Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Social Security was created to provide a monthly income for retired persons to reward them for a lifetime of working. Created in 1935, it promised the working man and woman that after they put in their 50 or so years of loyal work, they could retire in relative comfort, along with the company pension.
If you have a physical or mental disability that prevents you from working at any job paying $500 or more per month for at least a year, or have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, you may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI/SSD) benefits. [Details from SSA]
There are currently two Social Security programs that pay benefits to disabled persons:
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): Pays benefits to you and certain members of your family if you are "insured" meaning that you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI): pays benefits based on financial need.
Eligibility for either programs also requires that you meet Social Security's definition of disability.
Some people qualify for both programs and the SSA provides this handy Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool to help you determine your program eligibility.
How To Apply
You must contact Social Security directly to apply for disability benefits. You can call their toll-free number 1-800-722-1213 ("TTY" number, 1-800-325-0778, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Monday through Friday), send them regular mail, or visit the Social Security office nearest you. [Contact the SSA] [Social Security Office Locator]
What You Will Need to Apply
Applying for disability benefits can be a complex, difficult process. You will be required to provide medical information that fully documents your condition and how it prevents you from working. Along with all of the following, you will need, perhaps above all, persistence.
Your disability benefits should start arriving five months after Social Security approves you eligibility. You will continue to receive benefits as long as you are unable to work. Your case will be reviewed periodically to determine if your physical condition and continued eligibility. If you are receiving disability benefits when you reach age 65, your benefits will be converted to retirement benefits.
Complete Information on Disability Benefits from SSA
Do I Need an Attorney?
As people who have been through the process, our unofficial, biased, experienced opinion is if you are initially denied benefits and have to appear before a judge: YES, YES, YES.
Like most systems dealing with obtaining money, Social Security doesn't want to spend money. Their objective is to NOT spend it. Their judges directive is to NOT spend it.
So when innocent, trusting you goes into a hearing without an attorney, the answer is almost always NO, you don't qualify.
Like other systems involving money, this one is also run by a network of good old boys. The local judges know the local attorneys and they all know the local doctors.
By the time you get through the appeals process and appear before a judge who has a doctor present who has supposedly reviewed your records, you're going to find out:
a) The doctor is not in the field regarding your injury
b) He probably just spent a whole five minutes (maybe) looking over your file and anyway his directive already was to deny your claim.
c) They all play golf on weekends, including your attorney.
Who Is On Your Side?
So if you go in by yourself, the judge is going to suggest jobs you can do, such as lying on your back and watching security cameras all day long for minimum pay even though you have a doctorate degree in psychology. If you're in constant pain and on medication, the most likely thing that will happen if you lie down on a couch is that you will fall asleep, especially watching such exciting programming as security cameras, but the judge doesn't care. His job is to point out that there IS a job you can do.
The doctor's job is to agree with whatever the judge says and add that he has found nothing in your files to indicate you have any physical problem whatsoever that prevents you from gainful employment. It won't matter if a ton of metal fell directly on your head. If you're alive, there has to be a job you can do. They may not even go the extent of pointing one out let alone how you find it or get it.
BUT if you have an attorney with you, especially a member of the good old boys' network, he knows these guys. He knows which judges are the good guys and which ones aren't and how to work with each kind and you'll probably leave the hearing with benefits. After all, the attorney doesn't get paid unless you do and so HE has a vested interest in helping you.
NO ONE, repeat, NO ONE, else in the system does. Not workers compensation physicians, independent medical examiners, their nurses, staffs, your caseworker, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
You may believe you have a steel-clad case but if you have a back injury and sit still for five minutes, the judge will point out that you've just sat still for five minutes so obviously your claim that sitting is painful is invalid.
You must never drive yourself to these hearings. They will always ask how you got there. If you were able to drive, even if only two blocks, you are therefore able to drive a city bus.
Have a friend take you and have the friend in the waiting area so they may be called upon for verification. Have anyone available as a witness who has seen you in your terrible pain/condition/illness.
It's ideal to have your doctor present, but most doctors can't afford to take the time off to attend these hearings. One would think their notes would count, but these notes won't even be READ, so they don't count. If they are read, it will be by a specialist in a completely other field.
If you have a neurological injury, the doctor present will be a general practitioner or an orthopedist or a doctor of osteopathy or a chiropractor.
Beware Of Surveillance
You may have one good day that you don't use your cane, wheelchair, etc., but it will be that very day that they catch you on tape. Once that happens, you're sunk. It doesn't matter what counter-attack you offer. It doesn't matter if your doctor swears in blood that you have an occasional good day. You're sunk.
You can thank all those people who commit fraud for this, the ones who claim they have an injury and are caught painting their house or riding horses or dirt bikes or running a business on the side like conducting sky diving lessons.
Benefits: "Show me the money."
This of course is what will determine the quality of life you will be able to maintain once you have received SSDI/SDI benefits.
This is computed by going back to the very first job you ever had and averaging your wages over your entire working life. Social Security will provide this to you and it may be a shocking figure if you started working 30 years ago when minimum wage was $1.00 an hour.
Social Security has provided calculators to assist you in determining the amount you will receive.
Your benefits will continue for the period of your disability, even to the age of retirement, when Social Security Retirement kicks in. NOTE: Social Security Retirement benefits WILL be affected by the time you are on SSDI during which nothing is being paid into the system, so your retirement benefits will be lower than if you had been able to continue working.
After two years on disability, you are eligible for Medicare. Until then, depending on your income, you may be eligible for Medicaid.
Hopefully your company had some sort of disability plan where your health care benefits continued. If not, find out if they are in the category of private employers who must legally transfer the policy into COBRA for 18 months after termination from the company. Federal and state employees have other options. You'll need to talk to your former employer to see what benefits are available to you