The Struggle

Nearly one out of four Americans will become disabled before they retire. Yet should these disabled citizens apply for benefits, there's a 65% chance they will get denied. There's also an excellent chance that they will become so vexed with the process of applying for benefits that they will tear up those tedious fill-in-the-blank forms, break a Bic pen over their forehead (if they don't stab their eye out with it first), and bask in their physical suffering as a reprieve from government paperwork and obstinate administrators. In other words, getting approved for disability benefits is a huge pain.

Case in point, Social Security follows what's called a "strict definition of disability." This means that they approve or decline your application based on rigid standards. For example, they won't consider the complexity of your disability, how it might limit you in some ways but not in others. In short, Social Security will deny you unless you meet the following criteria:

  1. You cannot do the work you did before
  2. You cannot adjust to other work because of your medical conditions, and
  3. You are expected to be hindered by your disability for at least one year, or expected to die from it

Now, you can appeal these incipient decisions. But keep in mind that for every appeal you make you also effectively add more time to the application process. In fact, before you apply for disability benefits at all, consider the average application timeline. And plan accordingly.

  • It generally takes around three to four months to get an initial decision.
  • If you're rejected, it may take another three to four months to process an appeal.
  • If you need an administrative judge to review the case, expect another seven to 22 months.
  • If you need to appeal that decision within the Social Security system, it may take another year.
  • If you need to appeal to the Federal district court, it might take another eight months or so.

Sounds dire, right? Well, not all is lost. If you are disabled, getting SSI or SSDI can and will dramatically improve your quality of life. Here's the no-bullshit version of how it works.

The Benefit

Should you qualify for SSDI, your monthly payout depends on your average lifetime earnings before your disability began. The more you earned, the more you contributed to FICA (this was deducted from your income before you ever saw a penny), thus the greater your benefit will be. However, there is a cap. And you cannot receive more money based on more serious disabilities (though you can receive slightly more if blind). That said, in 2016 the maximum monthly benefit is $2639. Most recipients, though, receive anywhere from $700 to $1700 per month, the average payout being $1166.

SSI works a bit differently. You do not need to have contributed to FICA in order to receive benefits. Rather, SSI is needs-based and is dispensed to individuals who have little to no income or assets. As of 2015, the maximum payout is $2663 per month, though very few people actually qualify for this amount. The baseline payout for individuals is $700 per month, and $1100 per month for couples. Of course, most recipients receive an amount somewhere between these minimum and maximum thresholds. And in case you're wondering, you cannot stack SSI and SSDI benefits. You might receive both, but getting the one will negate what you might've received from the other. Capisce?

How To Apply (With and Without the Struggle)

There are at least two ways to apply for SSI or SSDI benefits. One way is to take matters into your own hands. That means you must gather all the information you need, start an online application, then call 1-800-772-1213 (1-800-325-0778 for TTY) to speak to a Social Security administrator to finish your application, between the hours of 7am and 7pm EST. You can also show up at your local office.

Or you can let someone else handle the rigmorale for you. Because, let's face it, rarely do things go smoothly when dealing with government programs. As such, you might consider finding a local attorney, or working with a group like Nations Disability (ND). ND is an advocacy group dedicated to helping Americans obtain the benefits they're entitled to. For example, if you work with Nations Disability, they will:

  • Evaluate your situation
  • Handle your application
  • Deal with Social Security for you

And the best part? The evaluation is free and ND doesn't get paid unless they win your case, so there's real incentive to get your application approved. But ND is just one such organization amongst hundreds.

If you still have questions, read this form, call 1-800-772-1213, or search around the web. If, on the other hand, you're ready to begin the application process, simply click the button below.

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