Mental illness and SSDI what do I need to know?

Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “I have suffered from PTSD and depression for several years following my tour in Iraq. I have tried to get a job but can’t seem to function in a work environment due to my mental illness. I am wondering whether I might qualify for disability benefits. I hate the thought of being on the government dole, but I don’t have any other options. Can you help me?”

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Mental Illness and SSDI overview

Unfortunately, winning benefits for Social Security Disability Insurance for a mental illness can be quite a bit more difficult than winning for a physical condition. While most physical conditions can be verified with blood tests, medical procedures, X-rays, MRIs, or any other host of medical tests, a mental illness is often subjective.

Yes, there are tests and some objective methods for diagnosing a patient, but in the end, many of the symptoms can only be documented by the patient and may be a bit subjective.

What are my options for disability benefits?

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is offered to claimants who have a physical or mental health condition which is expected to last for 12 continuous months and is so severe it does not allow the claimant to work. To qualify for benefits claimants must also have work and earned credits and be insured for SSDI benefits.

So, what are your options if you have PTSD and depression and cannot work? The first step is to review the requirements for SSDI and make sure you can qualify. For example, is your condition expected to last 12 months? Do you have sufficient work credits? Are you able to perform any type of work?

After you have reviewed the requirements for SSDI, you will need to talk to your mental health doctor. Find out if they think your condition is severe and limits your ability to work. Also, ask them if they are willing to help you ensure you have the medical evidence to prove your case.

For example, although your doctor will not help complete your SSDI application, they may be willing to provide detailed information about your ability to work on a form, referred to as a mental residual functional capacity form. This form, in conjunction with other medical evidence, can substantially improve your chances of winning your case.

What is the easiest way to win SSDI for a mental illness?

The SSA does recognize some mental conditions as disabling health. In fact, they have a list in their Listing of Impairments, Listing 12.00, Mental Disorders, which documents the mental health conditions and their corresponding symptoms that they believe are automatically disabling. The listing includes the following conditions:

  • Affective Disorders
  • Intellectual disability
  • Anxiety related disorders
  • Somatoform disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Autistic disorder and other pervasive developmental disorders
  • Organic mental disorders
  • Schizophrenic, paranoid and other psychotic disorders

By far the simplest way to win SSDI for a mental illness is to have a condition and symptoms which “meet or exceed” one of the listed conditions.

If your condition does not meet or exceed a listing you may still qualify for benefits but you will have to prove through a medical vocational allowance that your mental illness is so severe you cannot work.

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