The typical disability application takes two to three years. If you are able to plan ahead, be creative, and reach out for help, there are many ways to help make it through.
💠 Get approved early. This is, of course, the best way. If you take steps to create a great application at the beginning, you may not have to wait three years!! Many of our readers have gotten approved in six months or less this way. (Hint: Most lawyers do little to improve your application at the beginning. These are things you can do to help yourself.)
💠 Be willing to change your life. Many people have to make hard choices and big changes in their lives while applying. For example, moving in with family members, selling their car, using food banks, or filing for bankruptcy. If you make changes early on in the process, it may help you avoid getting into getting into a crisis situation down the road.
💠 Apply for help. Some people (wrongly!!!) think that they cannot get any help until after they are approved for Social Security. No, no, no. There are bunches of other things you can apply for: How to Get for Help While Applying for Disability. You can apply for food stamps, medicaid, home caregivers, discounted meds, housing programs, student loan forgiveness, cash assistance, medical equipment, home modifications, paratransit, and much more.
💠 Reach out for help. Reach out to friends, family members, neighbors, or any kind soul you think might be willing to lend a hand.
💠 But wait! Don’t just ask your support people to give you money or bring you food or clean your house. Food and money goes away and by next week your house will be messy again. You might try asking them to look through this site with you and pick out a few things they can help with. Think about it this way: A friend can spend two hours taking you to the doctor one day one time. Or a friend can spend two hours helping you apply for a disability transit program, and then you can get rides to the doctor every day for the rest of your life.
💠 Consider working or consider not working. It is possible to get approved for disability while working part time (under $1,170 per month). However, it may be more difficult to get approved, and may take longer to get approved. Just something to consider. Learn more: Applying for Disability While Working
💠 Avoid penalties from your retirement plan. If you take an early withdrawal from your retirement plan, look into your plan’s policies on hardship withdrawals. It may be possible to avoid early withdrawal fees. If you are permanently disabled or have high medical costs, it may also be possible to avoid IRS penalties.
💠 Learn more about debt collection: It may help you to know that there are special laws in place that will protect people on Social Security from debt collectors. It may also help you to know that debt does have an expiration date! Creditors will keep calling you forever, but sometimes they are bluffing. Learn more.
💠 Ask yourself this question: Do I want to be a homeless person with good credit? If you expect that at some point you will not have enough money to survive, please think carefully before giving all your money to debt collectors right now! We have seen this happen. It does not end well.
💠 Qualifying for Help: Food stamps, utility assistance, general cash assistance and other programs will disqualify you if you have over a certain amount of money in the bank. The amount that is allowed varies by program ($2,000 is a common limit for a single person). The regulations in most programs will allow you to spend money, and will allow you to own a house and a car. Some people find it helps them to pay down a mortgage, buy needed medical supplies, prepay a phone or internet bills, pay for critical repairs, or stock up on food or other needed items. Do not give your money away. (Giving away money may cause problems with applying for benefits. You are allowed to spend money other ways).
💠 Move. It is very common for people to move in with friends or family while applying for disability. Many people sleep on a friend’s couch. If you make this change before things get desperate, you may have more options.
💠 If you are applying for SSI, the way you are living right now can make your disability check go up or down. Learn more about How to Apply for SSI Without Falling into Quicksand.
💠 Financial Aid. Some people survive off of financial aid and student loans while applying. Here are two stories: Hibiscus Applies for Disability While in School and Poppy Applies for Disability While in School.
💠 Paying Student Loans. If you already have student loans, and you are having trouble paying them, check out: How to Escape the Crushing Weight of Student Loans
💠 Get help if you are at risk for homelessness. If you have a mental health diagnosis and you are currently homeless or at risk for becoming homeless, contact The Amazing SOAR Program to see if they are in your area. They can help get disability applications approved very fast. Many of these programs will only work with new applications, not appeals.
💠 Speed things up if you are homeless: Be sure to notify Social Security if you are homeless. For new applications: Contact the person handling your case and ask them to add a “homeless” flag to your case. For hearing appeals: Send in a dire needs letter stating you are homeless and submitting proof if possible. For both: Also, Contact your Congressperson, tell them you are homeless and ask them to help get your case processed quicker.
💠 Get a Faster Decision: There are a bunch of other special circumstances and conditions that can make your application decision sooner, or move up your hearing date: How Can I Get Social Security to Move Me to the Top of the List?
💠 Check with your employer. If you are still working, or stopped working recently, many employers offer disability insurance. While Social Security disability often takes months or years, employer disability payments can start immediately. There are a few important things to know about Long Term Disability.
💠 Collect Unemployment. In some situations, you may be eligible to collect unemployment benefits. However, disability lawyers report that in some cases collecting unemployment may make it more difficult to get approved and some lawyers will not accept clients who are collecting unemployment.
💠 Check with Your State. Some states offer small amounts of cash assistance you can receive while your disability application is being processed if you are very low income. A few states have short term disability payments that do not require low income. You can check this list of other forms disability
💠 Fundraisers. Many people with chronic illnesses start online fundraising to help pay medical or life expenses. Ironically, this can cause you to lose your Medicaid, Food Stamps, SSI Backpay, utilities assistance, or subsidized housing. In some cases, there are safe ways to fundraise. Please take a look: How to Fundraise Without Losing Your Benefits
💠 Meds and Docs. Social Security will look to see if you are in regular treatment and following your doctors recommendations. If you can’t afford care, please check out When You Can’t Afford the Doctor. For treatment: How to Be Broke & Medicated. If all else fails: How To Explain Why You Haven’t Been to the Doctor
Great article from someone whose been there: How Will You Survive if You are Unable to Work Because of Chronic Lyme?
A long list of financial survival tips for Spoonies: How to Be Poor in America
Updated Nov 2017. Please comment below with stories, questions, input or ideas. Please let us know if any links on this page stop working.