Does anyone have experience with someone who is 21 applying for permanent disability benefits?
October 14, 2009 7:35 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone have experience with someone who is 21 applying for permanent disability benefits?

I don't think I can work any more due to my various mental illnesses but I'm nervous about applying for SSI.

I have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder with anxiety since I was about fourteen years old. Medications and therapy have helped and are helping but even so the severity continues to ramp up as I get older. I haven't worked since last summer. The idea of applying, and interviewing for jobs seems overwhelming in itself. I can apply for jobs some times if I take anti-anxiety medication, but then what if I do get a job? Some days I will have panic attacks simply because I have to go in to work. I would like to be living on my own but I can't imagine I would be able to keep a steady job if I randomly can't come in. Or if the stress of having a job gets to be too much and I hole myself up for a couple of weeks just so I feel like I can breathe again. I've been trying to go to school at a community college for about two years but my transcripts are a mess of Fs and Ws because invariably at some point things get to be too much for me and I either drop out or simply stop going to class.

Are these things enough to qualify? Does anyone here have any experience or tips that might help me as I go through the process of applying and possibly getting denied?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (13 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I can't tell you if you'll qualify, but if you don't, they say to keep reapplying, and eventually they may approve you. It's a weird process. However, it's not the easiest time in the economy to be looking anywhere, but have you looked into working from home? There are legitimate work-from-home jobs out there, although many do require you to have in-person meetings from time to time. The main sector I know of that offers this is call centers.
posted by ishotjr at 7:52 AM on October 14, 2009

Oh, you're asking about SSI. My only knowledge is of SSDI, so I don't know if the keep reapplying thing is correct for SSI specifically.
posted by ishotjr at 7:53 AM on October 14, 2009

You can read up on the criteria for qualifying under a mental disorder, though it's a pretty complicated block of text you're about to look at. The bottom line is to put in an application and then maintain any doctor's or other appointments that SSA schedules for you. If you miss appointments you're going to be disqualified and you'll have to appeal. If you are rejected and decide to appeal you may qualify for legal aid representation and you should contact a local legal aid group immediately upon receiving your denial letter in order to schedule an intake appointment. Inadequate documentation of the disorder is a common reason for denial, substance abuse is also a common reason. A legal aid attorney will help you subpeona any medical records that were missing from your file and help you establish that your substance abuse history if you have one is immaterial to your disability. If you are not eligible for legal aid you can retain a private attorney to appeal your decision. Clients of mine who have retained private attorneys were able to do so on a contingency basis where the attorney draws their fee from the lump sum back payment that SSA pays out on appeals cases.
posted by The Straightener at 8:01 AM on October 14, 2009

I work in the disability rights and advocacy realm. I am not an expert.

You've got documented diagnoses, you've got a history of treatment, and you've got a probably lackluster work experience, but you can document that you have tried to work. I believe that you should be able to get at least partial disability. That said, I encourage you to contact a local Center for Independent Living (CIL) or other disability advocacy agency in your area and request assistance. Without knowing your state I can't offer more assistance than that.

You need to understand that at your age, permanent SSI even with the SSDI kicker check will probably net you less than $700 a month total. You'll still be eligible for other services (food stamps, for example), but you'll find yourself totally reliant on the system.

What I can recommend to you here, in this public forum, that I'm *not supposed to* recommend to my consumers here, is that the bulk of governmentally sponsored programs (state and federal) really just want you to try to work. Here in WV, if you say you can't/won't work, you've got few options. If you say you want to work part time at wal-mart, they'll buy you glasses, hearing aids, adaptive equipment, whatever---even if you'll only work 10 hours a week. Don't resign yourself to the idea that there will be no job for you ever. There are lots of places that people can work (including from home), at least doing something.

I especially encourage this because the depression and anxiety rates for the disabled, specifically the young disabled, are astronomical; I think mostly because nobody wants to feel isolated and without function. If your state has a department of rehabilitation services (or disabled services or, god forbid, handicapped services), call them and see what they offer. You might start at your local Department of Health and Human Services, or whatever it's called in your neck of the 'hood.

That said, I encourage you to do whatever it is that you feel is best for you, and will result in you having the greatest amount of control over your life.
posted by TomMelee at 8:08 AM on October 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

You have a long, documented history of your conditions, it looks like, and that can help you. If (or when) you are turned down at the initial application, appeal at least through a hearing before an actual judge. At some point you may be scheduled for examinations, psychological or physical, and it's vital that you go to these.

Get an attorney to represent you - all representatives before SSA must be paid on a contingency fee and cannot charge fees up front. They can take up to 25% of back pay or $6000, whichever is less, plus expenses. Because of the fee structure, they may not be willing to represent you until after you've been turned down at least once. You won't need Legal Aid for this and in fact, given the number of private representatives available, Legal Aid might not take these cases often.

You have tried to work some, and so may actually qualify for SSDI as the criteria are different for younger people. If you go and put in your application in person, the SSA employee may (should) help figure that out. There are distinct advantages to SSDI, not least that after 2 years you will be eligible for Medicare instead of Medicaid.
posted by dilettante at 8:14 AM on October 14, 2009

Oh, and obligatory: IAAL, but IANYL, and TINLA
posted by dilettante at 8:18 AM on October 14, 2009

At least in Philly SSI appeals are legal aid bread and butter, I've made multiple successful referrals to Philadelphia Legal Assistance where the client went on to win their case. The Homeless Advocacy Project handles them, also. Clients of mine who have sought private representation have generally had their appeals take much longer, as it's to a private attorneys advantage to draw fees from the largest possible lump sum up to the $6000 limit. So they drag their heels sending out subpeonas and what not, whereas legal aid bangs these out as fast as possible to get the award to the client ASAP as SSI appeals for many clients mean the difference between living on the streets and obtaining housing.
posted by The Straightener at 8:24 AM on October 14, 2009

My advice would be to apply and be proactive. Where I work, we advise applicants as follows:

1. Make a list of every doctor, therapist, hospital, or counseling program that you have attended.

2. Mail a letter to each one, requesting copies of your medical records. Include signed releases.

3. When you get medical records, make a copy for yourself. You may have to follow-up with a few phone calls to get the records. Send copies of all records to Social Security.

Please note: I am in New York and steps 4 and 5 are handled by a state agency on behalf of the SSA. I don't know if procedures are different in other states.
4. Social Security will send you a 20 page questionnaire. Answer the questions in as much detail as possible.

For example, there are a couple of questions about money. Rather than simply writing, “I pay my bills late because I forget,” it is better to be more descriptive: “I spend too much money when I’m manic or just don’t care when I’m depressed. I lose money and can’t remember what I did with it. My mother writes checks for me because I forget.”

5. The 20 page questionnaire will come with a letter from a Disability Analyst. That person’s phone number will be on the letter. Call and ask if there is anything else you should send.

6. Have your current or most recent doctors, therapists, and social workers write letters to Social Security specifically addressing your ability to work. Many doctors won't do this, but it can't hurt to ask.

You should keep copies of everything you send to Social Security in case they lose something. I also recommend that you always use certified mail, return receipt requested.

As The Straightener says, they will want you to see independent doctors. Don't miss those appointments. He also points out that inadequate documentation is a common reason for denial. This is why we recommend people try to produce as much documentation as they can on their own. The SSA is supposed to do this, but they won't follow-up much, if at all, if they don't get records in response to their request. If the process I described above is daunting to you, see if you have a family member who can help, or if you're eligible for any kind of social work or case management services. A peer advocacy group may also be helpful.

The SSI/SSDI application process is complicated, but the problems with stress you mentioned in your question are taken into consideration by the SSA. There is a policy statement which is very useful for this. As set forth in SSR 85-15, mental illness is characterized by adverse responses to seemingly trivial circumstances. A person with a mental illness may cease to function effectively when facing such demands as getting to work regularly, having their performance supervised, and remaining in the workplace for a full day. Thus, they may have difficulty meeting the requirements of even so-called “low stress” jobs.

My experience is that it can be difficult to get an attorney or advocate to assist you at the application stage, but if you are denied, you should definitely try to get an attorney for the appeal through a local legal aid or legal services organization.

Make sure you apply for both SSI and SSDI. The standard for determining if you are disabled is the same for both. SSI is for people who do not have a sufficient work history, and SSDI is for people who do meet the work history requirements. Since you are young, you may qualify for SSDI even if you haven't worked a lot. Also, SSDI benefits are higher.

(IAAL, IANYL, good luck.)
posted by Mavri at 8:33 AM on October 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

Wow, you are getting a ton of great information, here.

The only last thing I can think of is that all this information and taking all these steps may be freaking you out, and if you think this process sounds overwhelming and may exacerbate your anxiety you can appoint a representative to communicate with SSA on your behalf. If you have a family member for example who is reliable and willing to help, they can receive your letters from SSA to make sure you stay on top of your appointments. Considering that you're young and haven't likely dealt with a bureaucracy like SSA before and have an anxiety condition that tends to keep you maintaining obligations you may want to seriously consider enlisting the help of some loved ones to help you through the process.
posted by The Straightener at 8:46 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am not a lawyer, but a law student intern who deals with SSI/SSDI cases on a daily basis. Please don't take this as legal advice.

I want to warn you that disabilities based on mental health can be tricky to prove, particularly at your young age. SS loves denying people who are young and (physically) healthy. BUT! This is just a warning so you know the worst case scenario. If you have good, thorough medical records and doctors who know you well and are willing to fill out residual functional capacity reports that attest to your poor condition, you could have a good shot. In any case, it's worth trying.

Where do you live? Is there a legal aid organization nearby? I strongly recommend finding an attorney to represent you at a hearing if you are denied SSI. If you feel comfortable sending me a message through Metafilter, I can try to point you in the right direction.
posted by timory at 10:47 AM on October 14, 2009

In the spirit of answering the question you didn't ask and giving advice you don't want, I really want to encourage you not to think of this as a permanent step. Receive whatever government benefits you can, sure, and the government will call those benefits whatever they are called, but you're 21 and have a lot of time ahead of you. It's easy to get into a defeatist mode and conclude that it's all downhill from here, but then what? It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Far better, I think, to say "this is how I am now, but maybe things can change" and at least keep that door open for the future. Telling yourself that you're going on "permanent" disability is unlikely to help you feel better and gives you another way to wallow in your depression, and life gives us enough ways to do that already. What does your therapist think about this?

Maybe consider it this way: set a small-scale goal for yourself every week/two weeks/month, whatever you can stand right now, to do the least stressful, yet still productive thing you can. That may be as simple as sweeping down the sidewalk outside or as difficult as volunteering somewhere for a couple hours. In fact, volunteering could be a great strategy for you, as it would give you a chance to do something substantial without all the negatives that come with a job (depending on where you volunteer of course).

Basically, whatever the government calls the program you apply for, please don't think of this as giving up for good!
posted by zachlipton at 10:56 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

There is a trial period for returning to work if you come to a point down the road when your symptoms are manageable and you want to go off disability. If the trial period doesn't work out, you can go back on disability. Getting disability doesn't mean you can't work again, or acheive again, or anything beyond that fact that right now you are unable to hold a job due to you mental health condition and you need some income to survive on. Make a decision about when you might come off the benefits later, but get them now and don't delay as the process takes a long time to complete. If your financial situation is unstable now you can only expect it to continue to deteriorate based on what you've explained here and you don't want to wind up on the streets as a result of a mental health disability. There are too many people on the streets right now in that situation as it is.
posted by The Straightener at 11:15 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

comment from a MeFite who would prefer to remain anonymous.
I went onto SSI/then SSDI when I was just 22 primarily for mental disorders. I *did* work my way off of it. Whether you go onto SSDI depends upon whether you worked It took a lot (including hospitalizations and partial hospitalizations) but I was able to slowly work from volunteering a few hours, to working a few hours (you can work as long as you don't earn enough to support yourself, you have to look at the regs to know what the $ amount is now), to going to school to eventually working full time and coming off of disability. SSDI offers a step down program, where you slowly work and get less benefits as you earn more, but keep the medicare insurance. I didn't make it completely off until I was 30. I wanted to agree with the commenter that anon shouldn't focus on the "permanent" and use it as a tool. I also wanted to offer hope that life *can* get better with the right help.

Additional info: If your parents are retired or disabled, since you are under 22 you might qualify as a SSDI "child" benefit:
For SSDI at your age, you need to have worked 1 1/2 years:
SSI is available if you are not eligible for SSDI.
Please make use of resources that are available.

If you want, feel free to email me at the throw away email
posted by jessamyn at 8:21 PM on October 14, 2009

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