By Ram Meyyappan
As a caregiver, you can help the individual you are caring for obtain financial assistance from the Social Security Administration (SSA) in the form of disability benefits. However, if the individual is already receiving retirement benefits from the SSA, he or she will not be eligible to receive disability benefits.
Who Qualifies for Social Security Disability Benefits?
If the individual is unable to perform any type of work activity whatsoever and they have been unable to do so for at least one year (or their condition is expected to last one year or more), they may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. There are two programs that they could qualify under: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is meant for individuals with a strong work history. In order to qualify for this program, the individual you are caring for must have worked five of the past ten years. This is because you need a certain number of work credits in order to qualify for this program.
For more information on SSDI, please visit: http://www.ssa.gov/dibplan/dqualify2.htm
If the individual does not have enough work credits to qualify for SSDI, he or she may be able to qualify for SSI. SSI is a needs-based program for low-income individuals. As of 2013, in order to qualify, the individual cannot earn more than $710 as an individual or $1,060 as a couple. They must also not have assets exceeding $2,000 as an individual or $3,000 as a couple.
For more information on SSI, please visit: http://www.ssa.gov/pgm/ssi.htm
Common Conditions that Caregivers Face
In its blue book of conditions that qualify for disability benefits, the SSA recognizes numerous chronic health conditions often dealt with by caregivers, such as Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy Body Dementia, Frontotemporal Dementia, Pakinsonism Dementia Complex, HIV, Multiple Sclerosis, Schizophrenia, Parkinson’s Disease, Epilepsy, Fibromyalgia, Arthritis and heart problems.
The main question the SSA will consider when considering whether or not you medically qualify is: Is your condition severe enough to keep you out of work for at least a year? The SSA outlines in the blue book exactly how severe each condition has to be in order to qualify for benefits.
For a complete list of conditions and how severe they must be in order to qualify, please visit the SSA’s blue book: http://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/AdultListings.htm
The Compassionate Allowance Program
Often times, it can take more than a year to go through the Social Security Disability application and appeals process. Recognizing that waiting a year is not always feasible for individuals with an especially severe condition, the SSA instituted the Compassionate Allowance program in 2008. Currently, more than 200 conditions qualify for the Compassionate Allowance Program, which speeds up the application process. If the individual you are caring for has one of those 200 conditions, he or she will be approved within a few weeks if you are able to prove that the individual is both medical and financially eligible.
For more information on the Compassionate Allowance Program and a list of conditions that qualify, please visit: http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/compassionate-allowances
How to Apply for Benefits
You can apply for benefits on behalf of the individual either online (http://www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability/) or you can take them to your local Social Security office to apply for benefits.
When you go to apply for disability benefits, you will be asked to fill out a number of forms. These include the Adult Disability Checklist, the Adult Disability Report, and the Disability Benefit Application. Make sure you fill out these forms in their entirety and answer the questions asked with very detailed answers. The more information you can give, the better. You will also want to obtain copies of all pertinent medical records in order to support the claim for benefits.
In addition to gathering medical records, you should request written statements from the applicant’s treating physicians. These statements can weigh heavily in the decision as to whether or not to approve a claim. You will receive a decision regarding the outcome of the application approximately three to six months after you submit your claim for benefits. If the applicant is denied benefits, you should appeal the decision within 60 days of receiving the notice of denial.
Barriers to Overcome when Applying for Benefits
Most people generally find the application process to be rather confusing and tedious. You will have to fill out numerous forms and provide adequate medical/financial information. If you are uncomfortable going through with the process by yourself, be sure to seek assistance. You can visit your local SSA office and seek the assistance of an SSA employee when filling out the application. You can also consult with a disability attorney or advocate. There is no upfront cost to hiring an attorney. The attorney will only be paid if the individual is successfully awarded benefits.
You and the individual you are applying for should not get discouraged if the application is initially denied. Almost two-thirds of applications are initially denied. Most applications that are denied are eventually approved during the hearing stage of the appeals process.
Social Security Disability Help, founded in 2009, specializes in information on how to apply for disability benefits. The Boston-based organization also offers free case evaluations from a local attorney or advocate if the claimant would like to speak with one.