According to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1 in 4 Americans will suffer from a disability at some point in their lifetime.
A large number of those individuals may be eligible for benefits through the Social Security Administration. You should do all you can to ensure that you get the maximum amount of that disability benefit. You can maximize your social security disability benefit during the disability application process by winning your claim by filing accurately in a a timely fashion. The following are the top tips gathered from experienced disability lawyers.
5 Ways to Maximize Your Social Security Disability Benefits
1. Apply for Both SSD and SSI at the Beginning
The two different types of disability benefits available under the Social Security Administration are SSD and SSI.
You should apply for both SSD and SSI at the onset of your application. If you are not eligible for SSI or SSD benefits you will receive a technical denial, which will not impact your eligibility for the alternate program. Thus, there is no harm in applying for both.
If you worked for a number of years and paid into the Social Security system prior to becoming disabled, you will be eligible for SSD benefits. The amount of your SSD benefit is based on the amount of payroll tax you or your employer paid. The more you paid into the system, the larger your benefit. The formula used to calculate this benefit is pretty much set in stone and there is not much, if anything, you can do to change it.
SSI, another program for the disabled, is not related to the amount you paid into the system, it is a needs-based program. Like food stamps, it is only available to individuals who can show a financial need.
It is very common for a beneficiary to receive a benefit under both programs. About 1/3 of our clients are eligible for SSD and SSI benefits.
The following are the most common situations where a beneficiary would be eligible for both.
SSD Benefit is Low
If an individual’s SSD benefit is not high enough to lift the beneficiary out of poverty, that beneficiary could be eligible for an additional monetary benefit under the SSI program.
The SSI benefit is ‘icing on the top’ of the SSD benefit. The combination of both your SSD benefit and your SSI benefit equals an amount Congress deemed to be required to lift a beneficiary out of poverty.
5 Month Waiting Period for SSD
SSD benefits are payable 5 months after you are found disabled. SSI does not have that 5-month waiting period. There are often instances where a beneficiary will get SSI benefits during that 5-month period and then lose the SSI benefit once the SSD benefit starts.
The issue that often arises is that beneficiaries are only eligible for SSI benefits as of the day they file the application. As a result, failing to apply for an SSI benefit at the onset of your disability could result in permanently losing the ability to obtain that temporary SSI benefit during the 5-month waiting period for SSD.
Change in Financial Circumstances
The time from which you apply for benefits to when you are actually approved can take years. During that process your financial circumstances can, and often do, change. A disabled individual is unable to work, which causes those folks to go through their personal savings to cover normal expenses.
When that happens, a claimant who was once ineligible for SSI benefits could have had a change in their financial situation, which would then cause them to be eligible for that SSI benefit. Be sure to notify the Administration of that change and apply when appropriate.
2. Notify the Social Security Administration About Life Changes
Birth of Children
You could be eligible for an increase in your benefit if you have an increase in the number of your dependents.
If you get married your SSI benefit could actually go down due to the income or assets of your spouse. Conversely, if you get divorced, you may become eligible for an SSI benefit as you are losing that spousal income.
Change in Age Category
The Administration has created rules that make it easier to obtain disability benefits as you age. These rules are referred to as grid rules. These rules come into play at age 50. It can become even easier to get benefits at ages 55 and 60. If you were denied benefits prior to attaining one of these age categories, you should consider re-applying once you enter a new age category.
3. Be Aware of Automatic Increases (COLA and AERO)
Annual Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA)
COLA applies to all beneficiaries on an annual basis. COLAs are implemented automatically each December. The increase for 2021 was 1.3%, while 2020 saw a 1.6% increase.
The increases are tied to the Consumer Price Index, which is a measure of annual inflation. The goal of COLAs are to give a beneficiary the same buying power year over year.
Automatic Earnings Reappraisal Operation
AERO also occurs automatically. The goal of the AERO adjustments are to give credit for any previously un-credited earnings. Usually this is done when beneficiaries work (below SGA) and earn additional work credits and make extra contributions to the program.
These extra earnings can ultimately increase an SSD benefit. It should be noted that if you are working and earnings at or above SGA, you have a duty to notify the SSA. The Administration will not immediately catch it. Many months later your benefits will cease and you will receive a bill for the overpayment often in the amounts of thousands of dollars.
4. Be Meticulous Throughout the Application Process
This could likely go without saying, but failing to comply with requests from the Administration could at best cause your decision to be delayed and at worst cause you to be denied. Respond to requests completely and timely. Attend consultative examinations. Provide the Administration with a complete list of your medical providers, including accurate addresses and phone numbers of those providers.
If an examiner requests additional information, give it accurately, completely and timely.
5. Seek Other Government Assistance
Social Security Disability is not the only form of government assistance.
Food stamps, free phones, subsidized housing, energy assistance programs and Medicaid/Affordable Care Act are just a few of the programs out there. It is important that you take time to investigate them all.
No one lives comfortably off of a social security disability benefit alone. It is your responsibility to find and apply for other benefits as well.