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!! I’ve met many people who 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. Many 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. You can apply for food stamps, medicaid, home caregivers, discounted meds, housing programs, student loan forgiveness, cash assistance, other disability programs, 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 that there are special laws in place that will protect you 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! I 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, 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).
💠 Learn the Food Stamps Regs: If your food stamps are very low, or you got turned down for food stamps, it may be because you do not know the food stamps regulations. Learn them and try again!
💠 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. Important note: These rules only apply to SSI and do not matter for SSDI. If you are not sure what you are applying for: How to Understand the Difference Between SSI and SSDI
💠 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 – One way: If you are waiting for a hearing, you may be able to speed things up by making an OTR request. You can do this if you have really strong documentation that you think is good enough to win right now.
💠 Get a Faster Decision – Another way: If you are in crisis or at-risk for homelessness, you can make a Dire Needs request or contact your Congressperson. Acacia’s story: “I wasn’t able to pay my power and had tons of cut off notices for my power. I contacted my Senator and my hearing was moved up about 15 months because I was not able to keep my power on. If you have an eviction notice or foreclosure, they can petition the hearing be moved up from those notices too. Terminal illness can also move the hearing up.”
💠 If you are unable to care for yourself, you may qualify for a free caregiver program through the state. If your condition is very severe and friend or family member is already caring for you, you may qualify for funding to pay that person a salary. Learn more.
💠 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. If you were laid off from your job, 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.
💠 School and Student Loans. Some people enroll in school and collect financial aid or student loans that can pay for their rent, food, and living expenses. However, disability lawyers report that in some cases being in school can make it more difficult to get approved and some lawyers will not accept clients who are in school.
💠 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 and When You Can’t Afford Meds. If all else fails: How To Explain Why You Haven’t Been to the Doctor
💠 Everything else. A long list of financial survival tips for Spoonies: How to Be Poor in America
💠 Updated August 2017. Please comment below with stories, questions, input or ideas. Please let us know if any links on this page stop working.