Waiting for Social Security/SSI Benefits

Waiting for Social Security/SSI Benefits
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Last updated: February 2007

The Social Security/SSI Disability process can take a long time. Most people who apply are denied at least twice before their claim is approved. It can take over 2 years to get your claim approved. This article will tell you what kind of help you can get while you are waiting for your claim to be approved. It also explains what you can do while you are waiting to help get your claim approved.

Help You Can Get While Waiting for Social Security/SSI Disability
How to Help Your SSI Disability Case
Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) on SSA/SSI

Help You Can Get While Waiting for Social Security/SSI Disability 

What kinds of cash assistance and medical insurance can I get if I was working before I became disabled?

Short Term or Long Term Disability Benefits

You may be able to get Short term or Long term disability benefits if you were working right before you became disabled, and you had disability insurance through your employer. The company you work for usually offers Short term and Long term Disability benefits. Often you can only get these benefits if you were paying a monthly fee for them while you were working. If you qualify to get these benefits you would get a percentage of your old salary each month. You will usually also get health insurance coverage with your Short or Long term disability benefits. These benefits are normally paid by an insurance company, like Unum or Aetna.

If you become disabled, you should check with your employer to see if you are covered by Short term or Long term Disability benefits. These benefits can be a big help while you are waiting to get your Social Security Disability benefits. Often, you must apply for Social Security Disability while you are getting Short term or Long term Disability benefits. These benefits all have their own application and appeals process. You should check with your insurance company to find out how to apply for these benefits and how to appeal if you are denied. If you are denied, you should talk to a lawyer. You can search the "Helpful Organizations" section below to find free legal help. 

COBRA Continuation Health Insurance Coverage

You may also get help from COBRA continuation health insurance coverage. If you leave a job where you had health insurance, your old employer has to offer you COBRA continuation coverage. This means that you can keep the same health insurance that you had while you were working. You have to pay a monthly fee to get COBRA health insurance coverage. The monthly fee for COBRA can be pretty high, but it allows you to keep your insurance coverage when you become unemployed. Click on the title below to learn more about COBRA:

Questions About COBRA

Worker's Compensation

Another source of help can be worker's compensation. People often apply for Social Security Disability benefits because of a work- related injury. The basic idea behind worker's compensation is that if you were hurt while you were working, you can get cash and the cost of medical care for your injury. If you are hurt while you are working, you should tell your employer right away. The worker's compensation system has its own special rules, and there are lawyers who work in this area. You should talk to a worker's compensation lawyer if you think you should get these benefits. Click on the title below to learn more about worker's compensation:

Illinois Workers' Compensation Claims


What kinds of cash and medical assistance can I get if I was not working before I became disabled?

If you were not working before you became disabled, then you cannot get Short or Long term disability, COBRA, or worker's compensation.  You should apply for cash, medical, and food stamps from the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS). The rules for getting cash, medical, and food stamps are different if you are single and without children than if you are a single or married adult with children.

If You Have Children

If you are a single or married adult with children, you should apply for food stamps.

You should also apply for cash and medical assistance through TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). If you qualify for TANF, you will get monthly cash and medical benefits for you and your family. There is usually a rule that you must work in order to get TANF. But, if you are applying for Social Security Disability, you should apply for an exemption from these work requirements.

If You Do Not Have Children

If you are a single adult without children, you should apply for food stamps.

You should also apply for cash and medical assistance through the "P3 program". To get P3 benefits you must:

  • be low-income,
  • have applied for SSI/Social Security Disability, and
  • be found "disabled" by the Client Assessment Unit (CAU) of the DHS.

When you apply for P3 benefits, you should bring all of your medical records to DHS. It is very helpful to get a detailed report from your treating doctor that you cannot work because of your medical problems (physical and/or mental). The local DHS worker will forward your medical information to the CAU. The CAU will make a decision about whether you are "disabled." Tell the DHS worker if you do not have a doctor who will give you a report about your disability. The DHS worker will then send you to a doctor. If the CAU finds that you are "disabled," you will get cash and medical benefits. If the CAU finds that you are "not disabled," and does not give you benefits, you have the right to appeal. An appeal is a right that you have to make the DHS look at your application again and tell you why they are not giving you benefits. You have the chance to explain why you disagree with them and why you think you should receive these benefits. If you want to appeal, you should get a lawyer to help you. You can search the "Helpful Organizations" section below for free legal help.   

Click on the titles below to learn more about applying for cash, medical, and food stamps:
How to Get Food Stamps
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Work Related Rules and How to Make the Most of TANF Benefits

How to Help Your SSI Disability Case     

What should I do to help build up my Disability case so that I can win?

The most important thing to winning your SSI Disability case is what the doctors say about your medical condition--physical or mental. You have the best chance of winning if you have gone to a doctor or psychiatrist for many months or years, and that doctor or psychiatrist will say that you are too disabled to work.

This is why it is so important for you to find some way of getting medical treatment while you are waiting for your Social Security/SSI Disability hearing. A person who shows up at their Disability hearing in 2005, but has not been to a doctor since 2003, does not have a good chance of winning her case. But a person who has been to the doctor every week or month since 2003, and has a doctor who will say that she is disabled, has a much better chance of winning her case. You may have to wait over 2 years for your hearing, so you should try to see a doctor regularly while you are waiting.

What if I don't have medical insurance and I can't afford medical care?

If you cannot get any medical insurance (including long term disability, COBRA, and P3 benefits) you are not alone. It is harder for a person without medical insurance to be approved for SSI/Social Security Disability because the best way to win your case is to have your doctor say that you are too disabled to work. But many people get approved for SSI/Social Security Disability benefits even though they do not have medical insurance. 

People without medical insurance need to find some way to get medical care. You can ask social service providers and doctors where you can get free medical care. You can also get help from a local Community Counseling Center. Ask for a Case Manager to work with you on your case. Case Managers who work for Community Counseling Centers can help you to find free medical services, and also places that provide rental and utility assistance.

Free medical help is available to uninsured people through the Veterans Administration, hospitals such as John Stroger Hospital (formerly Cook County Hospital), and free clinics run by the city of Chicago. Also, you can also be treated at an emergency room even if you cannot afford to pay.      

What should I tell my doctors or psychiatrists about my condition to help my claim for disability benefits? 

You should tell your doctors or psychiatrists the truth about all of the problems you are having. Let your doctor or psychiatrist know if you are having pain, tiredness, problems breathing, depression, anxiety, or anything else. The Social Security Administration will look at the treatment notes from your doctor when they decide whether to approve your claim. If you tell the doctor about your problems on each visit, the doctor will probably put these complaints in the treatment notes. If the doctor lists all of your complaints in their notes, it is more likely that Social Security will decide that you are disabled.

Another reason that you should tell your doctor about all of your complaints, is because then your doctor may send you to another doctor who works just in that area that you need. A specialist can help you support your claim for benefits. For example, if you are seeking disability benefits because of bad back pain, but you are also feeling depressed, you should tell your doctor about this. The doctor may send you to a psychiatrist who can treat you for the depression. The fact that you have depression (in addition to your back pain) makes it more likely that your case will be approved.

Also, you must keep your doctor's appointments, follow treatment that your doctor gives you, and go to any other doctors that your doctor sends you to. Your claim for Disability benefits may be denied if you do not follow the advice of your doctor.

Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) on SSA/SSI

The ARRA provides a one time stimulus payment and other relief in the form of funds to SSA to expedite processing of claims which are now taking on appeal and average of two years:

$250 one-time payment goes to almost everyone who receives:

  • Social Security
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and/or
  • Railroad Retirement Benefits, and Veterans, Disability Compensation or Pension Benefits

As long as you received a benefit in November, December 2008 or January 2009 (Spouses each get a one-time payment.) If you were found retroactively disabled and entitled to benefits for these months are eligible because the stimulus payment can be made until December 31, 2010.

You will not get one-time payments if:

  • You owe state or federal agencies money or are delinquent in child support
  • You are not legally in the US
  • You are living overseas
  • You are on SSI in a nursing home or governmentally run facility
  •  You were denied benefits because you made false or misleading statements
  • You were in prison or violated parole or probation
  • You are a child receiving Social Security (through a deceased or disabled parent)

Will be received by first week in June 2009 and there is NO need to file a tax return.

SSA is making the payment automatically and the one-time payment will be made separately from your regular monthly benefit payments. Payment method will be the same as for monthly benefit (direct deposit or mailed check).

  • Payment won’t count as income for purposes of determining eligibility for or amount of any federal, state, or local benefit. Payments are not taxable income and there is no tax return required in 2010 because of getting this one-time payment.


Helpful Organizations
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