Navigators help with the process of applying for Social Security disability benefits. They know Social Security law and have significant experience working on applications. Some are attorneys. Some have worked for Social Security. All are focused on helping you file a quality application, something that is difficult for a person unfamiliar with Social Security laws and practices.
Social Security law has been cobbled together over time… with provisions that seem to be added on, rather than used to spur overall reorganization. Navigators know the chronology and the details of the system. That’s why you need them!
Most of the people who are under the age of 50 who receive Social Security disability benefits, have mental illness. That’s according to Colorado’s lead state trainer for disability navigators, Byron Kish. Mr. Kish and his small army of trained Social Security application experts use a model called SOAR (SSI/SSDI, Outreach, Access, Recovery). The two main programs that the Social Security Administration offers disabled people are Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Mr. Kish is an attorney who used to work for Social Security and now teaches navigators across the state how to help people with disabilities receive the financial stipends that often keep them and their families from financial hardship, poverty, homelessness, and hopelessness.
If you have a mentally ill loved one who seems to be severely challenged by the rigors of adolescence or early adulthood, it’s extremely important to reach out to a navigator and get help filing a Social Security application early. This doesn’t mean that the disabled person won’t be encouraged to work; it just means they will be identified as having mental health challenges that might preclude what the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers “substantial gainful activity” through their employment. The SSA sets substantial gainful employment every year; in 2020 substantial gainful activity is considered $1,260 per month, or $2,110 if a person is blind.
You may already be experiencing the financial stress of paying for psychiatry, psychological services or counseling; what you have to prepare for, as well, is getting financial support for your loved one if they can’t support themselves.
If you have a son or daughter who has been receiving treatment for a mental health condition, it will be extremely important to keep your records current, organized, and ready to be read by your navigator and examiners who will make determinations about getting financial assistance for your child. You may already be experiencing the financial stress of paying for psychiatry, psychological services or counseling; what you have to prepare for, as well, is getting financial support for your loved one if they can’t support themselves.
Contacting a physician or counselor while they’re working with your child, and asking them for paperwork, could make the difference between complete, current information and incomplete, insufficient documentation.
It’s vital to get a young person documented as having a mental illness as early as possible. To secure a Social Security benefit, you’ll have to provide a lot of documentation. To be sure that you can get the paperwork and the support of a treating physician or counselor, contacting them while they’re working with your child could make the difference between complete, current information and incomplete, insufficient documentation; especially if you’re trying to gather information after a course of treatment. Doctors can relocate; paperwork can be lost. Another reason to start early is a Social Security benefit award called Childhood Disability Benefits (also known as Disabled Adult Child benefits). This benefit allows the adult child to receive a disability benefit based on his/her parent’s work history, and requires that a disability be proven to have begun before the young person turns 22.
As a disabled child, the youngster’s abilities are compared to other children’s, and the child is eligible only for SSI benefits. The parents’ income is considered in the eligibility determination. When the child turns 18, he or she is compared to adults in the work force and is automatically reevaluated for disability. This may be the first time the disabled youngster is evaluated, and it’s very important to gather the essential information, to take your time with the application, to include as much information as you need, and to add pages as needed.
‘Credibility is essential… if that’s compromised, your loved one will not be approved.’
You can file a printed application or you can file on line. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Your navigator will be able to help you with the process. They’ll help you build a case for your loved one that will include many personal details. “Credibility is essential,” says Kish, “if that’s compromised, your loved one will not be approved.”
Since there is a large number of people applying for disability benefits and public mental health centers have to both treat and document mental illness, sometimes notes can be sacrificed for treatment, says Mr. Kish, and this can sometimes make it difficult to secure benefits based on those notes.
If you’re paying for a child psychologist or psychiatrist, enlist their support in filing a “quality application” for Social Security. Your navigator can also be very helpful with reviewing documentation.
“The initial application takes roughly six to twelve months right now, “ says Mr. Kish, “If you’re denied, you can do ‘reconsideration’ and that takes two to three months. If you’re denied there, that’s when we talk about years… If we can get a client disability approval within six months, that’s years that they save in time. It makes a huge difference in their ability to maintain housing, keep housing, find housing, pay for food, clothing, shelter, all of that.”
Work is also important; Social Security benefits are limited. If your child can’t keep a job, it helps Social Security make a determination.
“Work is also important,” says Mr. Kish. “If a person with mental illness can demonstrate substantial gainful activity, that’s powerful for him/her; Social Security benefits are very limited.” If your child can’t keep a job or can only work for limited periods of time, that helps Social Security determine that he or she is disabled. Work can also be therapeutic. A person receiving Social Security benefits can get help through a vocational rehabilitation office to try to get a job that will work for him or her.
Can you do all this yourself? Yes. But to explore the Social Security landscape with knowledge and confidence, likely the best thing you can do for your loved one is to get a navigator. The Social Security application is about 40 pages long and, again, requires detailed documentation. The average approval rating for someone applying on their own is 30%. For someone who is homeless, it’s 10%. For Navigator Byron Kish it’s 89%! Other navigators in Colorado report approval rates at or above 60%.
With the passage of a new law in Colorado, navigation services in some areas will be paid for by the state.
Social Security law has been cobbled together over time, according to Kish, with provisions that seem to be added on, rather than used to spur overall reorganization. People, like Mr. Kish, know the chronology and the details of the system. They can look over your documents and help you figure out how to best help your loved one. There are fees for navigators, but they often use a sliding scale based on need. And, with the passage of a new law in Colorado, navigation services will be paid for by the state in several counties. Navigation services are also available through Benefits Connections, Easter Seals, and Bayaud Enterprises.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. (c) 2019 by Theresa Schiavone. All rights reserved