Some people complain about all the people on Social Security (or other welfare programs) for abusing these programs, getting government hand-outs for doing nothing while they work a job and pay taxes that go into these welfare programs. While some people do abuse the system, most people using these programs need them, even if they don’t appear to. For this post, I’ll talk about SSI (Supplemental Security Income) since that’s what I have experience with.
SSI is related to SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) in that it is largely based on disability effects. You generally need 40 work credits to qualify for SSDI with some additional requirements with those work credits and when they were earned. SSI is for people without as many work credits, more based on disability severity. As someone who has been unable to work for longer than two months for my entire life, I would not qualify for SSDI (usually referred to as disability) but am eligible for SSI.
(Disclaimer: I’m about 98% sure this is how the process goes, but I could be wrong, it’s not my job to know all of this). To apply for SSI, you must first apply for disability benefits. When they determine you’re ineligible for SSDI, they send the application for SSI and the process continues forward. It’s first sent through Social Security to see if you qualify financially. They analyze income, assets, etc.. Since I have no income and no assets over $2,000 (I believe that’s the amount) (except for my car, which doesn’t count in the determination unless there’s more than one), financially I qualify for SSI. After this, it’s sent to a medical board that will analyze your medical files.
Here, they look at all submitted evidence and self-reports. This will include all documents and notes from your doctor(s) from the date you report your disability began. My initial SSI case, filed in 2018, reported that from 2014, since that’s when I could no longer continue high school and was officially diagnosed with severe mental illnesses. It could be seen in my school attendance and grades, as well as the job I attempted over the summer. I should have let them fire me, which they would have with my attendance, but I thought it would look better on my resume to quit, using the excuse that I wanted to focus on school. In reality, I quit because I was too unstable to leave my house. I was still recovering from the long psychotic episode I’d had the previous fall/winter/spring, and I was terribly depressed. I was missing every other shift I had, calling in on the same day. I would have severe anxiety when I did go in. It was hell.
In 2016, I attempted college, which had similar results. I didn’t work during this time, since I was dying enough already from trying to attend classes. And please don’t say, “Oh yeah, college isn’t for everyone.” If I weren’t so sick, college would be for me. I couldn’t get myself to classes because I couldn’t get myself out of bed. Anyway, you would think that would be a factor in Social Security making their decision. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to care about anything except work credits, even for a program made specifically for people who don’t have those work credits.
With this history reported to them with evidence to go along with it, as well as the medical notes and documents from my doctors, the medical board denied my initial claim. This was likely due to the fact that I was working with a psychiatric nurse practitioner for my medications and diagnoses. I thought they were psychiatrists, or I didn’t know the difference, but Social Security doesn’t put much stock into PNP’s thoughts on a person’s diagnosis or its severity. At this point, they give you the option to request a hearing in front of an ALJ (Administrative Law Judge), who reviews the case, all evidence provided, and your own testimony. Usually, without an attorney, they will deny you here too, which is what happened to me. Two disability attorneys, who would work pro-bono, didn’t think my case was strong enough to take on (which they seemed to decide as soon as they heard my age at the time, which would have been 19-20).
After receiving the denial of my claim again, which had taken months (this was probably over a year after my initial claim), they gave me the option of putting in an appeal to the Appeals Council, who review your request and your reason for appealing the ALJ’s decision (again, you almost automatically lose without an attorney backing you up), and if they say no, which can take anywhere from right away to a year or so, you can put in a request to file a civil action. I got to this point and put in the request, and they never answered me. After this, I filed a new case altogether, as I had a licensed psychiatrist who insisted I should get on it due to the severity of my illnesses.
I don’t know why they denied me so many times. Maybe because they thought a (now) 24-year-old wouldn’t fight back? Maybe because they just thought a 24-year-old can’t possibly be disabled? My initial case went on for 3 years, making my entire attempt at getting on SSI a 4-year-long endeavor, during which every single doctor, therapist, and witness have been completely sure that I would receive it, absolutely surprised every time Social Security has said no. My psychiatrist is outraged, my attorney is in shock, my friends and family are frustrated, to say the least. I haven’t been able to function on a daily level, barely able to occasionally maintain personal hygiene, unable to consistently pursue activities or hobbies. My last ALJ made up blatant lies about what I do every day after I explicitly told her that I am unable to do any of the activities I want to do due to lack of energy, focus, and motivation. She substituted her own (unqualified) medical opinion for my own psychiatrist’s, which is the argument my attorney put in the appeal, because it is legally incorrect when she had the means to dispute my psychiatrist’s claims about the severity of my illnesses before the hearing, and she did not use that.
Look, I’m only 24. My mental illnesses kicked in when I was younger, and they destroyed me, adding in panic disorder and PTSD to the other diagnoses. If my psychiatrist, a licensed mental health professional who has been in this practice for over 20 years, who has seen a crazy number of people with mental illnesses of all kinds and levels, says that I should qualify for SSI no question, I think you should take his word for it. I don’t put on a face for him, I don’t put all of my energy into faking being okay for him. He knows my illnesses and how they affect me more than you ever will. So chill out when someone is on welfare and you don’t think they need it. You honestly wouldn’t always know.