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Disability Determination Services

The Disability Determination Services (DDS) works with the Social Security Administration (SSA) in administering two disability programs. They use the same medical/vocational criteria for both programs for determining eligibility for benefits. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a monthly benefit paid to eligible individuals who cannot work due to serious physical or mental disability. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a needs based program that provides coverage for adults and children whose income and resources are below a specified level.

After helping you complete your application, the Social Security office will review it to see if you are eligible to apply for disability benefits. These include such factors as whether you have worked long enough and recently enough to qualify for disability benefits, your age, and, if you are applying for benefits as a family member, your relationship to the worker. The office will then send your application to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) office in your state. There, a decision will be made as to whether you are disabled under the Social Security law.

In the DDS office, a team consisting of a physician (or psychologist) and a disability evaluation specialist will consider all the facts in your case and decide if you are disabled. They will use the medical evidence from your doctors and from hospitals, clinics, or institutions where you have been treated. You can help us expedite your claim by giving us:

  • Your Social Security number
  • Medical records from your doctors, therapists, hospitals, clinics and caseworkers
  • Laboratory and test results
  • Names, addresses, phone and fax numbers of your doctors, clinics and hospitals
  • Names of all medications you are taking
  • Names of your employers and job duties for the last 15 years

If you are filing for a child, you also need school records regarding your child's disability.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Don't wait to file your claim for disability payments even if you don't have all this information.

On the medical report forms, your doctors or other sources are asked for a medical history of your condition: what is wrong with you; when it began; how it limits your activities; what the medical tests have shown; and what treatment has been provided. They are also asked for information about your ability to do work-related activities, such as walking, sitting, lifting, and carrying. They are not asked to decide whether you are disabled.

Additional medical information may be needed before the DDS team can decide your case. If it is not available from your current medical sources, you may be asked to take a special examination called a consultative examination. Your doctor or the medical facility where you have been treated is the preferred source to perform this examination. Social Security will pay for the examination or any other additional medical tests you may need, and for certain travel expenses related to it.

Social Security's rules for determining disability differ from those in other government and private Services. However, a decision made by another agency and the medical reports it obtains may be considered in determining whether you are disabled under Social Security rules. Once a decision on your claim is reached, you will receive a written notice from the Social Security Administration. If your claim is approved, the notice will show the amount of your benefit and when payments start. If it is not approved, the notice will explain why.

You should be familiar with the process we use to determine if you are disabled. It's a step-by-step process involving five questions. They are:

  • Are you working? If you are and your earnings average more than $700 a month, you generally cannot be considered disabled.
  • Is your condition "severe"? Your impairments must interfere with basic work-related activities for your claim to be considered.
  • Is your condition found in the list of disabling impairments? We maintain a list of impairments for each of the major body systems that are so severe they automatically mean you are disabled. If your condition is not on the list, we have to decide if it is of equal severity to an impairment on the list. If it is, your claim is approved. If it is not, we go to the next step.
  • Can you do the work you did previously? If your condition is severe, but not at the same or equal severity as impairment on the list, then we must determine if it interferes with your ability to do the work you did in the last 15 years. If it does not, your claim will be denied. If it does, your claim will be considered further.
  • Can you do any other type of work? If you cannot do the work you did in the last 15 years, we then look to see if you can do any other type of work. We consider your age, education, past work experience, and transferable skills, and we review the job demands of occupations as determined by the Department of Labor. If you cannot do any other kind of work, your claim will be approved. If you can, your claim will be denied.

To apply for benefits you must call your local Social Security Office. To locate the Social Security office nearest you, go to the Social Security Office Locator and enter your five-digit zip code. For further information you may call the Disability Determination Services at 1 (800) 545-3054.

Page last updated 07/29/2013