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Can you get Social Security benefits for a mental illness?

There are two main programs that provide financial assistance to people in the United States with mental health conditions. One is SSI, and the other is SSDI.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) requires disability and financial need, which is determined by your assets and income. SSI does not require previous work history and is designed to meet the needs of the elderly, disabled and blind individuals.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is offered to those who have a physical or mental disability. Of the 9 million individuals on SSDI, about 35.2 percent have a mental health condition. SSDI requires a disability and also depends on a recipient's work history.

SSDI is considered an entitlement program, because those who are eligible will have paid into the Social Security system for a certain period of time. It is not dependent on income or assets. However, SSDI cash benefits can be significantly greater than SSI benefits.

Do you qualify for SSDI?

First, to receive SSDI, you must meet the work requirements. You earn work credits each year in which you are employed, based on your yearly wages. The maximum number of credits you can earn each year is four, which is equivalent to about $5,000 in income. This figure changes annually, and it is determined by the government. To get SSDI, you must have 40 credits, 20 of which have been earned in the last 10 years. Younger workers may qualify with fewer credits, based on different rules.

Next, you must also qualify on mental health grounds. The SSA criteria for mental health disabilities is much different than the diagnostic criteria that psychiatrists and other mental health professionals use.

Schizophrenia, PTSD, anxiety and anorexia have all been used on applications as disability claims, but not every claim has qualified. A general rule of thumb is that the disorder must cause a severe impact on your life. In addition, substance abuse may complicate your SSDI claim, and the SSA might even reject an SSDI claim if you have a substance abuse disorder. Every claim is carefully reviewed before being approved, and it often takes more than one application to get the SSDI approved.

The application process can be complicated

It can take a long time to get approved for SSDI, but if your mental health disorder is preventing you from working, it may be worth the effort. You may need legal counsel to help make your claim as complete as possible for the reviewers at Social Security Administration. You do not have to go through the process on your own.

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