If you're living with a chronic illness, you're in the right place.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Guest Post: Navigating the World of Disability

10:16 AM Posted by Tiffany Taft , , , , ,
Today's post is a guest article written by Molly Clarke of the Social Security Help blog on how to go about obtaining social security disability benefits.  I hope that none of our readers ever have to go down this road because of their condition, but it's good to know some of the basics.  Having spent some time working for the government, I understand the layers of bureaucracy to be expected.  I've also had some clients go through this process and know it's critical to be fully informed and have support, whether it's a knowledgeable friend or family member, or a professional.  Now, on with the post.

Full disclosure:  The Social Security Help website is part of a network of disability attorneys who provide services to those in need of assistance.

Chronic Illness and Social Security Disability Benefits 

Chronic illness can affect every aspect of a person’s life. In addition to battling pain, fatigue, and other debilitating symptoms, individuals with chronic illness may also struggle financially. The expenses of specialized care paired with a person’s inability to work can cause significant financial distress. If you can no longer work due to a chronic illness, you may qualify for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. The following article will provide you with insight into how the SSD benefit programs work and will give you the information you need to begin the application process.

Social Security Disability Benefit Programs

The Social Security Administration (SSA) oversees the SSDI and SSI programs—two programs that offer SSD benefits. Each of these programs has its own set of technical eligibility requirements.

SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) is funded by taxes paid into the system by workers all over the country. Eligibility for SSDI is dependent on what the SSA refers to as, “work credits”. Essentially, work credits are a measure of an individual’s employment and tax-paying history. Learn more about SSDI eligibility and work credits, here: http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/ssdi/qualify-for-ssdi.

SSI (Supplemental Security Income) is a needs-based program that provides benefits to disabled and elderly individuals who earn very little income. An individual’s eligibility for SSI as well as their monthly payment amount is determined by their monthly income and financial resources. Eligibility for SSI is governed by strict financial limitations. SSI does not require work credits. Therefore SSI is often a good option for children or adults who haven’t had the opportunity to work and pay taxes. Learn more about SSI technical eligibility requirements, here: http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/ssi/qualify-for-ssi.

In some situations, applicants may qualify for both SSI and SSDI benefits.

Qualifying for Benefits

In addition to meeting the previously mentioned technical requirements, applicants must also be able to prove that they are disabled by their condition. According to the SSA, being disabled means having a condition that is expected to last at least one year and prevents you from performing substantial gainful activity. Engaging in substantial gainful activity means that you are earning over a certain dollar amount each month. In 2013, substantial gainful activity is $1,040 for non-blind applicants and $1,740 for blind applicants.

There are several ways in which a person can prove they are disabled and qualify for SSD benefits. The first is to meet the criteria of a blue book listing. The SSA’s blue book is the official guidebook of potentially disabling conditions. Under each condition is a list of very specific medical criteria that applicants must meet in order to qualify.

If you plan to apply for disability benefits, it is always a good idea to look over the physical requirements beforehand. This can save a lot of time and frustration down the road. It will give you a better idea of whether or not you qualify and can help you collect the necessary medical evidence. You can find all blue book listings on the SSA’s website: http://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/AdultListings.htm

If you don’t meet a specific blue book listing, you may be able to qualify under a “medical vocational allowance”. A medical vocational allowance occurs when the SSA grants you benefits based on your inability to work rather than your specific symptoms. To determine whether or not an applicant qualifies under a medical vocational allowance, the SSA will examine his or her physical abilities, age, work history, and their ability to be retrained in different types of work.

The typical application process can take anywhere from several months to over a year. The SSA recognizes that individuals with severe health conditions may not be able to wait that long. For this reason, the SSA allows individuals with seriously debilitating illnesses to qualify for benefits in as little as ten days. This is called the Compassionate Allowances program. It is important to note that you do not need to fill out additional paperwork or request to be processed as a compassionate allowance. The SSA will evaluate your claim and will expedite it accordingly. To see if your condition qualifies for compassionate allowance processing, visit this page: http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/compassionate-allowances.

Applying for Benefits

Prior to beginning the application process, it is extremely important that you collect thorough medical evidence to document your illness and symptoms. You will not be awarded disability benefits unless you have medical proof of your condition and the limitations that it causes. Medical documentation should include records of your diagnosis, lab test results, treatment history, response to treatment, hospital visits, and even personal statements from your doctors. Collecting these records prior to beginning the application process will prevent delays from occurring.

Once you are ready to begin, you can apply online at the SSA’s website or in person at your local Social Security office. You should keep in mind that the SSD application process can be long and complicated. In fact, many initial applications are denied and require the applicant to appeal the decision. If your initial application is denied, it is important that you do not give up. The key to being approved for disability benefits is persistence and preparedness.

After you are awarded benefits, you will be able to focus on your health rather than your finances. If you have questions specific to your own condition, visit Social Security Disability Help or contact Molly Clarke at mac@ssd-help.org.

Molly Clarke writes for the Social Security Disability Help blog where she works to promote disability awareness and assist those applying for disability benefits. Feel free to contact her with any questions you may have at mac@ssd-help.org.