Social Security: All About Disability

Disability is something most people do not like to think about. But the chances that you will become disabled probably are greater than you realize. Studies show that a 20-year-old worker has a 3:1 chance of becoming disabled before reaching full retirement age. If you're not able to work because you have a medical condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death, you may be able to get Social Security disability benefits.

Here's what you need to know

You should apply for disability benefits as soon as you become disabled. It can take months to obtain all your medical records and process an application for disability benefits (three to five months, on average).

You can apply for Social Security benefits even if you are still working. If your impairment is anything other than blindness, earnings averaging under $1010 a month for the year 2012 will generally allow you to file. If you are self-employed, we will need to evaluate some additional information.

Generally, the information we need includes:

  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of the doctors, caseworkers, hospitals, and clinics that took care of you, and dates of your visits.
  • Names and dosage of all the medicine you take.
  • Medical records from your doctors, therapists, hospitals, clinics, and caseworkers that you already have in your possession.
  • Laboratory and test results.
  • A summary of where you worked and the kind of work you did.


Do not delay filing for disability benefits if you don't have all the above information in your possession. Social Security will assist you in getting the necessary documents, including obtaining your medical records.

The fastest and most convenient way to apply for disability is online. You can save your application as you go, so you can take a break at any time.

If you prefer, you can call 1-800-772-1213 (toll-free) to make an appointment to apply at your local Social Security office.

If you are approved for disability benefits, that doesn't mean you'll never return to work. Social Security has special rules called "work incentives" that allow you to test your ability to work.

Learn more about disability benefits and take advantage of the helpful Disability Starter Kit on the Social Security website.

—Kirk Larson, Social Security Western Washington