by Lisa Giorgetti, Community Liaison, Social Security Disability Help
Everyone is encouraged to live life without limitations, no matter who you are and what you face on a day-to-day basis. Just as many people encounter daily obstacles, the disability community has additional challenges to face, from going to physical therapy to paying dreaded medical bills. Health and other costs of living can certainly add up and put strain on your wallet. Social Security Disability benefits can help your family obtain some desired financial relief. Knowing all the facts and information about disability benefits helps better prepare you for the application process in order to file a successful claim.
Preparing for the Disability Application Process
There are a number of steps to take in preparation for the application process. These steps will help ensure the success of your Social Security Disability claim.
Disability Benefits Programs
The first thing to consider when applying is to decide which program you’re eligible for, either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
If you’ve been a member of the workforce and suddenly find yourself unable to complete any sort of work activity and receive income, you could qualify for SSDI. You need to have paid the correct amount of Social Security taxes, depending on your age, when you were working. http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/ssdi/qualify-for-ssdi
But what if you haven’t had the chance to obtain enough work credits or if the SSDI payments aren’t enough? Then SSI could be your answer as it’s a need-based program. You will just need to prove that your assets and household income are below the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) threshold. Also, if you have a child living with a disability and you meet the asset and income limit, you would want to apply for SSI through the parental deeming process. http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/ssi/qualify-for-ssi
Determining Disability Under SSA Guidelines
No matter what disability benefits program you apply for, whether SSDI or SSI, you need to be classified as a “disabled” individual by the SSA. This means that your condition needs to be long-term, at least 12 months, or permanent that absolutely prevents you from performing any sort of work activity whatsoever.
The SSA also has published a “Blue Book” of medical listings with detailed criteria required to qualify for disability benefits as a result of a disabling condition. If your disability is listed in the Blue Book, you will just need to prove that you meet the requirements set forth. If, on the off chance, your condition isn’t listed, don’t worry. You will just have to prove that your condition meets the criteria of one of the listings or that it results in absolute inability to work. http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/disabling-conditions
For example, cerebral palsy is found in the Blue Book in Section 11.07 under neurological disorders. Since cerebral palsy is a long-term condition, your chances of receiving benefits can be likely. This is because cerebral palsy is considered by the SSA to be a “presumptive disability”. As a result, you may be able to:
- Start receiving payments, while the SSA reviews your application;
- Receive these payments for up to six months during the application process; and
- If SSA then denies your claim, you do not have to pay back the money sent to you.
Getting Together the Paperwork You Will Need
When getting ready to apply for benefits, you will need to show SSA proof of:
- United States citizenship or legal residency in the US
- Living Arrangements
- Medical Records
- Income and Assets
- Work History
Make sure to provide originals with your application, and keep copies to yourself (the only copies the SSA will accept are certified copies from the entity that issued them).
Meeting Eligibility Requirements
As previously stated, each medical condition listed in the Blue Book has eligibility criteria that need to be met in order to be considered disabled. If you’re able to meet the requirements, you will need to prove to the SSA with proper documentation, such as doctor’s notes or observations from a therapist.
In the example of applying with cerebral palsy, as an adult or child, the specific requirements vary:
For a child to be eligible to receive benefits due to cerebral palsy, the SSA will compare the child’s motor skills and abilities to those of children within the same age group. For example, if the cerebral palsy interferes with the ability to:
- Take care of personal hygiene
- Feed himself or herself
- Participate in activities for children within his or her age group without assistance
- Problems with one of the above, coupled with seizures, a low IQ for his/her age, and/or speech, hearing, or vision impairments
- Using his or her hands, arms, and/or legs
For an adult applying for SSI or SSDI benefits due to cerebral palsy, they must keep in mind that in order to qualify for benefits, the disability has to affect the applicant’s activities of daily living. These activities include:
- Household chores
If your cerebral palsy interferes with these activities, then you have a higher chance of being approved for disability benefits.
The Application Process
There are many SSA field offices located throughout the country; so it should be easy to find a location that is close to you. However, you may apply either:
- In person
- By mail
- By filling out an application online
If you decide to apply in person, it would be better to call in advance to schedule an appointment, since sometimes the field offices are crowded and you may have to wait in line.
What Happens if Your Initial Claim is Denied?
If your claim is denied, no need to panic. There’s still a possibility to be approved for benefits. In fact, most people are denied when they first apply for benefits. No matter how tempting it may be, don’t simply apply again. Instead, use the appeal process. The denial letter will include the information about how to file an appeal. Make sure you appeal within the 60-day period provided for doing so. It’s also helpful to know that:
- Some jurisdictions require a reconsideration process before you can get a hearing; while others will allow you to schedule a hearing without the reconsideration step.
- The person who will be in charge of your hearing will be an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
- The ALJ was not involved in your initial application process
- Sometimes, a videoconference hearing will be allowed. If this is the case, the SSA will notify you beforehand.
- The ALJ will ask you questions about your disability
- A vocational expert may also be present and ask additional questions
What Can You Expect in Terms of Benefits?
Once you’re approved for Social Security Disability benefits, you can expect to receive additional payments (beyond the initial presumptive disability payments):
- Between four to six weeks from when you receive your notification of approval
- On the first day of every month
- SSDI benefits are based on the applicant’s work record and earnings while working
- SSI benefits are independent on the applicant’s work record; so even if you have never worked, you can still be eligible to receive SSI benefits.
Should You Hire an Attorney?
Disability lawyers and representatives can assist you throughout the entire process of applying for SSI or SSDI benefits. When initially applying for benefits, getting all of the paperwork together can be done by you or a loved one; so if you are comfortable getting that part of the process done without legal assistance, then you can do so.
However, if your benefits are denied and you have to go to a hearing, it would be best to appear with an attorney, since they will know which questions to ask you to better show the judge that you are entitled to benefits.
You don’t need to worry about having to come up with the money to pay your Social Security Disability lawyer. Their fee is a percentage of the benefits awarded to you in the form of back pay. Also, you don’t have to worry that your funds will run out in order to pay for your lawyer, since, by law, they can only take up to 25% (up to a maximum of $6,000) of any past due benefits owed to you.
Although the process can appear to be daunting, every year, thousands of people are able to get their benefits successfully. If you or your loved one lives with a disability, you have the option to apply for SSI or SSDI benefits. These are benefits you may be entitled to by law, and they can significantly alleviate any financial stress you may be experiencing.
Lisa Giorgetti is from Boston, MA and is the Community Liaison for Social Security Disability Help where she works to advocate for disability awareness and assist people throughout the Social Security Disability application process. For more information about Social Security Disability assistance, visit http://disability-benefits-