Tricky Questions When You First Apply for Disability

Art: Robin Mead

If you apply online, you will be asked these questions online.

If you apply on paper, you will be asked on the paper forms.

If you apply in person, you will be asked by the Social Security worker.

If you apply through a lawyer, you will be asked by someone who works in your lawyers office.

If you’ve already submitted your application, guess what. More tricky questions! Tricky Questions AFTER You Apply for Disability (First Six Months)

🌞 What Is Your Disabling Condition?

It is recommended to include on these form all conditions that affect your ability to function in any way. It can be especially helpful to include mental health, depression and psychological struggles, even if these are not your primary condition. Learn more about: How to Include Mental Health.

🌞 What doctors, providers, and hospitals have information about your condition?

Try to include every hospital visit, emergency room, clinic, procedure, medical test, and specialist visit you have had since becoming sick.

For physical health, Social Security will attempt to collect records from all doctors starting one year before your onset date (the date you listed as becoming unable to work). For mental health, they will attempt to collect records form all doctors from two years before your onset date.

It is only an attempt, and it is common that they will not get all the records and may make a decision without them. After your application is received and processed, it will be assigned to a Disability Examiner. Many people find it helpful to contact that person, see which records were received, and try to help them get the missing ones.

If you have important medical records from before this time period, you can try to collect them yourself and send them to Social Security.

🌞 What is the Contact Information for Your Doctor?

It is very helpful if you provide Social Security or provide your lawyer with complete contact information for all your doctors. Try to include all phone, fax and physical addresses. If you don’t give them full contact information, they may do something weird like write to your doctor’s home address!

Here’s great advice from one reader: “I recommend verifying with your medical offices the correct mailing address and fax numbers for medical records requests (preferably prior to applying). Sometimes doctor’s offices change fax numbers, and some offices use a different address for medical records requests (particularly some of the hospitals).”

If you are submitting your own records: how to submit records.

🌞 Do You Have Children?

If you are applying for SSDI, it is important to write down the names of your children on your application, even if they do not live with you. We have heard a few (very sad) stories where lawyers or caseworkers don’t do this. If you become pregnant or have more children while applying, it’s important that those children get added to your application as soon as possible and that you keep written proof of your request to have them added. (This matters a lot for SSDI only, it is not important for SSI).

🌞 Why Can’t You Work?

This is a complicated question, so it got it’s own page! How to Answer the Question: “Why Can’t You Work?” A few answers from other readers: Why Can’t You Work?

🌞 Are Your Working?

Answer honestly. If you are earning under SGA, you are eligible to apply for Social Security, though you may need an extra strong application. If you are self employed, they will consider the amount you make after business expenses and deductions. Please see these Special Notes for People Who Are Self-Employed and also Applying for Disability While Working

Some readers have reported that when they checked “yes” to the working box, the online system did not let them continue the application. If this happens, you can try applying a different way (not online). Or you can try checking “no” and then in the remarks section make a note that you are working, but you are earning less than SGA so you checked no.

🌞 What are Your Dates of Employment and Past Jobs?

Just write the truth. Ideally, what you write here should be the same as what is on your taxes. If you do not know when or where you worked, you can submit a Request for Social Security Earnings Information Form to Social Security. Some people put estimates for dates and then write in the remarks section if there was anything they estimated.

If you were technically employed, but stopped working (out on extended sick leave or disability leave) during the end of your employment, then list the last day you actually performed work. In the remarks section, make a note with the dates you were employed but out on leave and not performing work.

If you worked repeated small jobs or odd jobs, this is what the SOAR program does in this situation. They write something general such as: “odd jobs/housework/cleaning 2010-2012” and then explain in the remarks section that dates are estimated to the best of that persons memory.

You can also see a simplified version of your earnings record if you create an online account at This will not have the same level of detailed as a full earnings information request.

🌞 Do You Intend to Apply for SSI?

This question appears on the application for SSDI.

Tip: If you are poor right now, always check “yes.” If you are poor right now and a lawyer or someone else is filling out this application for you, they should check “yes.” We have heard from some readers who (sadly) lost money because the person filling out their application did not understand all of the backpay rules.

Update: We have heard back from several readers who lost money because their lawyer never checked the SSI box. You may wish to double check.

🌞 Do You Have Any Remarks?

Write down if you are any of these things: Homeless, Veteran, Terminally Ill. Request that your case be flagged as a priority case for homeless, veterans, or terminal illness. You can also check this page on other conditions that can lead to a faster disability decision. If anything applies to you, you can write this here and request your case be expedited. If you needed assistance to complete this application, you can note this here. You can also add if there is anything important they need to know about your application. It is OK to leave the remarks section blank.

🌞 Do You Have Anything to Add?

It is not necessary to try to include everything about your illness and limitations right now. In a month or two, they will call or write you with a Activities of Daily Living Adult Function Form, and you will have a lot more opportunity to tell them about these things.

🌞 When Did You Stop Being Able to Work Because of Your Disability?

Advice from attorney Mike Murburg: “As a rule of thumb, your alleged date of onset should be the day after the last date on which you were able to work at any job at a full time bases. This is often the date when a claimant finds himself or herself unable to work at all or only work a few hours per day or a couple of days per week because of a disabling condition.”

If you were disabled young: If you can prove that you first became disabled before the age of 22, in some cases this can mean a higher check. This is usually only possible if you did not work and earn over SGA after the age of 21. Learn more about Disabled Adult Child Benefits.

Medical leave: If you were earning income but not actually working (out on medical leave or sick leave) then list the last day you actually performed work. In the remarks section at the end, include a note stating the dates of your paid medical leave.

🌞 Why Haven’t You Been Going to The Doctor? 

This question does not appear on any forms. However, if you have been unable to see a doctor regularly, someone from Social Security may call you to ask you why. Or you may be asked this by your doctor or by the Social security doctor. Learn more: How To Explain Why You Haven’t Been to the Doctor

The SSI Financial Meeting

If you apply in person, Social Security will ask you these questions when you apply. If you apply another way, they will get in touch with you and ask you to have an appointment in person or on the phone (you can always request phone if you prefer.)

SSI financial meeting is where they ask questions about your finances, bank accounts, and living situation it. It will take place over the phone or in person (it can’t be done in person). It will be done by you (can’t be done by a lawyer).

It may happen now, or it may wait and happen after you are approved. Or it may happen both times. If you are applying for just SSDI (not SSI), you will never happen.  Sample questions:

🌞 What is your income? Assets? Savings? Houses? Cars?

Just answer honestly. These questions are important only if you are applying for SSI. For SSDI, they do not matter. How to Understand the Difference Between SSI and SSDI Without Making Your Head Explode

The SSI rules take a long time to learn, so if you don’t want to learn them now, you don’t have to. You can just apply and see what happens. If your SSI application has a problem and gets denied, you can reapply at anytime. For example, if you have $50 too much savings, you can follow the SSI rules for allowable ways to spend $51, and then reapply the next day.

If you’d like to learn more of the rules now: How to Apply for SSI Without Falling into Quicksand

🌞 Are You Living with a Boyfriend or Girlfriend? 

If you are living with a boyfriend, girlfriend or someone else you are not married to, you may find it helpful to learn the rules for Holding Out As a Married Couple


If someone at Social Security or at a lawyer’s office or anywhere else tells you that you cannot apply for disability, take a look here to see if there are solutions for your situation: “Someone Said I’m Not Eligible”


Once you are finally done with all these forms and tricky questions, it’s time for…. more forms and more tricky questions: Tricky Questions After You Apply for Disability (First Six Months)


🌞 Special steps you can take to improve your application. Here’s how: How to Improve Your Initial Application

🌞 If you are not working, but receiving passive or unearned income, it is important to let Social Security know that this is not “work.” For example, if you are receiving money from a rental property, or if your name is on a business with your spouse. Learn more about unearned income

🌞 You can find sample copies of completed Social Security forms and more information on how to fill out each form here: How to Fill Out Forms & Answer Questions


💮  This page is part of the free online guide: The Sleepy Girl Guide to Social Security Disability 

💮 Art on this page by Robin Mead and Elizabeth D’Angelo.

💮 Page Updated: 7/1/19

💮 Please comment below with stories, ideas, questions or suggestions. Please let us know if any links on this page stop working. 

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3 thoughts on “Tricky Questions When You First Apply for Disability”

  1. It’s good to know that children’s names should be included even if they don’t live with the applicant. I just learned that my aunt needs to apply for social security due to a back injury that’s preventing her from working. I’ll have to pass along these tips to help things go smoothly when she meets with a social security attorney soon.


  2. Thanks for your page, guide, advice and so on You have no idea how much your information helped me go threw the hole process when applying for S.S.The whole thing was driving me crazy until I found your page on Google. After 5 months with no lawyer I’ve been approved. Couldn’t of done it without you! Endless blessings to you!🙏


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