical requirements (which are the same for both programs), and technical requirements (which differ between SSDI and SSI).
Medical requirements: What conditions qualify you for disability in Arizona?
Any medical condition that prevents you from working can qualify for disability. Generally speaking, your condition qualifies if it lasts longer than one year or could potentially lead to death.
You cannot get SSDI benefits if your condition will improve, such that it no longer prevents you from working, within the year.
Amongst these the most common conditions to qualify in Arizona were:
Mental disorders: 34.4%
Diseases of the musculo-skeletal system: 26.1%
Diseases of the nervous system: 10.6%
Neoplasms (cancers): 3.0%
Endocrine nutritional and metabolic diseases: 2.3%
Diseases of the respiratory system: 1.8%
Diseases of the digestive system: 1.6%
Infectious and parasitic diseases: 1.0%
Diseases of the circulatory system: 0.6%
Congenital Abnormalities: 0.6%
Diseases of the blood and blood forming organs 0.2%
Diseases of the Genito-urinary system: 2%
Diseases of the skin and subcutaneous tissue: 0.2%
Among mental health conditions, the most common conditions were:
Depressive, bipolar, and related disorders: 21,777 people
Intellectual disorders: 11,921 people
Schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders: 8,037 people
Some particularly severe or terminal conditions (like stage 4 cancer or ALS), may be listed for compassionate allowance. In these cases, you automatically qualify for federal benefits (so long as you meet the work or income requirements).
Technical SSDI qualifications in Arizona
To qualify for SSDI benefits, you must also:
Be under 67 years old.
Meet the requirements for “work credits” for your age. You can check your work credits by making an account at SSA.gov — but most people qualify if they’ve worked five out of the last 10 years.
You can apply for disability benefits with the help of a lawyer, or on your own. Most often, you’ll be required to file the application and supplementary documentation on your work history, your day to-day functioning, and your treatment history.
How do I submit an application?
There are three ways to submit an application for disability benefits:
Apply through the SSA website
Apply by phone by calling (800) 772-1213
Apply in-person at your local SSA office
If you’re not applying with a lawyer, we highly recommend you apply at the SSA office. They won’t give you legal advice, but they can advise you on how to answer the application questions accurately. You can generally call your local SSA office to make an appointment ahead of time.
If you are applying with a lawyer, they should do the heavy-lifting: either they’ll get your case information and apply on your behalf, or they’ll walk you through how to apply on your own.
How should I prepare my application in Arizona?
It takes most people hours to submit an application because of the documentation needed.
Here’s what you’ll need to do to submit an application:
Collect your records. This includes medical records, work history, education records, bank account information, and other documents you will need to include with your application.
Fill out and submit the application and include supplemental documents and forms. All told, the forms can be more than 30 pages and take hours to complete. When filling out the forms, be extremely clear and specific about your limitations and pain level while remaining realistic. It’s also critical to make sure that you’re consistent with your answers between forms, as they often ask similar questions.
Follow-up with SSA right after you submit. Sometimes applications get lost, and the SSA has a lot of claims to get through. You’ll want to confirm they have received and are processing your application.
Respond to any requests from SSA ASAP. They may ask for supplemental information or request that you see a SSA doctor. You will typically have 10 days to submit documentation.
Again, if you’re working with a lawyer, they should fill out your application for you (the right way), gather your medical records, and confirm receipt with the SSA. (If you’d like more advice on how to fill out the initial application, or how you can find the right lawyer — Atticus can help out for free).
What comes next?
While some people have their application accepted at the initial decision stage—most people (about 70%) are rejected, and have to file for reconsideration. About 91% of reconsiderations are also rejected, and applicants request a hearing with an administrative law judge.
How long does it take to get disability benefits in Arizona?
The length of time it takes to get benefits varies. Most applicants will be denied at first, and each stage of the appeal process comes with another waiting period.
In 2021, to receive an initial decision took an average of 5.5 months (165 days).
The time to process reconsideration requests took 4.9 months (147 days).
The time you wait for your hearing date depends on your SSA hearing office. The average wait in Arizona, between requesting a hearing and appearing at one, is anywhere from 9 to 16.5 months.
Adding these up, if you file your paperwork immediately, it takes around 1.8 years (22 months) to get disability benefits in Arizona. Once you add in the time spent sending in supplementary forms, filing for reconsideration, requesting a hearing, and waiting for the judge’s decision — most applicants will spend around two to two and a half years going from application to approval.
Sending the SSA your documentation as soon as possible is the only way to speed up this process — so it’s important to meet deadlines, and get forms and medical records their way as fast as possible. Your lawyer can help you stay on track, and will call to confirm the SSA has all the information they need.
It’s easy to learn exactly what you would qualify for by signing up for an SSA.gov account. To check your potential benefit amount, and your SSDi work-history eligibility:
Create an account using your Social Security number
Scroll down to the section titled “Disability”
SSI payments in Arizona
The maximum you can receive for SSI nationwide is $914 per month in 2023. The SSA will subtract any other regular monthly income from this amount. So if you make any additional income (ie. stocks and investments, SNAP benefits, part-time work, etc.), that will be deducted from your monthly check.
The average monthly SSI payment in Arizona is $574.76 per month — just above the national average of $568.13.
Disability lawyers in Arizona: How to find the right firm
When you’re applying, disability lawyers can save you from critical application missteps and save you weeks of paperwork.
At the hearing stage, they’re critical to have in your corner. They cross examine witnesses from the state and help you make the best possible case before a judge.
If you’re trying to vet for a disability lawyer on your own, ask these questions before choosing one:
What is your primary area of practice? Do you take on other types of cases, or just SSDI and SSI? If they specialize in disability law, that’s a good sign they’ll have some experience with cases like yours.
How do you reach out to and communicate with your clients? Do you email them, call them or text them? Having a lawyer that’s available, keeps you in the loop, and answers your questions is critical. Make sure you can reach out and get the insight you need from them.
How do you prepare for a hearing? Bad lawyers often show up on the day of the hearing with no preparation. Good lawyers meet with the client at least once or twice before the hearing and go over the case.
Do you fill out the application for me by yourself? Invested lawyers, who understand the disability process well, generally fill out the application for you. If they don’t, they’ll have a good reason why (e.g. I know the judges in this area and they prefer applicants fill out applications alone).
It can be challenging to suss out great lawyers from mediocre lawyers without a legal background. If you’d like to be matched with a lawyer who’s a great fit for your claim, Atticus can help (for free).
We’ve spent years vetting disability lawyers and have built a network of legal teams (chosen from the top 5% of firms). We trust them to treat our clients well, and to win their cases. If you want our help evaluating the right disability lawyer for you, sign up here.
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