Do People with Mental Disorders File for SSI instead of SSD?

There are two disability programs operated by the federal government under the auspices of the social security administration.

The first is SSD, or Social Security Disability. The benefits paid to an individual approved for Social Security Disability benefits are based on FICA taxes that have been paid into the system via employment or self-employment contributions (meaning that this is a benefit for which a person must become "insured"). SSD provides a monthly monetary disability benefit as well as medicare benefits. Also, individuals who are awarded SSD benefits will usually be owed a substantial amount in back pay benefits.

SSI, or supplemental security income, is a need-based program that is designed to provide benefits to individuals who are either A) not insured for Social Security Disability or B) insured for SSD, but only eligible for a relatively low benefit amount. Individuals who are approved for SSI disability do not receive medicare, but, instead, receive medicaid.

Now, the question on which this post is based: Are individuals with mental problems (such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorder, and depression) more likely to file for SSI instead of SSD?

Well, I should make one thing clear first. Claimants who file for disability benefits do not have a choice as to which program they can file under. I say that because, although it should seem obvious, a fair number of people do not understand that the program you can file under is a determination that is made by social security (more specifically, it is made by the claims rep at the social security office who takes the claimant's application).

Are mental cases more likely to be SSI versus SSD? As a disability examiner (for those who may not be aware, I am a former disability claims examiner for the social security administration), I did not keep track of this type of information; in other words, I did not associate which types of claims (e.g. back pain, bipolar, fibromyalgia) tended to be SSI or SSD. However, I would not be surprised if more claims are filed under SSI than SSD.

Here's my reasoning on this: the nature of certain mental conditions makes it very difficult for many individuals to sustain employment. Bipolar disorder, with it alternating phases, is a very good example. It is not unusual for individuals who have bipolar to go through routine cycles of employment and unemployment, chiefly as a result of their polar cycling.

This, of course, can make it very difficult to both achieve and sustain insured status for Social Security Disability benefits, making it likely that an application that has been filed for disability will be filed under SSI, or taken as a concurrent claim (a concurrent claim is one that has been taken in both the SSD and SSI programs, typically because a claimant's SSD benefit by itself would be very low).

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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