Applying for SSI – Part 3: what happens next
Can’t get enough about the SSI application process? Great! I’ll bombard you with more on the topic.
First, a few random notes:
- You’ll notice that Social Security also offers SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) program. Although there’s only one extra letter in the acronym, and it’s confusing because we’re talking about “disability,” SSDI is not the program to apply for. Apply for SSI (Supplemental Security Income), not SSDI.
- You may see ads for attorneys who handle SSI cases, and wonder, “Do I need to hire an attorney? If so, when?” Generally, you don’t need to think about attorneys at this point. You may need to think about them after the initial claim has been denied. They will want all of your SSI paperwork, so be sure to keep copies. But, if you can get the doctors, therapists etc. to fill out a Residual Functional Capacity form, or frame their documentation of your teen’s condition in terms of SSA’s mental disability criteria, you’ve pretty much accomplished what you would’ve hired the attorneys to do. (Look back to the post “Applying for SSI – Part 2” if you have no idea what I’m talking about.)
- In California, if you want, you can apply for the CalFresh program (formerly known as Food Stamps) before SSI benefits are awarded. Once an individual is collecting SSI, s/he can no longer receive CalFresh benefits, because the state contributes to the monthly SSI check to help cover food expenses. We never looked into this program, so I have no knowledge of the process.
OK, to recap: you’ve made an appointment for applying for SSI, you’ve rounded up the paperwork you have on hand about your teen’s disability, you’ve filled out SSA’s forms, and you’ve (maybe) requested extra documentation (like the RFC form) from the teen’s doctors/therapists/etc.
Time to go to the appointment! Bring everything Social Security tells you to, and copies of additional relevant documents if you’ve got ’em. The actual appointment lasts about 2 hours (at least, ours did.)
You’ll need to have the teen with you. Nathan was bored silly, but he answered the interviewer’s questions and he didn’t explode. Most of the conversation was between me and the interviewer. I’m not sure if they would have allowed Nathan to play a handheld game or listen to his MP3 player, which is how we often get through boring appointments. You might want to ask SSA about things like that beforehand, or have someone on standby who can take your teen away safely if s/he starts being too inappropriate in the office.
If there’s some documentation the interviewer requests at the appointment but you don’t have it with you, in most cases they’ll start the application process anyway and allow you to get the documentation to them as soon as you can. You can also submit other helpful documents after the application interview, up until the time you get the letter stating the decision.
At the end of the appointment the interviewer prints out a summary of the information you’ve provided, and you have a chance to verify its accuracy.
Here’s what’s going to happen after the application appointment:
(1) The information you’ve provided will be evaluated against a set of criteria for determining disability, as described in the post “Applying for SSI – Part 2”.
(2) A disability analyst (who, in California, actually works for the State’s Department of Social Services) will attempt to contact all the doctors, therapists, hospitals, etc. you’ve included on the application form, asking for their input. So, when completing the form, take the time to make sure you’ve got their most up-to-date contact information. If the analyst doesn’t get a response, s/he doesn’t follow up as to why.
NOTE: our experience was that some of the professionals (doctors, therapists, etc.) did not reply to the SSA’s request for information in a timely manner, or at all. The evaluators don’t tell you or the professional when “time’s up,” so they may make their decision without input from key professionals (in our case, Nathan’s current psychiatrist.) The evaluators also don’t tell you that they haven’t heard from so-and-so, but I think they’ll tell you if you inquire (maybe the 2-month mark would be a good time to check.) Here’s another good reason to provide all that extra paperwork up front: if the professional doesn’t respond, at least SSA will have some input from him or her.
(3) There’s a good chance the claimant will be scheduled to meet with a specified local doctor for a consultative examination. You won’t have to pay for the exam, but it’s really important to show up for it. (Nathan’s exam occurred about 7 weeks after we filed the claim.) More forms to complete at that appointment, so bring treatment history info with you to help fill in the blanks. I was told to stay in the waiting room during the appointment. According to Nathan, the psychologist asked him some questions and had him perform simple tasks.
The SSA says it takes 3 to 5 months to get a decision. In our case, it was about 2 1/2 months. The letter we received said that Nathan did not qualify for benefits because he was not disabled under their rules. The letter listed the professionals from whom they had received reports – that’s how we found out Nathan’s current psychiatrist hadn’t responded.
After I sulked a few days, I got it together and moved on to the next step. Don’t let your sulking phase last longer than 60 days, because that’s how much time you’re given to start the next step. Otherwise, you have to go back to Square 1, and the chances of success are much lower on re-applications than they are on appeals.