25 Different Ways to Apply for Disability

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Artwork: Robin Mead

Social Security is not the only game in town. Here is a long list of different types of disability you may be able to apply for.

Social Security Disability

This is also called SSI and SSDI. This is the most popular form of disability. When you hear people say they are “on disability” this is usually what they mean. Learn a whole bunch more about how to apply and how to increase your chances of getting approved: The Sleepy Girl Guide to Social Security Disability. SSI and SSDI are two different programs. Learn more here: What Will I Qualify for? SSI? SSDI? Both? Neither?

Employer Disability 

Some employers offer disability insurance as a job benefit. This is often called STD and LTD. No, not that kind of STD…. it means Short Term Disability and Long Term Disability. While Social Security disability often takes months or years, employer disability payments can start immediately. There are a few things to know about How to Protect Yourself While Applying for LTD. If you are still employed and may apply for LTD soon or someday, please take a look at this link for important info How to Avoid Getting Screwed Over If Your Employer Offers LTD

Cash Assistance

Some areas offer a small amount of cash assistance to low-income people. You may need to be very low income to qualify. Learn more here: How to Get Cash Assistance While Applying for Disability

Temporary state disability

California, New York, New Jersey, Hawaii and Rhode Island offer short term disability benefits through the state. You do not have to be low-income to apply for this. Many people get on this type of disability while waiting for the Social Security Decision. At some point this program also existed in Puerto Rico, but it is not clear if it is still operating. Warning: If you apply for this program, be sure to also apply for Social Security disability right away. Don’t wait.

Social Security for People Who Think They Can’t Get Social Security

If someone has told you that you cannot apply for Social Security disability, double check. Sometimes it turns out not to be true. How to Apply for Disability When You are Told You Can’t Apply for Disability

Widow’s Benefits

If you are disabled, you can get widow’s benefits sooner. Most people can collect widow’s benefits at age 60. But you can collect at age 50 if you are approved for disability. You may also be eligible at an earlier age in certain other circumstances.

Ex-Widow’s Benefits

If you were previously married for at least ten years, you may be eligible for widow’s benefits from your ex’s income record.

Life Insurance 

Some life insurance policies have a payout for permanent disability. Check yours.

Retirement Plans

Some retirement plans pay a higher rate or allow an earlier retirement if you are disabled. Check yours.

Private Disability

This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you have purchased and been paying for private disability insurance, you probably know it. This is different than long term care insurance. Long term care will pay for nursing homes or home aides, but it will not make cash payments.

Veteran’s Disability Benefits

Again, if you are a veteran, you almost certainly already know you can apply for Veterans Benefits. However, some veterans don’t realize they can get both Social Security and Veteran’s benefits. If you have enough work credits, you can apply and collect both.

Worker’s Comp

If you were injured on the job.

Adult Disabled Child Benefits 

If you first became disabled before the age of 22. How to Get Adult Disabled Child Benefits. It does not matter what age you are now. 

Payment for Your Caregiver

If a friend, family member or loved one is caring for you, in some situations that person may be able to collect a salary for the care they are giving you. Learn more: How To Apply for State Home Aide Programs

Disability Housing

Many areas of the country offer low cost apartments to people with disabilities and their spouse or family member. How to Find Yourself a Nice, Affordable Apartment (for People with Disabilities)These apartments are often one or two bedrooms and many do not allow children. If you have a kids or a larger family: Section 8 Guide for the Disabled and Plucky

Unemployment

Some disability lawyers recommend that you do not go on unemployment while filing for Social Security. It can be more difficult to get approved this way, but some of our readers have done it successfully. Some states allow unemployment for medical reasons.

Government Employees 

If you were a state or federal government employee, you may be eligible for retirement disability payments through your employer. Some government jobs pay into a different system instead of paying into Social Security. Check with your jobs human resources department. In addition, even if you did not pay into Social Security, one of our readers reported that she did still pay into Medicare, so she was able to receive Medicare.

Disability Home Aides

You do not need to be approved for disability to qualify for a a home care program. If you are unable to care for yourself, you may be eligible for help in your home. In most states your condition would need to be severe to qualify. Learn more: How to Find Caregiver Programs

Disability Discharges on Student Loans

You do not need to be approved for disability to apply for a disability discharge: How to Escape the Crushing Weight of Student Loans

Disability Medicaid 

If you live in a state that did not expand medicaid, and you are not yet approved for disability, you may still be able to apply for Aged Blind Disabled Medicaid

Second Kind of Disability Medicaid 

If your care needs are severe, but you have too much income for medicaid, or your spouse earns too much, you may still be able to get Medicaid if you qualify for a medicaid waiver program. In most states, you can apply for this even if you have not yet been approved for Social Security. Medicaid Waivers

Third Kind of Disabled Medicaid 

If you work any amount (even one hour per month) and you are disabled, in some states you can qualify for Medicaid Buy In Programs

More Options

Early retirement. If you are over the age of 62, you can begin collecting early Social Security retirement while waiting for your disability decision. You should still continue your disability case, because it will probably mean more money. Warning: You must prove you became disabled before you filed for retirement. If you are planning to ask your doctor for a letter, RFC form, or medical test, make sure to do this before putting in for retirement.

Spousal benefits. If you are over the age of 62, you can collect early retirement based on your income or based on your spouse’s income. Social Security will usually automatically give you whichever is higher. This amount will be less than if you wait for full retirement age.

Ex-Spousal benefits. If you were previously married for at least ten years, you may be eligible for spousal benefits from your ex’s income record.

Cashing Out Retirement Plans – If you cash out your 401k or other retirement plan early due to disability or hardship, check out: How to Avoid Penalties from Retirement Plan Early Withdrawals

Other Types of Aid – There are many (many!) other programs you can apply while waiting for your Social Security decision.  How to Get for Help While Applying for Disability. You can apply for food stamps, medicaid, discounted meds, housing programs, student loan forgiveness, cash assistance, medical equipment, home modifications, paratransit, and much more.

Other Assistance. Check out: How to Survive Financially While Applying for Disability and How to Be Poor in America

LEARN MORE

💮  This page is part of the free online guide: The Sleepy Girl Guide to Social Security Disability 

💮 Art on this page by Robin Mead and Elizabeth D’Angelo.

💮 Page Updated: 7/1/19

💮 Please comment below with stories, ideas, questions or suggestions. Please let us know if any links on this page stop working. 

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14 thoughts on “25 Different Ways to Apply for Disability”

  1. For ME/ CFS. Ammes.org has $ assistance for many necessities – found it through ??, can’t remember but it’s quite easy process

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  2. I understand the dizzy! My BP would typically be 99/60 and docs would say, good…low blood pressure BUt I had swollen lymph nodes, sore throat n athralgia n non shotty non exudate etc…. Fatigue. I couldn’t walk into stores (Walmart was like the olympics so as I sat in my car thinking this was odd, I used my energy to drive home). I hear your struggle and I didn’t even know my hypotension and variable HR was something to get help for cuz I have other issues that seemed more pressing but I know /knew that walking in n out of store ought to not be major difficulty
    How’s your situation n what did you do?

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  3. I love this blog so much, it has helped me tremendously, I am waiting for a hearing right now, denied first 2 times…this blog gives me hope…I love your artwork…it is beautiful…

    Any other forum suggestions that are not lawyer websites?

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  4. Hi Sleepygirl, I am so glad I found your blog. I met you on MDjunction and you helped me so much I was sad you were not longer there. I just wanted to say hi and have your information handy since I will be going through CDR sometime next year.

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  5. Grab a coffee, tea, heck as back! This is one of the longest posts I’ve EVER written:
    Hi, I need some advice but you need MAJOR (why this is so long) backstory…
    I need to do something you recommend against…REAPPLY for SSDI from scratch.
    Why???
    1. It’s been months since I was denied – 5/2017
    2. I was denied because of medical records missing, not having a lawyer, being “too young” at 41…there IS a bias, discrimination by SSDI appointed doc…who decided I could work because I don’t need help bathing (based on his condescending and arrogant look he gave me – hello! I have an INVISIBLE disability!), and MOST IMPORTANTLY, I was UNDIAGNOSED.

    I didn’t appeal because the main reason I was denied was a lack of a diagnosis. I’ve been sick FIFTEEN YEARS with a slow advancing disease that no one could figure out. My symptoms caused me to stop working 4/2016, so it a took a LONG time of of multiple mis-diagnosis, giving up, starting up again when new symptoms appeared, not seeking help for 3 years because I had no insurance, finally getting a new doc which started the testing at square one again with new misdiagnosis and no treatment over allllll this time for me to get to the point that I could no longer work. The company I worked for closed in 4/2016 and it killed me to work those last few months but I stuck it out until the end and then decided I can’t do this anymore. Then to complicate matters, I also got an ovarian cancer diagnosis in December…but was also cured in December. But the recovery took almost 10 months because of the aggressiveness and type if surgery I had…and this mystery illness slowing down my healing and recovery. The cancer was not related to the mystery illness…that was random from left field so to speak. THEN, last month…

    FINALLY, I have my answer!
    Hyperdrenic Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS for short)!

    There’s 3 types of POTS…and I have the hardest to diagnose. The other two types cases LOW blood pressure and resting heart rate and usually causes fainting or near fainting, dizziness and/or light headedness.
    While the hallmark of POTS is an abnormally steep increase in heart rate upon standing, many doctors, if they know ANYTHING AT ALL about POTS because it’s new-ish in the medical community, don’t think POTS unless a patient is complaining of dizziness, light headedness or fainting and have low blood pressure. So it never crossed my doctors minds. Also, because I’m a woman, have a mom and maternal grandfather with thyroid diseases and thyroid disease is so common, they kept focusing on thyroid.

    So in walks me with the EXACT OPPOSITE of “common” POTS symptoms…HOT all the time (heat intolerance BUT also cold intolerance I need 60-70° temps to feel ok), profuse sweating, HIGH blood pressure and resting heart rate, tachycardia, dizziness when singing of all things lol, shortness of breath, trouble concentrating, insomnia, extreme fatigue, muscle weakness, etc. almost ALL relieved by laying down. Literally 5 YEARS were wasted just checking my thyroid. Always borderline or normal. So doctors were baffled and…sent me to psych.

    It’s super common for pots patients to have their symptoms dismissed as being caused by a psych disorder like anxiety or depression. I was diagnosed with panic and anxiety disorder…NO ONE listened to me saying “I panic because my HEART is doing weird things and no one knows why”. I wasn’t having panic attacks because of anxiety DISORDERS, I was panicking because I KNEW something was wrong and no one was listening which made me think…this could kill me if they don’t figure it out!

    Finally, 3 years ago, when I got insurance after 3 years without it, I met a wonderful Doctor. He decided to test for more than just thyroid. He sent me to a cardiologist. The cardiologist ran every test and said my heart was fine..so he sent me to an endocrinologist. After ruling out Cushings Disease, Pheochromocytoma, Paraganglioma, mast cell/carcinoid disorders & thyroid cancer he sent me BACK to the cardiologist (hot potato treatment by docs is also super common in pots patients on their road to diagnosis) saying it might be a small nerve cell disorder.

    So I go back to the cardio, show him my lab results, and tell him what endo said.
    He tells me to lie down and don’t move until he gets back. 20 min later, he comes in, places a HR monitor on my finger and a BP cuff on the arm facing him. He tells me to read out my HR..72 (I don’t know what my BP readings were and they’re not as important here). He tells me to sit up and read my HR…it was 60 then stabilized to 70. He said good, now, when you stand up it should fall to around 60 again then stabilize around 75-85. I said ok and stood up…FORTY. My heart rate dropped to 40 not 60…then it started to “stabilize”…(the exact number I’m sure of is the last number, but the rest are the closest guess I don’t remember exactly) I’m reading out loud 55, 69, 75, 88…he says good as I continue…95, 110, 130, 144…I stabilized at 144…standing fir me is the equiveant of someone jogging or riding a bike! No wonder I’m always hot, sweating and exhausted! That test is what indicated POTS.

    Right now, I’m technically diagnosed, but it’s not official yet. To ensure there’s no questioning the diagnose for insurance (I’m on Medicaid) and disability, both my cardio and awesome ordinary doc are ordering more tests to confirm AND rule out. I have to have a sleep study in January to rule out sleep apnea (which doesn’t cause profuse sweating, tachycardia, breathlessness while walking, and insomnia but it does cause fatigue so we are ruling it out. I’m being tested for Lyme Disease & Lupus because (besides nerve and spine damage if which I have a LOT of from 2 major fall injuries and 10 years of domestic abuse) they are diseases that can trigger the onset of POTS. And I will also have a tilt table test which literally does the EXACT SAME THING as what my cardio did with the BP cuff and HR finger monitor…but that’s considered the gold standard test so we are having it done so they can’t claim I don’t have POTS because I didn’t have that test.

    POTS is incurable. But it IS manageable with medication, special exercises (AFTER symptoms are well controlled with mess), diet changes, special clothing like compression stockings, and/or therapy. Just finding the right treatment can take YEARS because not everyone responds the same to these treatments and as of right now, there are NO MEDICATIONS specifically used to treat POTS…all are prescribed off label.

    The GREAT news is, MOST can live a normal life with treatment eventually! That’s why POTS patients can be lawyers, doctors, teachers etc. AND at the same time, why patients are completely disabled on disability (it IS considered a disability by Social Security). The difference between someone being successfully treated and me, untreated for over a decade is galaxies away from each other even if we have the exact same diagnosis with cause.

    Now that you know my journey…
    I applied for SSDI 10/2016 (because they told me I had to wait until my unemployment and disability during unemployment ran out). I applied with my back/spine injuries, nerve damage symptoms, anxiety and panic attacks, and my mystery illness SYMPTOMS were listed on the diagnosis line by my doctor. I called in and added ovarian cancer to my claim when diagnosed. I heard most who are denied don’t even SEE a doctor through SSDI, but I did, and 2 weeks later got my denial.

    I chose not to appeal until I had a diagnosis. At the time, the endo was SURE I had a Paraganglioma tumor causing the symptoms so I waited to appeal until the tests came back. They came back NEGATIVE 2 days before the 60 day deadline to appeal. So I made the decision to start a NEW claim once I had a diagnosis and PRAY that a lawyer could help me get the back pay that I deserved (and most likely will lose by starting a new claim) because I’m applying with a complete different reason/diagnosis which has insanely affected my previous disabilities (spine and nerve damage) with increased pain and decreased mobility due to the new diagnosis.

    First, thank you for reading all of this. And lastly, PLEASE tell me what I did was the right decision…because at this point I can’t go back, that deadline was too short for my illnesses. I needed more time because SSDI doesn’t understand what it’s like trying to get diagnosed with a condition that’s relatively rare.

    Also, ANY advice would be immensely helpful. I’m sorry this was SO long.

    Sincerely,
    Sandy D,
    Philadelphia

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