A Social Security case has several different stages (levels of review). Unfortunately, it frequently takes two years or more for a case to work its way to a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). This is yet another reason why it is important to file as soon as it becomes clear that you are disabled (and will continue to be disabled for at least one year).
Please keep in mind that although most cases proceed to the ALJ hearing, an applicant can be found disabled at any stage in the process.
How to Apply for Benefits
The case starts with the filing of the initial application for benefits and a document entitled Adult Disability Report (“ADR”). There are different methods of filing the initial application and ADR. One method is to file online at www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability. A second method is to call SSA’s toll-free number, (800) 772-1213. (People who are deaf or hard of hearing can call a toll-free TTY number, (800) 325-0778.) When an applicant calls that number, SSA’s representatives can make an appointment for the application to be taken over the telephone or at the nearest local SSA office. The representative will interview the applicant and complete the application and ADR. A third method is for the applicant to simply go in person to the nearest local SSA office, but this method is not advisable because if the applicant does not have an appointment he or she could wait hours before being seen.
No matter what method is used to file the initial application and ADR, it helps to be prepared, because the application process itself could take as long as 2-3 hours. The applicant will be asked to provide detailed information about his or her medical conditions; medical treatment; the names, addresses and telephones of doctors; list of medications; work history; living situation; financial information (income, resources and bank account information); and personal history such as the dates of any marriages and divorces. The more prepared an applicant is, by having as much information ready in advance, the quicker the application process will be.