Applying for Social Security (SS) disability benefits can feel like taking a test you weren’t sure how to study for. The information online can be confusing, asking you for documents you don’t know where to find, and leading you on a merry chase from link to link to link. And unfortunately, the people claiming to help you navigate the application process may not be dedicated to your case—or worse. Social Security imposter scams are the number one type of government imposter fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission.

Francine Marsh, ALSO’s longtime Social Security/Disability Advocate, is here to help, with answers to your Social Security questions and valuable advice about the application process.

SSI vs. SSDI? (And More Social Security Disability FAQs)

What Benefits Are Available?

TheSocial Security Administration (SSA) provides two kinds of benefits to people with disabilities: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

What is SSDI?

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) eligibility is based on your work history. “There’s no flat amount you receive,” says Francine, “because everyone’s earnings are different. The majority of people with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD) haven’t worked enough to qualify for SSDI, but they may be able to receive SSI.”

What is SSI?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is available to people who are disabled, blind or 65 and older. SSI benefits are not based on work experience, but on limited income and assets, the amount of which differs from state to state. In 2021, an Oregonian receiving SSI benefits can earn at least $43,116 per year, according to an Oregon State publication.

Who is Eligible?

You can apply for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income, or both depending on your work history, if you*:

  • Are unable to work due to a medical condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death.
  • Do not have a partial or short-term disability.
  • Meet SSA’s definition of a disability.
  • Are younger than your full retirement age.

The SSA provides a Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool to help you determine which benefits you may be eligible for. “Some people who are terminal may be eligible,” says Francine, “as well as some people who are alcoholics or addicts.”

*Children with disabilities under 18 applying for SSI must meet a different definition.

How Much Can I Receive?

The maximum federal SSI payment in 2022 is $841 a month SSDI payments depend upon your work history and earnings.

  • How much can I earn while receiving benefits? The amount changes yearly and is listed on the SSA site.
  • How long does it take to get SS disability benefits? “It’s not a quick fix,” says Francine. “It can take up to 3 years to be approved. Even if you’re terminal, it can take up to 4 months before you start seeing any money.”
  • What can I keep? Francine says people are often worried they may lose custody of their children, or of certain assets (like guns). That’s not typically a valid concern unless the person is a danger to themselves or others.

How to Apply for Social Security (SS) Disability Benefits

Other questions revolve around the process of filing for Social Security. As an advocate, Francine begins by looking at the applicant’s mental and physical health and abilities. “Then I make sure they get the info they need to win the case. They’ve got to have the right physical and mental health records. You can be missing a limb, but if there’s no record, it doesn’t count. Then we prove they are too disabled to work.”

Applying for SSI benefits for a child or dependent with a disability is relatively simple, Francine says, and your local SSA office can help. But she suggests that adults filing for SSI or SSDI utilize the services of a professional, as advocates understand how eligibility is verified, can collect the necessary paperwork, and designate a payee if the applicant is not capable of managing their benefits.

Having a professional in your corner can also be important if you’ve been denied benefits and want to file an appeal: A Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that people with representatives are nearly three times more likely to be successful in disability benefits hearings.

Finding Someone to Help You with the Application Process

An advocate could be an attorney, or a disability advocate who has passed an SSA-administered exam and met other requirements. What’s the difference? “There’s a different dynamic at work,” says Francine. “For-profits (like attorneys) look at their bottom line. That’s how they make their living. If there’s not enough money, they won’t take the case.” They typically charge for medical records, and for each call.

In Oregon, nonprofits like ALSO aren’t charged for medical records, and talking with people is part of the job. “A person who advocates for someone is available and concerned and interested in what they have to say,” says Francine, who believes a good advocate is available post-application, too. “If someone calls and says, ‘My doctor won’t listen to me,’ or ‘I’m going to get evicted,’ or ‘My payee isn’t giving me my check,’ I’ll help. My job is to advocate.”

When choosing an advocate, Francine advises, “If an organization can’t help you when you call, that’s a red flag. This job is about communication. You want to be able to communicate with the person who represents you.”

She also has a warning. “Under no circumstances will Social Security call you. If you get calls from Social Security hang up or tell them to call your advocate and hang up.” Scammers also communicate by mail and email and may use websites that steal your information.

ALSO Can Help You Apply for SSDI and SSI Benefits

“At ALSO, we can advocate for whatever your needs are,” says Francine. “Even if you don’t have I/DD. you can still call, and if there’s anything we can do, we do it. What kind of person professes to be an advocate if they’re picky about who they advocate for?”

Francine is good at what she does: The majority of the people she represents get benefits. But she’s quick to credit ALSO’s support. “ALSO has the same heart I do. That’s why we’re successful. Because we care.”

Need help applying for Social Security disability benefits? Call Francine Marsh at (541) 678-0343. “If you have a need,” she says, “I’m here to help you.”

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