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How do I get disability benefits from Social Security?

Getting Social Security disability benefits is a two-step process. First, the Social Security Administration (SSA) determines whether you are eligible to receive benefits. This determination is based on the number of years you have worked and paid Social Security taxes. Second, you apply for disability benefits by furnishing information about your claim, including the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of physicians, hospitals, and clinics that have treated you for your disability. You will also be asked to provide a copy of your most recent W-2 form (or tax return if you're self-employed), as well as your Social Security number and proof of your age.

If your claim is approved, don't expect to get your disability benefits right away. Your first check will be dated five to six months from the date your disability occurred and will cover only a portion of your lost income. The standard for Social Security disability is very strict. You must have a medically definable impairment that is expected to prevent you from working for at least a year or is expected to lead to death. Approximately 50 to 75 percent of applicants are denied because they do not meet the definition of disability used by the SSA. If your claim is denied, you may initiate within 60 days the first level of a four-tiered appeals process. Some people hire an attorney who specializes in disability issues to assist with their appeal.

If you are receiving disability benefits, are married, or are caring for a child, some of your family members may qualify for benefits as well. If the SSA terminates your benefits, you may request reinstatement for up to six months.