25 Strategies to Qualify for Benefits and Get Money Faster
There are ways to increase your chance at success and to speed up the process, by sidestepping common pitfalls that cause delays. Additionally, there are methods to present your case in the best possible light.
Follow these tips:
1 – Understand your rights. To get your Social Security Disability or SSI benefit awards as quickly as possible, it’s best to start by clearly understanding the rules governing eligibility.
To qualify for Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits, you need to have worked for 40 quarters, or ten years, depending on your age. You also are required to have worked for five of the last ten years. There are exceptions for younger people.
To qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, there are no specific work history requirements. However, since this program is for the impoverished, you cannot have assets in excess of $2,000 for an individual, or $3,000 for a family. Assets include cash, investments, real estate you own beyond your primary residence and vehicles other than your main transportation. The cash value of any life insurance policy you may have and other assets can count as well.
2 – Hire an SSDI – SSI lawyer to represent you. The process of qualifying can be complicated, time-consuming and frustrating. There are hundreds of exceedingly complex rules and regulations. A competent attorney, who practices primarily in this area, will have a working knowledge of these and be able to use them to your best advantage. It’s very similar to going to a specialist when you have a serious medical condition. The physician with in-depth expertise is most suited to give you the best treatment.
SSDI – SSI lawyers usually work on a contingency basis, so there’s no reason to think you can’t afford a disability lawyer.
3 – Don’t feel ashamed. A lot of people who’ve worked their whole lives and are now disabled, feel guilty or ashamed about applying for benefits. They think Social Security Disability benefits are equivalent to welfare, and it’s demeaning to apply for them. In fact, this is the main reason many delay in submitting their claims.
There is no need for you to feel any shame in applying. You’re entitled to the benefits if you meet the work history and disability requirements. It’s that simple. Things happen in life – from time to time, almost everyone needs some kind of help. So don’t hesitate to ask for what you need.
4 – Apply immediately. Whether you are seeking Social Security Disability or SSI benefits, you should always apply as soon as you become disabled. Some applicants wait months or even years to file, and then tragically lose their opportunity to collect.
5 – Give them everything they need to make a favorable decision. One of the most common reasons for denial of benefits is that Social Security doesn’t have all the information they require to make a decision to award benefits. What’s usually missing is the appropriate medical documentation of your disability.
If you’re under 50, you are considered a younger individual by SSA and it’s very difficult to qualify initially, unless you have a serious illness or injury that is substantiated by medical records. At age 50, Social Security regulations make eligibility a little easier.
6 – Be complete. List all of your medical conditions on your application, including any mental illness or impairment. Some claimants neglect to do this and are denied benefits because the picture they present does not show them as disabled.
Remember this: it’s not the medical condition itself that is the issue, but rather how it limits your capacity to work. If a disability examiner or a judge does not see your overall health condition as diminished enough to fit the definition of being disabled, you won’t get any benefits. Consequently, it’s in your best interests to fully disclose all medical and psychiatric factors relating to your health status to establish a legitimate basis for an award.
7 – If you’re denied at first, don’t be discouraged. Most cases are appealable, and in all cases a claimant may reapply if their condition worsens and if their medical records clearly show a decline.
8 – Beware of misinformation. There have been instances in which claimants have been given misleading information by Social Security personnel. For example, some applicants go to their local office to file a claim soon after falling ill or being injured, only to be told they need to wait 12 months before filing. This is entirely untrue, as long as the disabling condition is expected to last for at least 12 months. In fact, as previously mentioned it’s to your advantage to file immediately and get the process started.
9 – Get treatment. Medical evidence is the critical element in winning cases. You won’t win if you can’t prove you’re disabled. Solid medical records are the only reliable way to supply that proof. However, medical documentation can only be generated if you’re being treated.
10 – Have a “treating” physician. Social Security regulations provide that the opinion of a “treating doctor” is given more weight that the opinion of a consultative doctor. A “consultative” physician is a doctor who sees a patient one time and renders an opinion.
11 – Ask your doctor to fill out an RFC. An RFC is a special form that is used to document your “Residual Functional Capacity.” This is what your actual capacity to work is when your disability is taken into consideration.
These forms are used by Social Security to finalize a decision on a case. The form will be used to rate your ability to work, and therefore to justify approval or denial of your claim.
12 – Change doctors if you need to. Different physicians can have varying opinions about the severity of a medical condition. Even if you’re limited to an in-network list of doctors, consider getting additional opinions if you believe that your current doctor’s opinion of your capacity to work is not accurate.
In difficult cases especially, supportive physicians are the difference between getting benefits or not.
13 – Mental illness claims require special handling. Those who’ve never experienced emotional illness rarely have any concept of the profoundly destructive and limiting effect these conditions can have. Unfortunately, this lack of understanding applies to disability examiners and judges too. One would think that in confronting mentally ill claimants on a daily basis, they would have more insight into the turmoil these people experience, but that’s not always the case.
As a practical matter, what this means is that if you are a victim of mental illness, don’t expect understanding, sympathy or special consideration. To win, you’ll need to be in treatment and comply with the therapy and any medication regimen your doctor prescribes. It’s best to have a psychiatrist or licensed psychologist as a treating source, since these professionals will have more credibility with a disability examiner or judge.
14 – Avoid missing an exam. If Social Security schedules you for an independent medical evaluation, make sure you show up. Otherwise, your failure to cooperate can be grounds for denial of your claim.
15 – Be prompt in everything. Once you receive a denial letter from Social Security, you have only 60 days to file an appeal. If you don’t respond in a timely fashion, you lose your right to appeal.
If you move and don’t let Social Security know your new address immediately, a disability examiner may have difficulty contacting you, and deny your claim because your whereabouts are unknown, or for “failing to cooperate.” Also, if you don’t get a denial letter because of an address change, the time in which to file an appeal may slip past you.
16 – Collect even if you return to work. If your disability is temporary, you can still get benefits. Sometimes people recover from an illness or injury and go back to work. If you’ve been disabled for at least 12 months, you may be eligible for a “closed period” of benefits. That means you can get an award limited to the amount of time you were disabled.
17 – Work part-time and get benefits. It’s possible to work part-time and qualify for benefits, as long as your earnings don’t exceed the Substantial Gainful Activity limitation. All work hours must be reported, or there is a possibility of being overpaid and owing money to SSA.
18 – Stack your benefits. Depending on your work history, previous and current income, and current assets, you may apply and qualify for multiple benefits. You will want to apply for all benefits you might be qualified for.
19 – Change lawyers if you’re not happy with the service you’re getting. You can do this at any stage of your claim.
20 – Be respectful and courteous. The people who work at the SSA are human just like everyone else, and are simply doing their jobs. As with any personal interaction, others respond best to those who are pleasant and friendly. This is the attitude you should maintain in all your dealings with Social Security personnel. It will help your case.
21 – Clean up your act or give up your benefits. If you have an ongoing drug or alcohol abuse problem, it’s doubtful you’ll win your case. Social Security will not pay when a disability is materially caused by drug or alcohol abuse.
If you’re trapped in this dilemma, get into a treatment program immediately.
22 – Be prepared for a CDR. A CDR is a “Continuing Disability Review.” Once you’re awarded benefits, Social Security will check up on you periodically to see if you’re still disabled. Typically this is every two or three years, although it could be sooner. Sometimes it’s annually.
If you no longer are deemed to qualify, your benefits will stop, so keep getting treatment, even after being awarded.
23 – If appropriate, submit a “dire need” letter. A dire need letter spells out specific circumstances that expose a claimant to immediate danger. These include suffering from a listed “compassionate disease”, as well as not being able to pay for essential medications, eviction or foreclosure, loss of needed services such as utilities, child support obligations, etc. To substantiate this, you must show compelling medical evidence or true dire circumstance
24 – If your condition worsens, reapply. If you go the distance with your claim and are denied benefits at every level, you should still reapply for benefits if your condition gets worse. If new medical evidence can prove that your medical status has degenerated to the point of interfering with your ability to work, you’ll have yet another chance to qualify.
25 – Never give up hope. With the right approach and strong representation, you can qualify for benefits and get the financial support you need and deserve.
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