Caring for a physically and/or mentally disabled child can be not only emotionally demanding, but financially devastating. Fortunately, there are financial resources available for income-eligible disabled children in the form of Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is a federal benefit program administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA).
To find that a child is disabled and eligible for SSI, the Social Security Administration (SSA) must conclude that the child:
- has a physical or mental condition that seriously limits the child’s activities
- that the condition has lasted, or is expected to last, at least 12 consecutive months, and
- meets certain household income and asset eligibility requirements.
Benefits are also available to children with visual impairments, if the impairment meets the SSA’s guidelines.
While the SSA does offer assistance in applying for disability benefits for a child, there are certain situations where obtaining legal help is advisable or necessary. For instance, if the SSA denies your child SSI benefits, you should consider contacting an experienced disability attorney for assistance in appealing the SSA’s decision. In addition, there are other, often overlooked reasons to hire an attorney when you're applying for SSI for your child.
What Will an Attorney Do for My Child’s Case?
Perhaps one of the most important reasons to hire an attorney to handle your child’s case is that it will relieve you of most of the work that will have to be done. Getting disability for a child requires substantial evidence. Sometimes additional or specialized testing will have to be ordered, as well. These tasks can be time-consuming and overwhelming for a parent who is already caring for a disabled child. If you hire an attorney, he or she, along with the firm’s staff, will handle most of these tasks.
Mental disabilities and disorders. Children with significant learning disabilities, low IQs, or other mental disorders (such as depression, autism, and drug dependence) can qualify for disability; however, the tests, reports, and medical opinions needed to prove that a child’s mental disability meets the SSA’s standards for approval are complicated. They also vary based on the child’s age.
An attorney will know what records are important for the SSA to see for your child's age and condition, and will contact the necessary school officials and medical providers to obtain relevant records. The attorney will also review the records to see what additional information may be needed and whether the records contain evidence that may not be helpful to the claim. If the attorney discovers “bad facts,” he or she is skilled at how to address them in a manner that is both ethical and the least harmful to the case.
To measure cognitive abilities, the SSA will accept only tests that are “standardized measures of academic achievement.” An experienced disability attorney will review your child’s file to determine whether any additional testing is needed to satisfy the SSA’s requirements. An attorney may also be able to get the SSA to administer any additional tests the child may need (for example IQ tests.) Additionally, an attorney will communicate with the educational or medical professionals that work with the child to help get any written opinions needed to support the claim.
Physical disabilities. Children can receive benefits for myriad physical disabilities. Here are just a few examples:
- cystic fibrosis
- growth impairments
- disorders of the spine
- visual and hearing loss
- chronic liver disease
- kidney disorders, and
- heart transplants.
Each condition has specific, and usually complicated, criteria that must be met in order to qualify for disability; additionally, the SSA will only accept certain types of medical evidence, depending on the child's condition. If you hire a disability attorney, he or she will review the specific details of the medical evidence the SSA needs to approve the claim. Your attorney will then communicate with any hospitals, doctors’ offices, or other testing or treatment facilities to obtain additional records that may be needed. Once he or she receives the records, the attorney will review them carefully and submit them to the SSA for you. You attorney will also tell you if your child needs any further testing.
Also, supporting opinions from your child's treating physicians are vital to winning the claim. If your child's doctor is unwilling to provide you with a supporting statement, your attorney will contact the physician to discuss the matter. Sometimes an attorney is better able to understand and address a doctor's reluctance to help a patient with a disability claim. This may make the doctor more willing to help.
If you are unsure about whether your child has a condition that may qualify for disability, an attorney will review the case and determine if he or she may be eligible. You can also visit our website to learn more about how to qualify for disability based on your child’s specific medical conditions.
Speeding Up the Process
Hiring an attorney does not necessarily mean you will get a faster decision in your child’s case. However, one common reason that claims are initially denied is that the disability claimant (or claimant's parent) did not provide enough information needed to prove the disability. An experienced disability attorney will review your file carefully to make sure that you submit the correct evidence. This can increase the chance that your child’s claim will be approved without having to go to a hearing.
At the Hearing Level
Having an experienced disability attorney represent your child at the hearing level will significantly increase your child's chances of an approval. This is because a successful hearing requires significant preparation, a thorough understanding of the issues, and the ability to ask the SSA's vocational expert the right questions. Also, an experienced disability attorney is familiar and comfortable with the process, which will allow him or her to prepare you and your child for the hearing.
Contacting a Disability Attorney
Getting disability benefits for your child can be difficult because the evidence needed to support a child’s claim is frequently complex. An experienced disability attorney will be able to review your child’s claim and advise you as to how to get the best outcome possible.