How You Can Help a Client Qualify for Disability Benefits

If you have a client who’s unable to work due to a recent injury or an intellectual disability, you may be able to help her qualify for Social Security disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers monthly aid for people of all ages who are unable to work due to a disability. As a social worker, your professional opinion on your client’s ability to work goes a long way in helping an applicant get a claim approved. Here are some steps you can take to help your client get approved the first time around:

 Step #1: Help Determine What Your Client Qualifies For

There are two types of disability benefits available for people who are unable to work. The vast majority of applicants qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI. These benefits are for adults age 18-66 who have worked throughout life and are unable to work due to a recent illness or injury, such as cancer or a newly-diagnosed mood disorder like depression or bipolar disorder. So long as your client has earned around $5,000 per year in taxable income, he or she will likely qualify for SSDI benefits.

The other type of disability benefits available to applicants is known as Supplemental Security Income, or SSI. This program is for children and people with no work history. Unfortunately, SSI benefits are only for the neediest applicants, so they have very strict household income limits. If your client is a child and her parents earn a decent living, she won’t qualify. Additionally, applicants who have more than $2,000 in assets ($3,000 if married) also will not qualify for SSI.

Step #2: Write a Letter of Recommendation for the Initial Application

Unlike many other forms of government-funded disability benefits, the SSA’s first reference for a disability applicant is his or her primary care providers. The SSA relies on specialists to determine if an applicant is truly unable to work and earn a gainful living or not.

You can write a letter describing an applicant’s ability to perform activities of daily living to send along with the application, or if you have a medical background you can fill out a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) evaluation on your client’s behalf. Keep in mind that there’s never such a thing as including “too much” evidence on your client’s behalf when applying for disability benefits. Some things that are good to mention include:

  • Your client’s ability to leave the house
  • If your client can feed herself
  • If your client is able to get dressed without assistance
  • If your client can move without aid (from chair to bed for example)

Activities of daily living aren’t the only things you can illuminate for the SSA — it’s also good to describe your client’s treatments and how they’ve responded to therapies and medications. If you can show that your client hasn’t seen any improvement from his or her disability, your client will have a much easier time qualifying for disability benefits. You can fill out a Function Report on behalf of your client to help his or her application in addition to an RFC.

Step #3: Help Your Client Apply Online or In Person

While you can’t complete the entire application process on behalf of your client, you can guide your client through the paperwork and ensure he or she fills everything out correctly and applies for either SSDI or SSI, depending on work history or age. Filling out paperwork carefully is vital to a successful claim. If your client were to misspell a doctor’s name or forget to include a medication she’s taking, the claim could be denied due to lack of evidence.

SSDI applicants can complete the entire process online. SSI applicants can start the process online, but will need to complete the application in person at their local SSA office. To schedule an appointment for a client to apply online, you can call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213. Additionally, you can try calling your neighborhood office, as the wait times to get through to a representative and schedule an appointment are much shorter.

It’ll take around three to five months for your claimant to hear back from the SSA. Once approved, disability benefits can be used on medical costs or pending hospital bills, rent, utilities, childcare or any other daily living needs.

Helpful Links:

The SSA:



“Gainful living”:


Function Report:

Apply online:


SSA Offices: