Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a need-based program that provides monthly income and health insurance to people unable to work. The government requires you to fill out an application proving you’re disabled and need financial assistance.
To win your case, you have to convince the SSA, without question, that your medical condition is so severe you cannot work — even in a modified role.
For most people, getting SSI benefits is a multi-stage process. You’ll submit your application without legal help. Most people (about 76%) are initially denied. Then you’ll be able to appeal that denial — which Atticus can help you with.
This article explains how to make sure you’re eligible, how to submit your application, and what to do if your rejection letter comes.
We've complied an application checklist for you below:
To be eligible for SSI, you must:
Once you’re sure you’re eligible, don’t wait to apply. You should apply as soon as it is clear that your condition is going to last a full year and you have the evidence to prove it. Once your doctor is pretty sure your condition is going to keep you out of work for a year, there is no reason to wait.
Learn more about SSI eligibility rules.
You can find the phone number for your local SSA office here.
You can also call the SSA’s national 800 number at 1-800-772-1213. This number usually has longer wait times. When you call, make sure to tell them you want to schedule a time for someone to help you complete the entire SSI application.
You may have to insist — the SSA often tries to tell people to submit their application online, but we’ve found that having someone help you is better. The application is confusing, and it helps to have face-to-face communication and the chance to ask questions.
First, make an account on SSA.gov and click on “sign in/up.” My Social Security is an online portal designed to give you easy access to your Social Security information. You can use your account to request a replacement Social Security card, check your application status, and estimate future benefits.
Then, you’ll want to gather all your paperwork, including:
1. A copy of your Social Security card or record of your Social Security number (SSN).
2. Proof of age: birth certificate, passport, or other government-issued ID.
3. Information about where you live: your mortgage or lease and landlord’s name.
4. Proof of income: pay stubs, bank statements, insurance policies, and other information about your income and the things that you own.
5. Proof of resources:
6. Medical information: Bring all of your medical reports, if you have them; the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of doctors, hospitals and clinics that you have been to (and any other provider you saw for medical service); the approximate dates you were treated; and the names of all prescription and non-prescription medications you take.
7. Work history: Bring a current resume, if you have one. Otherwise, make sure you know your job titles; type of business; names of employers; dates worked; hours worked per day and per week; days worked per week; the rates of pay you did in the 15 years before you became unable to work due to your illnesses, injuries, or conditions; and a description of your job duties for the type of work you performed.
You’ll want to review the application before you apply. Read through the written application and disability report forms before your appointment so you know what questions you’ll have to answer.
Take notes on your medical situation, and bring them with you to your appointment. Sometimes, filling out the application can get stressful and you might forget things. It helps to list your symptoms and organize your thoughts beforehand. You can even keep a daily journal as a way to document your daily routine and anything that is difficult for you because of your illness or conditions.
Plan on spending at least 3 hours at the SSA office (or on the phone, if you’re doing it remotely). Bring all of your documents, an extra pen and paper.
Some tips for filling out the application once you’re at the SSA office:
After you apply, you can expect the SSA will send you follow-up paperwork. It is extremely important that you fill it out and send it back as soon as possible (most forms are due within 15 days). This may include:
Remember to be detailed! For example, when the Function Report asks what you do each day, don’t say “I wake up and sit on the couch.” It’s better to say “I wake up, then it takes me 20 minutes to get out of bed due to my pain. I take a bath seated, because my legs give out. Then, I use my walker to get to the couch to sit, because that is the only position that doesn’t intensify my pain.”
Sometimes, the Disability Examiner assigned to your case will schedule an appointment called a Consultative Exam (CE). You’ll have to call the number on the CE notice to confirm your appointment. At this appointment, you’ll meet with a Social Security doctor for an exam. Make sure you let the examiner know if you need help with transportation to the appointment. (Learn more about what happens at a consultative exam.)
New treatment records: it is likely you’ll continue attending appointments and tests, and you may even be hospitalized while waiting for a decision on your application. Submit any new records to the SSA as soon as possible after treatment is received.
If you need help, call your local field office or the SSA’s national number.
Again, don’t be discouraged if you get rejected at the initial application stage — most people do! You could still have a great case. Having a lawyer on your side is crucial for your appeal. We’re happy to match you with the right legal help.
Throughout the process, there are two important things to remember. First, if you’re confused, call the SSA and ask for help. Second, it’s okay if you get denied. Getting a denial is often a necessary first step before a professional can help you out. If you make a mistake, it can be fixed during your appeal.
Filling the application out incorrectly or submitting an incomplete application can cause delay or create issues when you try to appeal a rejected application. Most things can be corrected, but some can’t. The SSA can help you if you’re confused about the application or need help filling it out.
Unfortunately, the process takes time. It can take 3-6 months to get an initial decision, and 1-2 years or more to get a hearing. (Learn more about how long it takes to get SSI.)
If you qualify for SSI, you will get two benefits:
The SSA has rules about when a representative can and can’t help. Unfortunately, when you file your initial application, there’s very little a lawyer or representative can do for you. They can’t even be on the phone with you while you fill out it! That said, lawyers and representatives can play a much bigger role after your first denial. That’s why it’s important to call Atticus right away after you get denied.
The best people to ask for help are people who know you very well and can help you speak about your case. Your caseworker, social worker, or trusted loved one who can help you fill out the application are good choices. If you need access to a computer, your local library is a good resource.
You only have 65 days to appeal from the date of denial on your letter from SSA. If you’re within your appeal window, call us at 1-800-674-8141 right away so that you can keep your appeal going. If you’re outside that 65-day window, unfortunately you’ll need to apply again.
Our advice center has tons of helpful information that covers any other questions you might have about applying for SSI. This article on how to get started is a great first step.
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