Recently, the Social Security Administration added a disability application process to their online services. The SSA website offers a disability starter kit, an online disability application, and an online disability report form.
While this may seem more convenient at first glance, there are still some problems associated with the SSA internet application process. And these problems add weight to the argument that a potential claimant might consider bypassing the online system in favor of visiting a field office and applying in person.
What does that argument, or rationalization, actually entail? Well, first of all, even if you complete your disability application and disability report online, you still need to provide the Social Security Administration with signed SSA-827 medical release forms. This can be done easily in person while the online process will not direct a claimant to do this. However, more problematic is the fact that the SSA website does not currently provide a way to file an SSI (Supplemental Security Income) disability application online.
This is a significant shortcoming and a problem to say the least. Why? Because many disability cases are concurrent. In other words, many applicants who visit a social security field office to file for disability actually end up with applications taken in both the SSD and SSI programs, even though the claims are evaluated concurrently, as one (by a disability examiner at a state disability processing agency).
It goes without saying, of course, that very few claimants who visit the SSA website will have any idea as to whether their claim will be for title II social security disability benefits, title 16 SSI disability benefits, or if their paperwork will need to be filed in both programs.
Which is where the system falls short. Individuals who are entitled to SSI will have no way of actually filing a claim online and, quite importantly, having their application date protected (protected dates are important when you consider the issue of back pay and the fact that some claims have been known to sit on someone’s desk for a long time before finally being forwarded to a disability examiner for processing).
Currently, applying for disability in person at your local Social Security office remains, in the opinion of many, including myself, the best method of filing a disability application. This is because a Social Security claims representative will evaluate your potential entitlement to both SSI and Social Security disability benefits. Additionally, the claims representative will complete your application(s) and disability report, as well as make sure that you have signed your medical release forms while you are at your disability interview.
If you complete your disability interview via the phone, the claims representative will still complete your application(s) and disability report, and will also mail the medical release forms to you with a self addressed, postage-paid envelope for their return. On the other hand, if you attempt to file online, you will not be directed (as of this date) to obtain, sign, and return the necessary medical release forms that might otherwise delay your case. You might also not be aware of what you are actually entitled to apply for.
No doubt, the online disability application process will improve in the coming years. But, at this point, it has obvious deficiencies.
By contrast, when it comes to conducting the application process in person with a social security administration representative at a social security office, or over the phone with such a person, a claimant can at least assume that their program eligibility has been properly evaluated and that all the necessary paperwork has been completed.
Tim Moore is a former disability-medicaid caseworker as well as a former disability claims examiner for the social security administration’s DDS, or disability determination services. He has a a website that provides information on the federal disability benefits system at Disability Secrets and also blogs about the subject at My Disability Blog.