Denial of SSA Disability Benefits Perpetuates Homelessness

According to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, denial of Social Security Disability benefits plays a significant role in perpetuating homelessness for individuals throughout the nation. In a report released May 16, 2012, the Center attributes high denial rates for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income for the homeless to procedural factors in the application and review processes of the Social Security Administration.

Social Security Disability and the Homeless

Despite the fact that approximately 40 percent of homeless individuals suffer from a mental or physical disability, and in some cases both, only about 14 percent actually receive benefits from the SSA. The Center on Homelessness & Poverty points out that SSDI and SSI benefits are critical to providing stable housing and health services for disabled individuals, but the procedural aspects of the SSA’s application, review and approval processes lock out much of the homeless population, essentially denying benefits to a significant portion of those who need them most.

What Aspects of the SSA’s Processes Cause Denials for Homeless Applicants?

There are several aspects of the SSA’s current procedures which restrict homeless access to SSDI and SSI benefits. Many of the same factors also affect other portions of the low-income population. Ultimately the lack of access to SSDI and SSI is an issue that potentially creates homelessness as well as perpetuates it. Following are the major points of contention which the Center’s report highlights.

Medical Diagnosis Restrictions

The current SSA regulations place restrictions on the class of healthcare practitioners who are approved to make official diagnoses for SSD purposes. Currently, only licensed medical doctors are approved as medical diagnosticians for the purposes of SSD applications.

Homeless and Low-Income Medical Clinics

The majority of free clinics and other healthcare facilities which service the homeless and low-income populations are primarily staffed by physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners, making it difficult to get proof of your disability from your doctor (additionally, you will want to make sure you do not discontinue your medical treatment. This means most individuals diagnosed with disabling conditions at these facilities receive their diagnoses from a healthcare provider who is not recognized by the current SSD application process. The result is that the vast majority of homeless individuals’ disability claims are denied due to a lack of “acceptable” medical evidence supporting the claim for benefits, essentially perpetuating homelessness by preventing benefit approval for individuals who are clearly disabled.

Additionally, because many low-income individuals also receive their diagnoses from medical practitioners who are not licensed doctors, the denial of benefits based on medical diagnosis restrictions can actually result in disabled, low-income individuals losing their housing due to a lack of essential financial resources. In other words, medical diagnosis restrictions not only perpetuate homelessness, but also play a role in causing it in some cases.

Disability Review Process Timetables

The current processes of the SSA are time consuming, preventing disabled low-income and homeless people from accessing the financial support they need to stay off the streets. Because applicants must commonly proceed through several rounds of reviews and may still be denied benefits even after jumping through additional hoops, the delay in benefit payments, and denial of benefits entirely are certainly factors that contribute to homelessness.