SSI: How Do I Qualify For Benefits?

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Do you qualify for SSI benefits? It can be challenging to qualify for disability benefits in general, but SSI comes with strict financial limitations as well. Here's a little more information on how you may qualify for SSI.

What Is SSI?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a disability program designed for those with a demonstrated financial need and a disability that prevents them from substantial gainful activity. In some cases, those over 65 years old may qualify for SSI even if they are not completely disabled according to the Social Security Administration (SSA)’s definition of total disability.

SSI benefits are awarded every month. Most claimants receive approximately $700 from the SSA per month in SSI benefits. You are not eligible for additional benefits for your children.

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Qualifying Before Retirement

For those under 65 years of age, you must establish that you are both completely disabled and that you do not have adequate other means of support to qualify for SSI benefits. This means proving that your disability makes it impossible for you to perform any work, including both work which you have done before and any work for which you could otherwise be trained.

Financial Limits And SSI Benefits

To qualify financially for SSI, you cannot own more than $2,000 worth of total countable assets (if you are married, you may jointly own up to $3,000 in assets). Countable assets are basically anything of value which you own except for the home which you live in and one vehicle. Your assets include such things as money in savings and checking accounts, IRAs and other retirement accounts, cash value in life insurance policies, vehicles (other than one vehicle for transportation), and virtually anything else of significant value.

Because SSI is for the most financially needy, you will need to be earning less than $750 per month to qualify. If you are married, your total household income need to be less than around $1,200 per month.

If you are both disabled (according to the SSA definition) and can demonstrate your financial need (insufficient or no income and less than $2,000 in assets), you may qualify for SSI.

Do You Need To Work To Qualify For SSI?

If you have worked during the past ten years, you should look into applying for SSDI while you are applying for SSI. Some people qualify for both. The main difference between the programs is that SSDI is an insurance program designed for those who had been working prior to their disability. SSI is also for disabled persons, but is specifically for those who have demonstrated a financial need. If you are disabled, you may qualify for SSI whether you have worked in recent years or not.

Generally speaking, the best time to file for SSI is as soon as you realize you may have a disability which is likely to last over a year and it meets the corresponding listing in the Blue Book. You should also apply if you have a disability which is expected to lead to your death, especially if it is expected to be terminal within the next year.

Children with certain disabilities may also qualify for SSI. If you suspect your child may qualify for SSI, check with the SSA concerning the current list of accepted conditions. The list of accepted conditions does change periodically, but once a child is medically qualified for SSI, he or she will continue to collect SSI (generally paid to a representative payee such as a parent or other guardian) even if his condition is taken off the list of accepted disabilities.

Medically Qualify for Benefits

The Social Security Administration is the agency that will determine your eligibility to receive disability benefits. An evaluator will use the Disability Evaluation Under Social Security, commonly known as the Blue Book, to determine whether your condition falls within the SSA guidelines. The Blue Book is a comprehensive listing of impairments; Part A includes all impairments for adults while Part B is exclusive to childhood conditions.

The Blue Book features 14 different sections that focus on different medical conditions, all organized by disease type (such as section 13.00 for all cancer diagnoses) or conditions that impact specific systems of the body (such as section 1.00, which covers musculoskeletal system impairments).
Once an application is received, the evaluator will use the Blue Book to determine whether your condition falls within their guidelines. If it does, then you would be eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits. Even if your condition doesn’t fall exactly within the guidelines you may be eligible to receive a medical-vocational allowance.

How to Apply for SSI

There are three ways to apply for Supplemental Security Income benefits. You can log on to the Social Security Administration website and file your application electronically, you can file your application by mail or you can file in person at your local Social Security Administration office.
You can print an application from the SSA website or you can pick one up at the local SSA office.

The key to filing the application is that you must provide as much information as possible about your condition so that the SSA can evaluate your claim. Some people choose to work with a Social Security disability attorney who specializes in these claims. While there is no guarantee that your case will be approved by hiring a lawyer, having an advocate to help you navigate the process can be helpful. An attorney not only understands the claim process but he or she will be able to ensure that your claim is as complete as possible. Many Social Security lawyers work on a contingency basis so you don’t pay anything unless they win your claim, so make sure you understand the fee structure before signing up.

Evidence to Prove SSI Claim

Your application should include all evidence of your medical condition dating back to the initial diagnosis. You should include a medical report from your physician outlining the diagnosis, including all blood and lab tests, diagnostic imaging results (including x-rays, CT scans, MRIs or any other imaging tests), treatment plan and medications prescribed.

You should include details about your treatment plan and whether your condition is showing any signs of improvement, or if you’re suffering from any side effects as a result of the treatment.

Include the names and contact information of all medical personnel who have participated in your care in case the SSA has any follow-up questions. You will be asked to sign a release form to provide your consent for the SSA to contact your doctors if they need more information.

Many claims are denied because the applicant is unable to provide enough supporting information of a condition. You can use the Blue Book as a guide to determine what information the SSA will look at to evaluate your claim, and use that as a checklist to make sure you have all of the information they need.

Get Help From A Legal Expert

If your initial Social Security Disability claim is denied, you should consider having a disability lawyer represent you. Disability advocates deal with the SSA on a regular basis and represent your best chance of having your disability claim approved during the appeals process. While you certainly may represent yourself, a professional disability advocate can help the process go much smoother and the representation won’t cost you anything unless you are approved for disability benefits.

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