I’ve been on disability, or benefitting from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) since 2006. Because I’m unable to work, my income is provided by a U.S. agency called the Social Security Administration, via SSDI. However, being approved for SSDI has a lot of qualifications. The main one, obviously, is being disabled, either physically or mentally.
Another qualification is that you’ve had to have paid into your Social Security benefits by paying Social Security tax (which is deducted from your paycheck) from all the jobs you’ve held. So basically, my income is derived from the taxes I paid from having worked. And I started working when I was 15. The weird (but not surprising) thing is that, because my husband’s income falls within a certain bracket, I have to pay income tax on my SSDI. Is your head spinning yet?
The application process for disability is long — both applying and finding out if you qualify. Most people aren’t approved on the first try. I don’t know what documents are needed, because my case manager/social worker at the mental health community center I attended filled everything out and acquired the necessary documents. He was kind enough to navigate his way through the process for me.
I’ll back up. In 2006, my husband lost his job. As a result, we lost our insurance. However, you can make monthly payments (to whom, I don’t know) for continuous coverage, to ensure you’re insured. These payments were high, and we couldn’t afford them. So we were uninsured until he found another job.
During that period, I couldn’t afford to see my therapist, so I attended a community mental health center. These are open to the uninsured. The one I went to offered different services, such as counseling; group therapies like anger management, goal setting, etc.; and I think they offered a program that helped you acquire various job skills. Each person who went there was assigned a case manager, who was usually a social worker, I believe. At least mine was.
I had no idea that I even qualified for disability. It was my case manager who told me, and began the process. He even accompanied my husband and me to my interview, which is part of the approval process, at our local Social Security office. He totally didn’t have to do that.
The interviewer’s face was inscrutable (maybe they don’t want to get your hopes up?), while my case manager’s was clearly hopeful and positive. Because of his efforts, not only was my case approved in like, 3 months or so, I was also given backpay — a nice, big check that we desperately needed — for each of the years that I qualified for disability before I actually applied. (I applied in 2006, but qualified in 2003, after the Breakdown.)
I am exceedingly fortunate that the application process went smoothly for me, and that I was approved almost immediately. I have my case manager to thank for that. From what I understand, it’s a real headache going through the process on your own.
The monthly checks aren’t high. I don’t know how anyone can live off a disability check. Mine, for example, before taxes is approximately $1,100. So my yearly income if I was single would be about $13,200. Maybe they give you more if you aren’t married; I don’t know.
According to RENTCafé, the average monthly rent for a studio (1-room) apartment in Chicago is $1,200 — more than my check! My mental health condition is so debilitating that I can’t hold a job and haven’t been able to in nearly 15 years. How would I support myself?
Also, I have student loans to pay. The Department of Education doesn’t care if you’re disabled. They want their money. I think you can get a 5-year medical deferment, but the loan interest continues to accumulate during those 5 years.
The only way to maybe receive loan forgiveness is if you qualify for Total and Permanent Disability, which I might. But that’s a whole lot of paperwork I’m not sure I can handle. Filling out forms has become difficult and frustrating for me, even easy ones. Still, it may be worth a try?
Have you ever applied for disability? If so, what was your experience with the application process?