Disability and SSI

This article was produced by CLS, GHLA, NHLAA, and SLS.

Disability and SSI

SSI and Disability are federal programs that help people who cannot work because of a disability. You are eligible if your disability:

  • Keeps you from working for a year or more, or
  • Will cause you to die.

What kinds of disabilities qualify?

You will qualify if you have a:

  • Physical condition that:
    • Makes it hard for you to walk, sit, stand, lift or carry, or
    • Causes you pain, tiredness, shortness of breath or other serious symptom that affects your ability to work.
  • Mental health condition that causes serious problems with your:
    • Memory, thinking, understanding, moods, concentration, or
    • Ability to work with other people.

How do I apply for Disability or SSI?

You should apply for both programs. You can apply online, by phone, or in person at your local Social Security Administration (SSA) office. Here’s how:

Online: www.ssa.gov
Call: 800-772-1213 (or TTY: 800-325-0778)
Find your local office at: https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp

When should I apply for Disability or SSI?

Apply as soon as you become disabled. There is no deadline but the sooner you apply, the sooner you could get benefits. If your disability makes it hard for you to apply without help, ask SSA for help. Tell SSA about your disability and the kind of help you need.

For example, you may need help to:

  • Fill out forms
  • Get documents to support your application
  • Get to the SSA office. SSA may be able to interview you at your home.

What happens after I turn in my application?

Someone from SSA will interview you at the SSA office or by phone. The interview takes about 1 hour. SSA will mail you a decision within 3-5 months after your interview.

Tips: If you want SSA to decide as sooner, you should:

  • Apply online.
  • Be ready to meet with SSA. Have all the documents and information they may ask you for. To know how to get ready, read the Disability Starter Kit online at http://www.ssa.gov/disability/disability_starter_kits.htm
  • Call every 2 months to check on your application.
  • Call and write SSA if you move or change your phone number.
  • Keep copies of all documents you give SSA.

If you need money or benefits while SSA is deciding, apply to DSS for other kinds of aid while you wait, such as cash assistance, Medicaid, and food stamps. Call 2-1-1 for the local DSS address.

Tips for your application

  • Give complete information about your disability:

Explain how your disability has changed your life. Be honest, and don’t try to hide or downplay any problems. Describe things you did before that you can no longer do, such as chores, driving, being with others, etc.

  • Go to your medical appointments and follow your treatment plan:

SSA may send you to a doctor. You must go to this appointment so SSA can have current information about your health. You will not have to pay for the appointment.

You can also give SSA reports about your disability from nurse practitioners, chiropractors, therapists, social workers, teachers, and other agencies, such as the Department of Social Services (DSS).

  • Describe your education:

Put the last grade you completed. Many courses taken after high school are not really college classes.

  • Answer questions about your work history:

List any problems you had at work because of your disability.

What if SSA denies my application?

SSA denies many new applications. If your application is denied or SSA says you are not disabled, you should appeal right away. Many people who appeal get approved for SSI or Disability.

Deadline: You have 60 days to appeal.

How do I appeal?

If you file a Request for Reconsideration, SSA will look at your claim again, along with any new evidence. File your Request online at secure.ssa.gov or take a letter to your SSA office that says you still cannot work.

If SSA denies your Request for Reconsideration, ask for a hearing at: https://secure.ssa.gov/apps6z/iAppeals/ap001.jsp

You have 60 days after the last denial to do this.

Should I get a lawyer to help me with my appeal?

  • Your chances of winning an appeal are much better if you have a lawyer.
  • Talk to a lawyer as soon as you file your appeal. You can hire a private lawyer, or call Statewide Legal Services at:  800-453-3320.

How long do I have to wait for a hearing?

It takes about 1 year to get a hearing. SSA will mail you a notice with the date and time of the hearing. If you miss your hearing, you may have to wait another year for a new one.

What happens at the hearing?

An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ, for short) will look at all the evidence about why you cannot work. To know what records SSA has, ask them to send you a CD with all of the records you submitted. If there is any new information or medical records about why you cannot work, send SSA copies of that information right away.

At your hearing, the ALJ may ask a medical or vocational expert to testify about your condition and your ability to work.  You can also give the ALJ other information about your disability, for example:

  • Bring witnesses who can testify about your disability,
  • Show letters from doctors, co-workers, and family about your disability. Make sure you have asked all your medical and mental health professionals for all records about your disability.

If the ALJ denies your application, you can:

  • File a new application, or
  • Appeal to the Appeals Council within 60 days of the decision.
    Here’s how:
  1. Fill out Form HA-520-U5, (Request for Review of Hearing Decision/Order).
  2. Mail it to:    
    Appeals Council, SSA/ODAR
    5107 Leesburg Pike
    Falls Church, VA 22041-3255
  3. Keep a copy for your records.

You can also get Form HA-520-U5 at:

  • Your local Social Security office,
  • Local hearing office,
  • Online at www.ssa.gov/online/ha-520.pdf, or
  • Call SSA toll-free at: 1-800-772-1213. (It is not easy to get through by phone.)

This booklet was produced by the Legal Assistance Resource Center of Connecticut in cooperation with Connecticut Legal Services, Greater Hartford Legal Aid, New Haven Legal Assistance Association, and Statewide Legal Services. The information in this booklet is based on laws in Connecticut as of August 2013. We hope that the information is helpful. It is not intended as legal advice. For advice on your situation, call Statewide Legal Services or contact a lawyer. 

For more information, contact:

Statewide Legal Services: 860-344-0380 (Central CT & Middletown) or 1-800-453-3320 (all other regions).

For people over 60, click here to get help from legal aid.

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