Here is an excessively long list of things you can do to make a super great Social Security disability application. You can do these things before you first apply, while you apply, or during your appeal.
It is never too late to start doing the things on this list and it is never too early to start doing the things on this list. These steps can make a big difference at every possible stage.
Please don’t try to do everything on this list (you will die!). Look through and pick out a few things that feel right to you. If all goes well, you may decide to come back and try a few more.
It’s perfectly fine if you can’t do a lot (Of course you can’t! That’s why you are applying for disability!). Any little thing you can do can make a big difference. A few minutes each day can really add up. If possible, ask a friend or loved one for help.
As you are reading through this list, please keep in mind, a lot of the ideas on this list involve creating documentation. None of these documents will do you any good unless you collect them yourself and make sure they get into your Social Security file. Social Security will not just see them by magic!
Whatever happens, don’t let anybody ever tell you that you can’t get approved if you are young. Or you can’t get approved in less than two years. Or you can’t get approved the first time you apply. Or you can’t get approved without a lawyer. Or you can’t get approved if you have ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Lyme Disease. Or that disability is totally random and some people just get lucky.
People who say these things are disheartened and discouraged. But those people don’t know what you know. Because you know all of this:
Don’t Read This List
🍭 This is a long list with more than fifty options! Maybe you don’t want so many options. If you want to read less, look here instead: The Six Most Important Things You Can Do To Improve Your Chances
🍭 If you have not yet applied, or you are starting a new application, or you applied within the last month or two, take a look here: The Eight Most important things you can do before you apply (or soon afterwards). If that’s not enough for you, you can always come back and read this page, too.
🍭 If you are in the reconsideration stage, you probably don’t have time to read this whole page. Reconsideration is a short step that happens after the first application and before the hearing appeal. It only happens in some states, and it is QUICK. Take a look at Ways to Improve Your Chances For Reconsideration.
Find Mr. or Mrs. Right
🍭 Social Security is particular about what kind of doctor they would like you to see. The right kind of doctor can be important for your case. If all your doctors are MDs, DOs, psychiatrists, or psychologists, you can skip this step.
🍭 If you are seeing other types of doctors (therapists, counselors, physical therapists, nurses, physician’s assistants, etc), this may be fine, or you may need to make changes. Here’s how to Make Sure You Are Seeing Mr. or Ms. Right
Start Seeing Them Regularly
🍭 Start seeing a doctor on a regular basis. How often is ideal? The frequency depends on your condition and what your doctor recommends. Many people see their doctor every two months while applying for disability. (Or every month for mental health)
Follow Doctor’s Orders
🍭 If you follow all your doctor’s treatment recommendations, the Social Security Gods will be happy. There are a few exceptions. How to Please the Social Security Gods
🍭 If you cannot afford medications, check out: How To Be Broke & Medicated
Have “The Talk”
🍭 It’s important to talk with your doctors about your disability application and find out their opinion. If you’ve already talked to your doctor, ask yourself these questions: Did your doctor clearly state that she believes you are disabled and unable to work? Did your doctor recommend you apply for disability? Did your doctor say she is willing to help your application?
🍭 If you have not heard those actual words come out of her actual mouth, read more about How to Talk to Your Doc About Your Disability Ap.
Solve Your Doctor Problems
🍭 Please read this If You Don’t Have Money or Insurance to Get to the Doctor
🍭 Please read this if you need to Explain Why You Haven’t Been to the Doctor
🍭 Please read this if you have A Doctor Who Won’t Fill Out Paperwork
💮 Please read this if you have A Doctor Doesn’t Support Your Disability Application
💮 Please read this before giving up on your doc: Dahlia Finds a Surprise
💮 Please read this if you have only seen online records or visit summaries: What Else is My Doctor Writing About Me?
💮 If you have ME, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or related conditions: What doctor was the most helpful for your disability approval?
Get a Great RFC Form
🍭 Many lawyers say this is the single most important piece of paper in your entire case. You want one. You can print it out and bring it to your doctor, or your lawyer may give you one. Here’s a bunch of tips for how to Get a Great RFC Form and How to Avoid Common Mistakes. If you already have an RFC form, you can still read this to make sure your form has everything you need.
Get a Great Doctor’s Letter
🍭 Most doctors have no idea how to write a Social Security letter and many well-meaning doctors write letters that do not help. A letter that simply lists your diagnosis and states that you are disabled will not help. Here’s how to work with your doctor to make sure your letter is good. Get a Great Letter from Your Doc. You can get a letter instead of an RFC form. Or you can be a superhero and try to get both.
Get Ready for The CE
🍭 Social Security will likely contact you and send you to an appointment with one of their doctors. This is called a Consultative Exam. This most often happens 3-6 months after you first apply. It occasionally (but rarely) happens during appeals. Here’s how to Learn About the CE Before You Go to the CE.
Check Your File
🍭 It is very very (very) common for records to be missing from Social Security files. Most people do not learn about the missing records until they read their denial letter, and some people never learn about it. Even people with lawyers can have this problem. Here’s how to Check Your Social Security File
Start Having Great Doctor Visits
🍭 Many people give their doctors mixed messages, downplay their symptoms, try to befriend their doctors, or assume that their doctor remembers their symptoms and impairments. All of these things can hurt your disability application. Here is how to have Great Doctor Visits that Create Accurate Records. Read this and burn it into (what’s left of) your memory.
🍭 Super helpful tips from readers on doctors visits while applying for disability: Great Tips from Readers on How to Have Good Doctor Visits
Find Out If There are Secret Medical Records You Have Not Seen
🍭 There might be! Find Out
Change Your Mind
🍭 Many people unintentionally hurt their own applications by holding onto false beliefs. Luckily, you are not going to be one of those people. Come by and learn How To Kill Your Social Security Application
Collect Your Medical Records
🍭 One of the most important things you can do to help your case is get all your medical records. Yourself. In your own two hands. How to Collect All Your Medical Records
Read Your Medical Records
🍭 Now that you have all your medical records, you really want to read them. If you don’t read your records, you are playing darts with a blindfold on. Ten Stories That Will Make You Run Out and Read Your Medical Records RIGHT NOW.
🍭 We hope your records will be great. But just in case: What Do I Do If I Find Something Wrong in My Medical Records?
Prove You Can’t Work or Function
🍭 Have you ever heard someone say, “You need to prove you cannot work” and wondered, “How do I do that?” Most of the suggestions on this page will help you prove functioning. Here is a more concise list that reviews just the steps for How to Prove You Can’t Function. Proving functioning is the step most people skip. If you met someone who was turned down and does not know why, this is often why.
Get Home Care (if you need it)
Document Home Care (if you already have it)
🍭 If you are unable to care for yourself, now is a great time to see if you qualify for home care. How to Get Home Care.
🍭 If you are already in a home care program, now is the time to request your file from your home care agency and send it to Social Security. Hint: make sure to request your entire file, including all of your recent caseworker reports, plus your original intake and assessment when you first applied. This initial assessment may be the most helpful part.
Get Medical Equipment (if you need it)
Document Medical Equipment (if you already have it)
🍭 Medical equipment can include things like walkers, canes, wheelchairs, hospital beds, toilet rails, shower rails, mobility scooters, and any other kind of equipment you need. In some cases, you may also look into modifications to your home or assistive technology to help you communicate. How to Get Medical Equipment.
🍭 Assessments for medical equipment can be a great help to your disability case. But it will not be helpful unless you document it and submit those documents to Social Security: How to Document Medical Equipment While Applying for Disability
🍭 Going out and buying medical equipment on your own will make no difference for your disability case. Your need for medical equipment needs to be documented by a doctor. Do not do this: Do not show up for your hearing using new medical equipment not documented in your records. The judge may question your credibility.
When you apply for disability, you’re going to be asked a lot of questions. Here’s a bunch of important ones that a lot of people get wrong (even lawyers sometimes get these wrong!)
🍭 Tricky Questions You May Be Asked Right After You Apply (first few months)
🍭 If you are homeless or at risk for homelessness: The SOAR program is a huge help with disability applications for people who are homeless or at risk for becoming homeless. Many SOAR programs require a diagnosis of serious mental illness, but some do not. They provide wonderful help and have truly amazing success rates. Get Help from SOAR (If homeless or at risk)
🍭 Other special circumstances may be able to help you get a decision more quickly and (sometimes) more easily. These include: veterans, suicidal or homicidal, dire need, terminal illness, and compassionate allowance cases: How Can I Get Social Security to Move Me to the Top of the List?
Learn From The Pros
🍭 Meet the Flower Girls. These smart, creative, persistent women all got approved for disability. They wanted to share their stories to help others. We have learned more from these stories than from any disability book we have ever read: “How I Got Approved for Disability.”
🍭 We have a special page for Flower Girls who got approved in six months or less. Maybe you will be the next one! “How I Got Approved for Disability QUICKLY”
Things You Want to Know That You Don’t Know You Want to Know
🍭 If you are applying for SSDI, you will want to know your Date Last Insured. This may also be called, the date when your work credits expire. It’s important.
🍭 For SSDI, you also want to check your earnings record. If your earnings record is wrong, you may get a lower disability check. Every month. For the rest of your life!
🍭 If you are applying for SSI, you will want to know the living arrangement regs. It’s important (in some cases, super important).
🍭 For SSI, you also want to know How to Apply for SSI Without Falling into Quicksand. This may change your check or backpay.
🍭 If you don’t know what you are applying for, you will want to know what in the hell we are talking about here. Read this: How to Understand the Difference Between SSI and SSDI Without Making Your Head Explode
🍭 If you feel totally lost, you are not alone. You probably want to know what happens when and what happens next: Typical Timeline for a Typical Disability Case
Get a Lawyer or Representative
🍭 Initial Applications: A lawyer is not required, but you can get one if you want one. If you can also do things to help improve your file yourself, that is the best.
🍭 Hearings and appeals; Many people report that they were glad to have a lawyer with them at their hearing. If you can also do things to help improve your file yourself, that is the best.
🍭 After hearing: If your hearing was denied, and you are appealing at a higher level, you definitely want a lawyer.
Getting a lawyer costs nothing upfront, so if you want one, here’s where you can find one.
Don’t Leave Everything to Your Lawyer
🍭 If you leave everything up to your lawyer, you are taking a risk. Sometimes this works out well, and sometimes people have regrets. Learn more about how to work with a lawyer and what to do for yourself.
🍭 Patty wanted to share her story to help others: How Patty’s Lawyer Never Told Her What She Needed to Know
Don’t Try to Look Good When You Feel Like Crap
🍭 Great article written by someone with ME, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Lyme: Don’t Try to Look Good When You Feel Like Crap
🍭 Have you heard someone say you need “objective medical evidence”? This is what they are talking about. Here’s a list of Medical tests for ME, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Lyme, and related conditions that other people have found helpful when applying. If you do not have one of these conditions, please speak with your doctor or do your own research about what type of tests might be helpful in documenting your condition.
🍭 Some people get no medical tests. If you are applying for physical health, this is not good. If you are applying for mental health, some kind of psychological testing would be helpful, but is not absolutely required.
🍭 On the other hand, some people get a ton of medical tests and are focused on getting more and more. That is fine, but if you spend all your time, money, and energy on medical tests, you may not have any time, money and energy left over to do the other things on this page. In most cases, you cannot get approved based solely on tests. How Many Medical Tests Do I Need?
🍭 Social Security looooves consistency. They will be looking to see that everything you write and everything you say and everything your doctor writes and everything else in your file are all consistent. They don’t have to be exactly the same, just generally similar. Here’s how to Paint a Consistent Picture
Take it With a Grain of Salt
🍭 There are a lot of rules and policies at Social Security, and most people who work there can’t possible know them all. Unfortunately, most of our readers report that they were told wrong information when they tried to call or visit Social Security. Sage won his case by ignoring everything Social Security told him and learning everything himself. Be Like Sage
🍭 If you continue to have problems and cannot get them resolved, check out: How to Solve Your Social Security Problems
🍭 Here is the Golden Rule: Never Take No for an Answer Over the Phone
See a Specialist
🍭 If you are able to see a Specialist, this can help your case. The type of specialists you see will depend on your condition. Examples of specialists might be: Rheumatologists, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Infectious Disease Specialists, Cardiologists, and pain specialists/pain clinics. Some people report that assessments from Rehabilitation doctors and Occupational Medical Doctors were particularly helpful for their claims.
Reach Out for Help
🍭 If you know someone who cares about you, this is a wonderful time to ask for their support and assistance. You can ask a friend, family member, neighbor or anyone else you know if they might be willing to look though this list and pick out a few things you can do together. You do not need any special training or any special knowledge. Everything here is something anyone can do.
Read Our Survey
🍭 We surveyed people who had been approved for disability and asked: What helped your application the most? Read what they said.
Collect Support Letters
🍭 It may be helpful to collect support letters from friends, family, caregivers or employers. However, please focus on your medical records first. If your medical records are strong, than support letters can support those records. If your medical records are not strong, support letters will not help.
Enroll in Vocational Rehab (Maybe)
🍭 Vocational Rehabilitation programs are designed to help people with disabilities find jobs. They may be able to give you free assessments in your job skills, physical abilities, and mental abilities.
🍭 If they find that you are too disabled to hold a job, this can help your disability application. If they find that there is employment you can do, this will not be good for your disability application, but it may be helpful to you in seeking employment or job training.
🍭 All states have Vocational Rehabilitation agencies run by the state. If you enroll in Vocational Rehab you should know that Social Security may collect and read all files from the programs, not just assessment results, but any notes written by anyone you speak with.
Get Neuropsychological Testing
🍭 If you have problems with memory, focus, or concentration, this type of testing may be helpful. Social Security may send you to one of their doctor’s for psychological testing, but these exams are sometimes brief and may or may not be accurate. It is much better to arrange your own complete exam with a trained Neuropsychologist. How to Find a Good Neuropsychologist
Make a Medical Outline
🍭 Social Security has a lot of paperwork, and important information often gets overlooked. Here’s something you can do yourself (or with help from a loved one) that can be a huge help in making sure you get a fair decision: How To Make a Medical Outline to Help Your Disability Case
Live Without Regrets
🍭 Some people who apply for disability later have regrets about how they handled things in the doctor’s office. Luckily this won’t happen to you! How to Go to the Doctor Without Regret
Track Your Symptoms and Limitations
🍭 A symptom diary can help you when you talk to your doctor or fill out forms for Social Security. How to Keep a Symptom Diary
🍭 It worked for Petunia! Petunia’s List of Limitations for Disability
If you are waiting for a decision or waiting for a hearing, now is the time you can make a difference. Many people think there is nothing they can do but wait, and many people are told by their lawyers that there is nothing they can do but wait. This is utterly untrue.
If You Have Income
If you are working, please see read: Applying for Disability While Working
If you are earning money without working (for example, if you get income from a business, but do not perform work): Earning Income Without Working
Learn About SSI
If you are applying for SSI, the way you are living right now may affect your check later. Please see: How to Apply for SSI Without Falling into Quicksand
You will have an SSI interview when you first apply and/or after you get approved How to Handle an SSI Interview
This is for SSI only. For SSDI your finances and living situation do not matter.
Answer Tough Questions
Use the Blue Book
🍭 Here’s an extra special, super duper, advanced method for getting approved for Social Security disability. When it works, it can get you approved easily and automatically! How to Use the Blue Book to Get Approved for Disability
🍭 It worked for Rose! Rose Uses the Blue Book to Get Approved for Disability
Document Mental Health
🍭 Many people hate being labeled as having a psychiatric illness and try hard to prove that their condition is physical not mental. Doing this may make you feel better emotionally, but it may also cause you to lose your disability case. Learn more about How to Include Mental Health.
🍭 If mental health is an important part of your disability claim, please also take a look at How to Document Mental Health for a Disability Application
Keep a Symptom Diary
🍭 Many disability lawyers recommend to keep a symptom diary. This can help you track and remember things to say when you go to the doctor, fill out forms, or go to a hearing. How to Keep a Symptom Diary
Learn About LTD
🍭 If you are also applying for LTD (disability through your employer), there’s a few important things you should know: How to Apply for Disability Through Your Employer
🍭 Also check out: How to Get LTD for ME and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Consider a Disability Discharge on Student Loans
🍭 You do not need to be on disability to get a disability discharge. You do need your doctor to complete a form. This form can also help your disability case. Keep a copy and submit it to Social Security. How to Escape the Crushing Weight of Student Loans
Create a Synopsis
Imagine you worked as a Social Security Disability Examiner and your desk was piled high with hundreds of pieces, and every time a new person applied, hundreds of new pieces of paper kept getting added to the pile. Wouldn’t you just love it if someone gave you a two-page synopsis that told you everything important you needed to know? It worked for Holly! Holly’s Fantastic Medical Synopsis for Disability
Get Other Supporting Documents
Your medical records are the most important thing. If you already have good medical records, than adding support materials can sometimes help give credibility and support to your case. Here’s a few examples:
🍭 You can ask your pharmacy for a print out of all your medications and refills since you became sick
🍭 If a medical supply company helped you purchase expensive or hard-to-qualify-for equipment through your insurance, you can ask for a copy of your file, or save a copy of any documentation they gave you.
🍭 If you have a service animal or emotional support animal, you can save a copy of the letter your doctor writes about this
🍭 If an agency supplied you with a disability home modification assessment, you can request or save a copy of the assessment. (Wheelchair ramps, guard rails, stair lifts, walk in tubs, etc)
🍭 If you got a disability home modification, you can save copy of the paperwork or request a letter stating why the agency found these modifications were needed.
🍭 If your doctor fills out a form stating that you are unable to work for food stamps or other programs, you can save copies. (This is really only helpful if it includes some details and explanation).
🍭 If you get a disability parking placard, you can save a copy of the form your doctor signs (it may state that you cannot walk more than 20 feet without resting).
🍭 If you applied for paratransit, you can save a copy of your approval letter and/or request a copy of your file from the paratransit agency.
🍭 If you get a student loan disability discharge, you can save and submit the paperwork your doctor filled out.
🍭 If you made any disability accommodation requests, you can save a copy of the approval letter, along with any letters or forms filled out by your doctor.
🍭 If any agency provided you with any services related to your disability, you can request a copy of your file and request a letter stating why services were needed.
🍭 None of the documents on this page will do you any good unless you collect them and send them to Social Security. If you don’t do this yourself, Social Security will never see them! Please submit things the right way now to avoid heartache later: How to Submit
Answer Questions from Your Doc
🍭 Here’s a list of Tricky Questions at the Doctor’s Office. You may be asked these questions by your own doc, or by the Social Security doc, and your answers may make a big difference in your disability case.
Help Your Doc Out
🍭 Does your doctor support your application? Super! Most doctors don’t know the Social Security policies, but you can help them give you the support you need: How a Doctor With a Good Heart Can Help a Patient Who is Applying for Disability (If She Wants To)
Talk to Social Security
If Social Security asks you to call them or come into the office: What Questions Do They Ask at a Social Security Interview?
Get a Supplemental Form
🍭 If you have a Social Worker, Counselor, Therapist or Case Manager, you can ask them to help you fill out and sign a Social Security Disability Assessment Form
Four Things You Can Do To Increase Your Chances of Financial Survival
Ok. This is cheating a bit, because none of these things will actually increase your chances of getting approved for disability. But they will increase your chances of staying alive, so that part’s good:
🍭 To find out what other programs you can apply for read this.
🍭 To make a financial survival plan, read this.
🍭 For general tips on getting by when you’re not getting by, read this.
🍭 To get your disability decision more quickly: read this
Applying for disability is a tough road, here’s How to Make Life a Little Easier While You Apply