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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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When should I apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income?

The two main Social Security programs that support people with disabilities are the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). You should apply for both programs as soon as you become disabled. You may be eligible for one and not the other.

It may take months or over a year to receive a decision, depending on how much time it takes to get your medical records. How soon your benefits start depends on a combination of your date of disability, date of application for disability, and type of benefits you qualify for.

Social Security Disability Insurance benefits are available to workers who have medically determinable impairments that prevent them from continuing employment. Disability under Social Security is based on one's inability to work. A high percentage of initial SSDI claims are denied but there are various levels of the appeals process. To win a claim at any level, an applicant must provide medical documentation from your doctor.

SSDI benefit eligibility is based on your work history—you must have worked enough to have earned credits to be eligible. A disabled individual under the age of 65 must receive disability benefits from Social Security for 24 months before being eligible for Medicare.

Supplemental Security Income is a program that provides monthly payments to people who have limited income and resources and are 65 years of age and older, or if they have a disability. SSI benefits are not based on your work history or that of another family member. In most states SSI recipients may also get Medicaid coverage for hospital stays, doctor's bills, medications, and other health care costs.

Visit the Social Security Administration website listed below and read over the information. You should also locate the Social Security office nearest to you as well and contact them for assistance 1-800-772-1213. Instead of going to the Social Security office, you can set up a telephone interview to start the process. Individuals with paralysis transferring to rehabilitation centers in other states can set up a telephone interview in their home state using the number listed above.

Below are some helpful links specific to Social Security:

Allsup, Inc.Allsup, Inc. is a legal firm that attempts to make the Social Security disability process "less confusing, less intimidating and more convenient for people with disabilities."

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Social Security and Disability (PDF)

Disability.govserves as the official government website on disability resources for the public. It was created by the federal government to serve as the single online point-of-reference for information and programs related to disability. The site is managed across all federal agencies under the New Freedom Initiative.

The National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ RepresentativesThe National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR) provides representation and advocacy on behalf of persons who are seeking Social Security and Supplemental Security Income.

Social Security AdministrationThe official website for the U.S. Social Security Administration.

Social Security Disability InformationThe Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs are the largest of several Federal programs that provide assistance to people with disabilities.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

The information provided in the Paralysis Resource Center was supported by Cooperative Agreement number 1U59DD000838-01 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the Reeve Foundation and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC.