Social Security Disability Assessment: What You Need to Know

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  • A Social Security disability assessment is the key to a favorable disability claim outcome and is vital to the determination process. Learn more about it here.
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Social Security disability benefits help many Americans pay for basic needs and access essential healthcare services. The Social Security disability assessment is usually performed after an application is received and reviewed. Learn more about the process of applying for Social Security benefits and what to expect if you need an assessment. 

What Is the First Step in the Social Security Disability Assessment Process? 

The first step in applying for Social Security benefits is the completion of an application. This is also called a disability claim. This may be completed in person, by phone, via mail or online. Sometimes, an interview with the applicant and their parent or guardian, if applicable, is requested. Each state has Social Security Administration (SSA) offices and Disability Determination Services (DDS), both funded by the federal government, which collaborate in determining the outcome of a disability benefits application. 

The Social Security Disability Assessment: What to Expect 

There are two types of assessments that occur once a disability benefits application is received: nonmedical and medical. 

Nonmedical Social Security Disability Assessment

Local Social Security field offices conduct a review of eligibility requirements for disability benefits, which may include an evaluation of the applicant’s work history, income, age and marital status. This part of the process is nonmedical and strictly reviews whether the applicant meets certain qualifications. It also reviews work history and learned skills in an effort to determine if the applicant is no longer able to perform work for which they’re skilled. 

Medical Social Security Disability Assessment

The DDS is responsible for gathering and verifying medical information as it applies to a disability claim. This may include obtaining medical records, speaking with previous physicians, reviewing prescription history and overseeing the in-person medical assessment process. It is important to complete all steps of the assessment process as requested by SSA to avoid delays in disability determination. 

What if I Do Not Agree With the Medical Assessment Findings? 

After meeting with an SSA physician, you may discover that their exam did not support your disability claim. In other words, SSA determines you are not disabled and still able to work. If you don’t agree with this outcome, you can follow the appeal process outlined in your determination notice. There is no cost for appealing an unfavorable decision, and some individuals find they need to appeal more than once. 

Does Income Affect the Social Security Disability Assessment? 

Both the medical and nonmedical Social Security disability assessments are not affected by current or previous income. However, your income and work history may affect the type of disability benefit you are approved for and how much you will receive per month going forward. Typically, individuals with little to no work history who are found to be disabled will be approved for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), while individuals with substantial work history who are no longer able to work due to disability receive Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). 

Am I Required to Complete the Medical Social Security Disability Assessment? 

If you are asked to meet with a doctor to verify medical conditions, prognosis or ability to work, you are required to do so. Otherwise, the outcome of your application may be unfavorable, at which time you can follow the appeal process. The examination by a medical professional is paid for by SSA as are related travel expenses. If you receive a notice that you must have a Social Security disability assessment performed by a physician, you will be given instructions on what to do if you need to reschedule or require accommodations to attend the appointment. 

Do I Need a Lawyer to Help With Social Security Disability? 

The Social Security Administration offers assistance to individuals or legal guardians who need help completing the application; a lawyer is not required to complete the application or Social Security disability assessment. Some applicants choose to work with a lawyer if there are unique concerns or if their application has been denied one or more times.