As the caregiver to a friend or family member with a serious illness, you can apply for Social Security disability benefits on his or her behalf. Benefits may be available through one or both of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) disability programs. Once approved, your family member or friend will receive any back benefits due as well as ongoing, monthly disability payments to help cover everyday living expenses, medical bills, and other costs.
SSI and SSDI Benefits
Disability includes Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). If the person for whom you’re applying was previously employed, paid Social Security taxes, and had a recent work history (within the last 10 years), then he or she will likely qualify for SSDI. This is where many people with progressive or adult-onset illnesses will qualify, such as those with Parkinson's disease or early-onset ALS.
SSI benefits may be available to your friend or family member, based on his or her financial situation, living circumstances, and other factors. SSI is need-based and requires a review of financial details in addition to personal information and medical records.
Some applicants qualify for benefits through just one program. Those in the most dire financial circumstances may receive benefits through SSI in addition to SSDI. Applicants who have no employment records or no recent work history may get SSI instead of SSDI benefits.
As the caregiver of a seriously ill adult, you may need to apply for both programs and discuss eligibility considerations with an SSA representative.
Medical Eligibility for Benefits
Every application is reviewed against listings that appear in the SSA’s Blue Book. Listed disabilities include a range of serious illnesses. Some disabilities listed in the Blue Book include:
For example, Parkinson's disease will medically qualify if the person you're caring for cannot walk without assistance, or perform dexterous movements due to tremors in two or more limbs. Those with ALS will automatically medically qualify.
You’ll want to discuss the application with the individual for whom you’re applying as well as his or her doctor. Together, you’ll get an idea of the listing under which your friend or family member may qualify. This in turn will help you know if existing medical records are sufficient evidence or if additional documentation must be collected.
Although you can complete SSI and SSDI applications on someone else’s behalf, he or she will still be required to sign certain documents, unless you are a legal guardian or hold power of attorney for this person. The applications themselves must be signed in addition to consent forms, giving the SSA permission to contact doctors and other healthcare providers and to request medical records and other documentation. If the person you care for cannot hold a pen, it is perfectly acceptable to hold a pen in a mouth to sign a paper. If there is no possible way for the person you care for to sign documents, exceptions can be made and you may be able to sign the final application on his or her behalf.
Collecting Required Records and Other Information
You’ll need to gather as many details as possible before applying for benefits, and the Disability Checklist, which is part of the Adult Disability Starter Kit, will help you know the types of records and information you’ll need. If you apply online for SSDI, then the online application checklist will help you as well. Necessary documents include past employers, tax history, and current financial statements.
Applying for Social Security Benefits
SSDI application is available through the SSA’s website. You can use the online application to begin your SSI claim too. SSI always requires an interview, which may be done via phone or in person at your local SSA branch. Call the SSA toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 to schedule an appointment or to discuss interview options.