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Understanding Social Security Disability Insurance

By Tai Venuti

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is an important topic that has received a lot of attention recently. Unfortunately, the information people get isn’t always correct or current. The Social Security Administration (SSA) is closing offices and reducing public access just as the demand for information and services related to SSDI is growing.

The SSA processed nearly 3.2 million disability applications last year. Despite this unprecedented increase, earlier this year, SSA field offices began closing to the public at noon on Wednesdays. This move came on the heels of the SSA’s November 2012 announcement that field offices would close to the public daily at 3 p.m., 30 minutes earlier than previous office hours.

At Allsup, the demand for SSDI information is evident in the average 10,000 calls a month placed to our Disability Evaluation Center. What is even more telling is the fact that only four to six percent of those callers are eligible for SSDI benefits. By calling Allsup, callers are taking a step toward increasing their disability literacy.

What is disability literacy?

Disability literacy is the ability to obtain, process and understand basic information regarding finances, healthcare and available resources needed to adapt to change and anticipate, prepare for and overcome physical, financial, spiritual and mental challenges resulting from a disability.

For individuals with mental illness, understanding SSDI as well as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a major part of disability literacy. The groundbreaking Surgeon General’s report on Mental Health: Culture, Race and Ethnicity stated that the most effective service system is one that combines a full range of treatment options. SSDI and SSI are important sources of income support, access to health insurance and job training (through the Ticket to Work program).

  • As of December 2010, a mental disorder other than intellectual disability was the primary reason disabled workers received benefits (Social Security Administration, 2011).
  • The NAMI HelpLine receives 8,000 to 10,000 calls a year related to difficulty people have in getting their Social Security disability benefits (NAMI, 2009).
  • Access to medical insurance through SSI or SSDI is an essential element of the comprehensive care of people with schizophrenia (NAMI, 2009).

Increasing disability literacy can empower individuals with mental illness to overcome barriers to access to treatment, continue treatment, obtain the federal benefits they deserve and minimize the negative impacts of unemployment due to disability.

*Note: Allsup is a supporter of the NAMI HelpLine.


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