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Disability Benefits and How to Apply

Disability Benefits and How to Apply
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BY STEVE NUBIE

You can receive monthly compensation from the Federal Government if you are disabled, but the process is complex and takes time.

Many people 50 and over find that a disability severely interferes with their life, lifestyle and ability to work. If you qualify you can receive financial support from the Social Security Administration, and the Veterans Administration if you served in the military in a foreign war.

The rules and requirements for qualifying for disability from any government agency are both specific and strict. They will require you to fully disclose all factors contributing to the disability, all medical records, contact information for all doctors and hospitals who have both diagnosed and treated the disability, an interview and a review period that can take from 3 to 5 months in the case of Social Security Disability and 5 to 8 months for Aid and Attendance.   The good news is that payments are retroactive to the date of application in the case of VA Aid and Attendance.

Here are some key links to apply to these programs, a snapshot of the process and some of the critical rules and regulations.

Applying for Social Security Disability

To begin with, here’s a link to the Social Security website to get you started on an application for disability benefits: www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability.

This page and others can you provide you with specific details of the program, worksheets, qualification factors, locations of local Social Security offices and answers to common questions about Social Security Disability. You should also probably call or visit your local Social Security office to make sure you qualify. The process is tedious and time-consuming and you don’t want to go through all the work to find out that a simple question could have told you that you or a loved one don’t qualify.

After you’ve assembled all of your information and completed all of your paperwork you will be interviewed by a Social Security representative either by phone or in person. The interview takes about one hour.

For the record, the Social Security Administration has very strict rules and definitions related to disability. For one, they will not pay benefits for a partial disability.  You must be incapable of doing any substantial work because of your medical condition. The conditions can be related to both physical and mental health. Also, the condition must have lasted or is expected to last at least one year or is expected to result in the death of the disabled individual.

Once you have applied, your information will be turned over to a separate agency of medical and vocational experts. They will take 3 to 5 months to review your information, contact medical providers and they may ask for a medical test. You or the person applying will not be charged for the test. Also, the process can take longer than 3 to 5 months if your information is incomplete or medical providers are hard to contact.

If you qualify you will be paid under one of two programs. One is for insured workers and is called Social Security Disability Insurance, and the other is Social Security Income for individuals with little or no income or resources.

A general source for all disability programs under Social Security can be found at www.socialsecurity.gov or by phone at 1-800-772-1213 and for the hard of hearing at TTY 1-800-325-0778.

What’s important to note is that you should take the time to contact the Social Security Administration regardless of your self-assessment or your doctor’s assessment of you disability. You may be surprised to learn that you don’t have a partial disability which can disqualify you, or that your doctor’s diagnosis of a disability does fit the SSA’s definition. Either way, it worth looking into if you or a loved one are suffering from an disability.

Aid and Attendance Benefits from the Veterans Administration

The Department of Veteran Affairs offers a special benefit to war era veterans and their surviving spouses called Aid and Attendance. It’s a tax-free benefit that’s designed to provide financial assistance to cover the cost of long-term care at home, in a nursing home or an assisted living facility.

It’s intended for both veterans and surviving spouses who require the regular attendance of another person or caregiver in at least two of the daily activities of living such as bathing, dressing, eating, toileting, and travel.

Much like Social Security Disability, applying is a complex process that requires significant documentation. You can visit your local VA office and talk to a counselor to get you started and assess your eligibility, or go to some of the links we have listed to learn more.

The Aid and Attendance Benefit is considered to be the third tier of the VA’s Improved Pension. The other two tiers are known as “Basic” and “Housebound”. Each tier has its own level of benefits and qualifications. You should take the time to view the other two levels in the event you or your spouse do not qualify for A&A.  Click Here for more information about the Basic and Housebound tiers

Are you or a surviving spouse eligible for Aid and Attendance?

Any Wartime Veteran with 90 days of active duty, 1 day beginning or ending during a period of War, is eligible to apply for the Aid & Attendance Improved Pension. A ​surviving spouse(marriage must have ended due to death of the veteran) of a Wartime Veteran may also apply. The individual applying must qualify both medically and financially.

To Qualify Medically:

  • A Wartime Veteran or surviving spouse must need the assistance of another person to perform daily tasks, such as eating, dressing, undressing, taking care of the needs of nature, etc. Blind individuals, patients in a nursing home for mental or physical incapacity, or residents in an assisted living facility also qualify.
  • Eligibility must be proven by filing the proper V​eterans Application for Pension or Compensation.
  • This application will require a copy of DD-214 (see below for more information) or separation papers, Medical Evaluation from a physician, current medical issues, net worth limitations, and net income, along with out-of-pocket Medical Expenses.

To Qualify Financially:

  • An applicant must have on average less than $80,000 in assets, EXCLUDING their home and vehicles.

How to Apply for Aid and Attendance

To apply for the Aid & Attendance Improved Pension, you will need the following documents. Prepare these before making your filing.

  • Discharge/Separation Papers (DD-214). If you need to request military records, you can either fill outStandard Form 180 or, you can visit the National Archives website for further instructions on how to request military records.
  • Copy of Marriage Certificateand all marital information.
  • Copy of the Death Certificate(surviving spouses only).
  • Copy of current Social Security Award Letter(the letter that Social Security sends at the beginning of the year stating what your monthly amount will be for the following year).
  • Net Worth information, including bank accounts, CDs, Trusts, Stocks, Bonds, Annuities, etc.
  • Proof of all income from pensions, retirement, interest income from investments, annuities, etc.
  • If you are a  court-appointed guardian of the veteran or surviving spouse, a certified copy of the court order of the appointment is required.
  • Proof of insurance premiums, medications, medical bills or any other medical expenses that are not reimbursed by insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid.
  • Physician statement that includes current diagnosis, medical status, prognosis, name and address, ability to care for self, ability to travel unattended, etc. If you are a veteran in a nursing home, or a family member of a veteran in a nursing home, you can use this form as a certification of that status:  Nursing Home Status Statement.
  • Banking information for Direct Deposit of A&A monthly payments (include a voided check).
  • Employment history(does not apply if you are over 65).
  • List of all doctors and hospitals visited in the last year For a list of possible medical expenses, click here. For a medical expense report (VA Form 21P-8416), click here.

Once you have this information compiled, you will need to obtain and complete V​A Form 21-527EZ​ and/or V​A Form 21-534EZfor Special Improved benefits with Aid & Attendance. These forms can be downloaded in PDF format here:

VA Form 21-527EZ ​(For Veterans)

VA Form 21-534EZ​ (For Spouses)

Now that you have all your information, follow the instructions on Form 21-527EZ or Form 21-534EZ to file for your Aid & Attendance Improved Pension. If you need assistance with filing your paperwork, you can contact the VA. We encourage you to explore all the available options and services provided through the VA and service agencies to find the option that’s right for you and your circumstances.

Be sure to mail your application via Certified Mail “Return Receipt” to help avoid the potential of the VA stating that the application was not received. Be certain to keep a copy of the entire application for your own records as well as any other correspondence to and from the VA.

The VA has established various processing center across the country that are solely dedicated to processing applications for Improved Pension. When mailing your application, you need to make certain that you send it to the appropriate center assigned for the state where the applicant resides (the applicant is the veteran or spouse). Listed below are the correct mailing addresses by state:

AL, AR, IL, IN, KY, LA, MI, MO, MS, OH, TN, WI

Milwaukee Pension Maintenance Center Veterans Administration
5400 West National Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53214

AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, IA, ID, KS, MN, MT, ND, NE, NM, NV, OK, OR, SD, TX, UT, WA, WY

St. Paul Pension Maintenance Center Veterans Administration
1 Federal Drive, Fort Snelling
St. Paul, MN 55111-4050

CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, MA, MD, ME, NC, NH, NJ, NY, PA, PR, RI, SC, VA, VT, WV

Philadelphia Pension Maintenance Center Veterans Administration
5000 Wissahickon Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19144

Processing takes time

One thing you can expect is that it will take between 8-10 months on average​ for your application to be processed and to receive a determination letter. Due to the current backlog of claims to be processed this timeframe can be much longer. Fortunately, all benefits are retro-dated back to the original filing date.

If you or your spouse is age 90 or older, you should request the application process be expedited.  The VA’s own law states that applications for benefits for a veteran/widow age 90 or older are to be given priority. It is advised that you include a cover letter with the application noting this request.

Take your time and be patient

Don’t expect to find all of the information you need for either Social Security Disability or Aid and Attendance in a single afternoon. Make a to do list and slowly assemble your information in a folder and work towards assembling your final package and application. It may seem like a lot of work, but once you’re approved for either program it can not be canceled and in the case of Aid and Attencance, is entirely tax-free. If you need financial help and qualify it’s definitely worth the effort.

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Steve Nubie
Steve Nubie has been writing professionally for 38 years. He is a published author with 10 books to his credit, has written for CBS Entertainment for the Twilight Zone series, and has written hundreds of articles for magazines and the Internet. He has served as Chief Creative officer in the marketing and advertising industry, was an Executive career-coach, is a chef and has traveled extensively living in Asia for two years, and London for two years.