Every Step In The SSI Application Process, Explained

Important: We updated this article in June 2022 to reflect current SSA policies and statistical data. If you don’t have enough work credits to qualify for SSDI, you must file a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claim. While it’s tempting to send your application to the Social Security Administration immediately, you shouldn’t rush the SSI application process. Wiser applicants take time to ensure all required paperwork is accurate and provides sufficient evidence to support their disability claim. And since roughly 32% of initial SSI claims are approved annually, you may also benefit from a legal consultation.

4 Steps for Completing the SSI Application Process

Step 1: Start the SSI Application Process By Filling Out & Submitting Your Claim Paperwork to the SSA

When you start the SSI application process, there are three ways to file your claim with the Social Security Administration.

  1. Your first option is simply picking up the phone and calling the SSA office. The best time to do this is first thing in the morning right when they open. This method saves you from spending several hours waiting in long lines to speak with someone there. When you call, you’ll have the option to complete your interview for benefits over the phone instead of in person.
  2. The second method involves visiting your local Social Security office. While this option is sometimes faster, you may also wait so long the office closes before anyone can see you. Depending on where you live, you may be able to make an appointment. Call ahead to see if your local office provides this option before you go there in person. If you don’t believe you need legal assistance or to speak with your local SSA office first, choose option three.
  3. This third method for starting the SSI application process is to apply for disability benefits online.

Related: SSI Interview Questions You Must Answer to Get Your Monthly Benefits

Step 2: Wait For Your Determination Decision

After you’ve submitted your claim, your next step in the SSI application process is simply to wait for a decision. Even though you filed your application with the SSA, state agencies called Disability Determination Services (DDS) will evaluate your claim. There’s no pre-set timeframe for the DDS to make their decision. In fact, it can take as little as 30 days or several months before your SSI claim’s approved or denied.

Step 3: DDS Agents Evaluate Your Claim

Although there’s not much you can do now except wait, it helps to know how the DDS evaluates your claim. Knowing what’s going on with this step in the SSI application process helps people understand why it takes so long. Among other things, here are some tasks a DDS examiner performs in order to evaluate your SSI disability benefits claim:

  • Send letters to your health care providers (hospitals, doctors, therapists, etc.) requesting copies of your medical records*.
  • Make calls to you, your relatives, friends, therapists and/or doctors to get more information about your disabling condition.
  • Consult with medical specialists employed by DDS who can provide expert insights into your specific disability claim.
  • Send you to a doctor to get more information about your condition and confirm your disability status, if needed.

*Tip: Waiting for your medical records is the biggest reason claims get delayed during this step in the SSI application process. If possible, obtain and submit your own medical records with your application (make a copy for your own records first!).

Step 4: Ask DDS For Status Updates

Some people may discourage you from following up on your claim at this point in the SSI application process. But as long as you’re contacting the DDS instead of the SSA, it’s usually fine to request a status update. Your disability examiner usually knows what’s happening and can share information — even just to say they need more time. Plus, examiners annoyed by applicants asking for updates typically work on their claims faster to avoid additional future phone calls.

Once you’ve followed up, all you can do is wait for the claim examiner’s decision. You’re typically notified via mail whether your SSI claim requesting disability benefits has been approved or denied.

Still have questions? Consider speaking to a SSD attorney or advocate before starting the SSI application process. If you’re initially denied, you can always get professional legal help filing your appeal. Since every lawyer in our network gives contingency-based help, it’ll cost you $0 unless you win benefits. In fact, having a lawyer file your paperwork nearly triples your odds of winning benefits right away!

Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free online benefits evaluation now!

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Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.