Guest post by Disability-Benefits-Help.org.

Severe health conditions can be debilitating for millions of people, causing physical and intellectual challenges as well as emotional and financial stress. If your condition prevents you from working and living an independent life, it may be time to apply for disability benefits.

The process of applying for disability benefits can be stressful too. However, preparation and knowledge of the system will provide the best chance possible of receiving financial assistance through Social Security disability benefits. The following tips can help offer guidance along the way.

Tip #1) Know how you qualify under the Blue Book.

The most important (and most complicated) part of applying for disability benefits is understanding how to qualify. Since there are hundreds of severe conditions that can qualify a applicant for benefits, every single disability case has its own unique qualifications. Qualifications by condition are listed in Social Security’s Blue Book.

Qualifying by Symptoms

Most conditions require the presence of other symptoms in order to qualify an applicant for disability benefits. For example, an applicant looking to apply for benefits due to an amputation, from any cause, would find their listing under Section 1.00 of the Blue Book, for “Musculoskeletal Disorders.” Here, the Blue Book states that two forms of amputations (double hand amputations and hemipelvectomies/hip disarticulations) automatically qualify for benefits.

However, other amputations (one or both lower extremities, one hand/arm and/or lower extremities) must result in an “inability to ambulate effectively” in order to qualify. “Effective ambulation” basically refers to the ability to walk safely for normal periods of time. Those with leg amputations that can’t wear prosthetics, or those who need both hands to keep themselves stable while walking, are examples of people who cannot ambulate effectively. If an inability to ambulate effectively is shown, then the person can still qualify for benefits under this listing.

If a Blue Book entry has symptom-specific requirements, it is best to speak with a physician to determine qualification status.

Tip #2) Organize and compare your financial information.

Disability benefits have financial requirements as well. An applicant’s income will determine if they qualify for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or (in rare cases) both.

SSDI is for people who have worked regularly in the past. To qualify, an applicant must demonstrate that they have a history of paying taxes to Social Security. These contributions are measured in “credits”, which you automatically accrue through working up to four times per year. The number of credits needed to qualify increases with the age of the applicant. The Social Security Administration’s credit chart outlines who qualifies for this program.

SSI is for people who are over 65, disabled, or have especially low income. Here, the only financial requirement is income below $783 a month for an individual, and $1,175 a month for a couple. It is possible to make more than $783 a month and still qualify for benefits because not all your income will be countable income.

Applicants will need to provide financial documents as part of the disability benefits application.

Tip #3) Prepare to continue the process after the initial application.

Around 66 percent of initial claims for disability are denied. However, many initially-denied applicants still go on to receive benefits.

Continued diligence and preparation is key. Even while an initial claim is being processed, applicants should continue seeing the doctor and getting tests done, keeping paperwork organized, and updating the SSA anytime their condition changes. To update a claim, call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 or visit the local SSA office. If the application is denied, applicants should schedule an appeal as soon as possible with nearest Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). More than half of all applicants denied benefits are approved at the hearing stage.

Being persistent and prepared will help ensure that qualified applicants get the financial support they need.

Helpful Links:

Council on Aging: https://www.councilonaging.org/
The Blue Book: https://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/
Applying with an amputation: http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/disabling-conditions/amputation-and-social-security-disability  
Working while on SSI: https://www.ssa.gov/ssi/text-work-ussi.htm
SSA Offices: http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/social-security-disability-locations

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