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Obtaining SSDI benefits for mental conditions

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Many residents of Charlotte who suffer from a mental disorder believe that they are not eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits. This belief is unfortunate because persons who suffer from disabling mental or emotional illnesses share the same eligibility for SSDI benefits as individuals who suffer from visible and obvious injuries, such as the loss of a limb.

All applicants for SSDI benefits must prove two things: (a) they suffer from a condition caused by an illness or injury that prevents them from working and (b) the illness or injury is permanent or expected to result in death within 12 months. Proving these two facts is difficult for mental illness patients because, as noted, mental conditions rarely offer any external manifestation of their presence. Instead, a disabling mental condition can be proved only by the applicant’s personal testimony and the professional opinion of one or more health care providers who have treated the applicant. While this barrier may seem high, it is not insuperable.

Consider, for example, depressive, bipolar and related disorders. The Social Security Administration’s list of conditions that can be considered as the basis for an award of SSDI benefits says that such disorders are characterized by “an irritable, depressed, elevated or expansive mood” or by a loss of interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities. These changes cannot be precisely measured, but their presence can be verified by credible eyewitnesses and health care providers. Most people who are affected by bipolar disorder have friends who can testify to their mood swings and disabling depression. A careful presentation of medical records and personal testimony can establish all of the elements necessary to qualify for SSDI benefits.

Proving the existence of a mental illness can be difficult. In many cases, the services of an attorney who is experienced in presenting such evidence to the SSA or a field hearing examiner can significantly improve the chances of a favorable ruling on the benefits application.

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