"A necessity for anyone who needs Social Security disability!"

Nolo's Guide to Social Security Disability

Getting & Keeping Your Benefits

Qualify for Social Security disability benefits, quickly and easily

Nolo's Guide to Social Security Disability is the essential book for anyone dealing with a long-term or permanent disability. Get plain English explanations and discussions of these crucial topics:

  • how to prove a disability
  • how to calculate the benefits you'll receive
  • how to appeal a denial of benefits

Includes sample disability applications and the required symptoms and limitations for over 200 medical conditions.

  • Product Details
  • This comprehensive and compassionate book covers both SSDI and SSI, shows you how to prove a disability, and explains how your age, education, and work experience affect your chances. Parents will find special information about benefits available to children with a disability.

    Learn how to:

    • find the disability criteria for your medical condition
    • prove the severity of your disability
    • appeal if you’re denied benefits
    • work part time while keeping your benefits
    • prepare for a Continuing Disability Review
    • and more.

    Plus, this book is packed with filled-in samples of all the forms you’ll need, including the SSDI and SSI disability applications.

    This new edition includes:

    • a new discussion of getting disability for long COVID
    • explanations of Social Security’s updated medical listings for digestive and skin disorders.

    “A thorough analysis and discussion of the requirements to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.”—Wall Street Journal

    “Guides applicants and recipients through one of the world’s largest bureaucracies.”—Reference & Research Book News


    Number of Pages
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction: Your Social Security Disability Companion

    • Medical and Legal Questions
    • Medical Listings
    • Quick Disability Determination (QDD)

    1. What Is Social Security Disability?

    • A. Two Different Programs
    • B. Defining Disabled
    • C. Contacting the Social Security Administration
    • D. Frequently Asked Questions About Social Security Disability

    2. Applying for Disability Benefits

    • A. Preparing to Apply
    • B. Applying for Disability Benefits
    • C. The Role of Health Care Professionals
    • D. How Other Disability Payments May Affect Social Security Benefits
    • E. Availability and Disclosure of Confidential Records
    • F. Fraud and Other Crimes

    3. Disability Benefits for Children

    • A. Three Benefit Programs for Children
    • B. Applying for SSDI or SSI Benefits
    • C. Disability Evaluation
    • D. Continuing Disability Reviews for SSI Children
    • E. Other Health Care Concerns

    4. Getting Benefits During the Application Process (SSI)

    • A. Applying for Presumptive Disability
    • B. Impairments Qualifying for Presumptive Disability by Field Office
    • C. Qualifying for Presumptive Disability Through the DDS

    5. Proving You’re Disabled

    • A. Acceptable Medical Sources
    • B. Medical Evidence From Treating Sources
    • C. The Role of Consultative Examinations in Disability Determination
    • D. Evidence of Symptoms
    • E. Other Evidence
    • F. Expedited Determinations

    6. Who Decides Your Claim?

    • A. DDS Basics
    • B. DDS Claims Examiners
    • C. DDS Organization
    • D. Medical Consultants
    • E. If Your Claim Is Granted
    • F. If Your Claim Is Denied
    • G. DDS Corruption and Incompetence
    • H. Quick Disability Determination Unit (QDD)

    7. How Claims Are Decided

    • Step 1. Are You Engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity?
    • Step 2. Do You Have Severe Impairments?
    • Step 3. Do You Meet a Medical Listing?
    • Step 4. Can You Do Your Prior Job?
    • Step 5. Can You Do Any Other Job?

    8. Whether You Can Do Some Work: Your RFC

    • A. RFC Analysis for Physical Impairments and Abilities
    • B. Mental Impairments and Abilities
    • C. Claims With Both Physical and Mental RFCs

    9. How Age, Education, and Work Experience Matter

    • A. Age
    • B. Education
    • C. Work Experience
    • D. Use of Vocational Analysts
    • E. Vocational Rehabilitation

    10. When Benefits Begin

    • A. Medical Evidence
    • B. Work Experience
    • C. SSDI or SSI Claimant

    11. Reasons You May Be Denied Benefits

    • A. You Earn Too Much Income or Have Too Many Assets
    • B. Your Disability Won’t Last Long Enough
    • C. The SSA Cannot Find You
    • D. You Refuse to Cooperate
    • E. You Fail to Follow Prescribed Therapy
    • F. Drug Addiction or Alcoholism Contributes to Your Disability
    • G. You Have Been Convicted of a Crime
    • H. You Commit Fraud

    12. Appealing If Your Claim Is Denied

    • A. Deciding Whether to Appeal
    • B. Review the Rationale and Your File From the SSA
    • C. Appeal Basics
    • D. Your Right to Representation
    • E. Four Levels of Appeal
    • F. Reopening of Decisions
    • G. Refiling an Initial Claim

    13. Once You Are Approved

    • A. Disability Benefit Payments
    • B. Reporting Changes—SSDI Recipients
    • C. Reporting Changes—SSI Recipients
    • D. Returning to Work
    • E. The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act
    • F. Participation in the Ticket to Work Program

    14. Continuing Disability Review

    • A. Frequency of Reviews
    • B. How the SSA Contacts You
    • C. Medical Improvement Review Standard
    • D. Children and CDRs
    • E. Appealing a CDR Decision

    15. Your Right to Representation

    • A. When Do You Need an Authorized Representative?
    • B. What Can an Authorized Representative Do?
    • C. Who Can Be an Authorized Representative?
    • D. Should Your Authorized Representative Be an Attorney?
    • E. How to Find a Disability Representative
    • F. Notifying the SSA of Your Choice for Representative
    • G. When and How Your Representative Is Paid
    • H. Keeping Up on the Law Yourself

    Appendix A: Glossary of Bureaucratic Terms

    Appendix B: Examples of Technical Rationales for Denials

    • Form SSA-4268, Denials From Initial Application
    • Form SSA-4268, Denials From Continuing Disability Review (CDR)

    Appendix C: Medical-Vocational Rules

    Appendix D: How to Use the Medical Listings on Nolo.com

    • List of Files on Nolo.com


  • Sample Chapter
  • Introduction

    Your Social Security Disability Companion

    This book is about Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits, which are provided through a U.S. government system run by the Social Security Administration (SSA). These disability programs provide cash support for individuals with mental or physical disorders who can’t work because of the severity of their conditions. In some cases, dependents can receive benefits as well. This book is useful for anyone who:

    • is injured or ill and wants to know if they’re eligible for disability benefits
    • wants to apply for disability benefits
    • wants to appeal a decision denying disability benefits
    • is already receiving disability benefits and wants to know how to protect their benefits during periodic reviews of their condition, or
    • is helping an adult or child apply for or keep current benefits.

    The SSA uses two systems to distribute disability payments:

    • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), for workers who have paid into the Social Security trust fund (and for their dependents), and
    • Supplemental Security Income (SSI), for disabled individuals with limited incomes and assets.

    It’s easy to become overwhelmed at the thought of applying for disability benefits. The SSA is one of the world’s largest bureaucracies; its regulations, rules, operating policies, and guidelines fill reams of paper. For example, one chapter of the SSA’s operating manual is about 20,000 pages long. And much of this information changes over time.

    Still, it’s very possible to apply for, receive, and keep disability benefits with the help you’ll find here. We recognize, however, that people applying for disability benefits are often ill or injured in a way that makes it difficult to accomplish the tasks of daily life, let alone pursue a claim for support from the government. So you may need help beyond this book. We’ve included an entire chapter on what to do if you need legal assistance (Chapter 15). Also, throughout the book, we’ve noted situations in which you might need the advice and support of a family member, trusted friend, paid representative, or attorney.

    Medical and Legal Questions

    When deciding on your disability claim, the SSA considers both legal and medical issues. Social Security officials review your claim to decide whether you’re medically and financially entitled to the benefits you request. They also request and review medical opinions on your condition to see if it’s severe enough to make you disabled. The SSA considers you disabled only if you’re not able to work in your current or most recent job and you don’t have the education, experience, or ability to do any other job. For example, a physically disabled 60-year- old nurse might have the ability to work at a desk job in the medical industry and could be denied benefits for that reason. But the same nurse couldn’t work as a field laborer picking fruit all day because he wouldn’t have the physical ability necessary for the job.

    Chapters 1 through 15 lead you through the legal and practical issues of applying for disability payments, appealing if you’re denied, and making sure that you retain benefits as long as you need them. For most applicants, it will be useful to read all of these chapters in the order presented. But if you have a particular issue to research (for example, you want to file an appeal), you can start with any chapter and you’ll be directed to important information in other parts of the book as needed. Also note that we occasionally give you references to the Social Security portions of the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) or to the federal laws, the U.S. Code (U.S.C.).

    Medical Listings

    Information about the requirements and functionally disabling aspects of more than 200 specific medical problems that make individuals eligible for disability payments is available on Nolo’s website (free for readers of this book). The downloadable files contain descriptions of the medical conditions that are included in the SSA’s Listing of Impairments.

    Go to Nolo’s page and start with the table of contents for these listings—once you find the section that matches or most closely approximates your disability, you’ll find all the medical information you need to determine whether your disability meets the requirements to obtain benefits. For example, if you suffer from kidney disease, you will open Part 6 and read through the listings there until you find a disorder that matches or is similar to your illness.

    Each section of the Medical Listings begins with a list of medical definitions in plain English related to the disorders discussed in that section. Next, you’ll find general background information about the disorders discussed in that section. Finally, each section lists specific medical disorders taken from the official Listing of Impairments that the SSA uses in disability claims. The number before each listing is the official number the SSA uses to identify the disability. Following the numbers is a brief discussion of the meaning of Social Security’s criteria and how to interpret each listing.

    These Medical Listings contain every listing the SSA has approved for disability claims. We’ve revised the SSA’s wording of the listings to make them more understandable. Rest assured, however, that we haven’t made any changes that would compromise their legal meaning.

    Also included for each condition are comments about what the SSA calls residual functional capacity (RFC). This is a type of rating given to a disability claimant (applicant) who doesn’t meet the requirements of a listing. The RFC says what kind of work a claimant could do, even considering their impairments. If no work is available anywhere in the United States that’s suitable for someone with the claimant’s RFC, the claimant could be approved for disability payments.

    Quick Disability Determination (QDD)

    The Quick Disability Determination (QDD) process is a quicker disability determination process for those who are obviously disabled (with, for example, metastatic cancer, severe blindness, profound intellectual disability, severe kidney failure requiring dialysis, and the inability to walk—to name a few possibilities). Favorable decisions will be made in such cases within a month after the claim is received by the state Disability Determination Services (DDS) agency. The average time is about 25 days, but many people get a response on a QDD claim within two weeks. See Chapter 6 for more information about QDD.

    Throughout this book, you will see samples of Social Security Administration forms. These samples are to help you fill out the actual forms. But the SSA requires that you obtain the blank forms from a Social Security office in person, by mail, or from the SSA website (www.ssa.gov). Throughout the book, we tell you where to locate the forms you need.

    We hope you enjoyed this sample. The complete book is available for sale here at Nolo.com.

  • Forms
  • This Book Comes With a Website

    Nolo’s award-winning website has a page dedicated just to this book, where you can:

    DOWNLOAD Medical Listings: All Medical Listing files in this book are accessible online. After purchase, you can find a link to the URL in Appendix D.

    KEEP UP TO DATE: When there are important changes to the information in this book, we will post updates.

    And that’s not all. Nolo.com contains thousands of articles on everyday legal and business issues, plus a plain-English law dictionary, all written by Nolo experts and available for free. You’ll also find more useful books, software, online services, and downloadable forms.


12 Reviews
5 Star
4 Star
3 Star
2 Star
1 Star

Great Guide for the Layman

By Charlotte C.

Written so that anyone can read and understand what you need to gather together before applying for disability and how to actually apply. It gives you examples and tips to help you understand the process. Anyone that feels insecure about this procedure can gain confidence by reading and following the advice in this guide.

Posted on 3/4/2024

Great I love it

By Diane G.

Thank you for the helpful read

Posted on 3/4/2024


By Carl D.

Excellent, detailed text by an expert with many years of experience in dealing with this topic.

Posted on 3/4/2024


By Barbaran S.

good book

Posted on 3/4/2024

Informative and very helpful

By Joseph S.

As expected Nolo's did a great job of explaining how to navigate your way through an SSI/SSDI application. Don't rely on hearsay, read this book and you'll hopefully realize that most people's information are only partially correct or altogether incorrect.

Posted on 3/4/2024

Not So Much

By Nolo C.

Seems like a good overview of SSDI but almost everything they cite in here as a rule is not true. At least, the advice is not where I live. The forms are called something else, many other things. I am going to ask for a refund because of that, and because it doesn't cover the situation I have at all: the oral hearing after a decision of record.

Posted on 3/4/2024

Start Here

By Norman B.

Wish I had this in the beginning! !!!

Posted on 3/4/2024

Great book - thorough and well written

By Anonymous

I found this book to be very helpful. Easy to read and well written. I feel confident now in proceeding with my application and I think I know what to expect.

Posted on 3/4/2024

Excellent Reference for that Social Security application process

By Anonymous

excellent source and helped me immensely with my process with Social Security. I would like to see a chapter dealing with Disabled Veterans and their special niche with this organization

Posted on 3/4/2024


By Anonymous

This book is a MUST READ for anyone dealing with the complexity of Social Security. I read and re-read the entire book and tabbed pages and wrote notes as if I was in a classroom. I have recently ordered their LLC book and recommend it also.!!!! Kudos to everyone who helped with the information contained in the books!!!

Posted on 3/4/2024

Very helpful resource and worth buying

By Anonymous

very thorough and helpful resource - extensive detail. I wish I had this 3 years ago when I started to assist my son with the process. We naively put all our faith in a disability lawyer and we were told very little about the what/why of the requirements. Being kept in the dark was the most difficult part. This book takes some of that veil away.

Posted on 3/4/2024


By Anonymous

Very Informative
A necessity for anyone who needs social security disability

Posted on 3/4/2024

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