At White Bird, our SOAR-trained Public Benefits Advocate provides assistance to eligible individuals in completing thorough, quality SSDI/SSI applications. The focus is on individuals who are homeless and at risk of homelessness who experience mental health and/or physical health conditions. These services are offered free of charge.
A screening process helps to determine potential eligibility based on many various factors like work history, income, marital status, and resources. The application itself can take a couple of hours to fill out, and it’s important to have all the information ready prior to applying. Potential clients should anticipate meeting with the Benefits Advocate 3-5 times before actually completing the application.
The Benefits Advocate can assist clients in obtaining information, but it will make things go faster if the client has the following information:
- List of medical sources that have treated the client, with strong focus on the last two years’ records
- Sources can include: primary care doctors, hospitals and ERs, behavioral health hospitals, mental health counselors, psychiatrists, corrections facilities, education records, vocational rehab or job training programs, social services agencies
- A list of tests or procedures ordered (x-rays, MRIs, mental health assessments, etc.)
- A list of medications prescribed (if applicable)
- The last 15 years’ work history
What the Public Benefits Advocate Can Do:
- Acts as a representative on the claim – allows the benefits advocate to speak to the Social Security Administration and Disability Determination Services (SSA and DDS) on the client’s behalf. Also receives copies of all correspondence sent to the claimant; can be a consistent point contact person for SSA/DDS.
- Requests medical records with the claimant’s permission.
- Assists the claimant in navigating the disability application process, including help filling out reports and responding to requests from SSA/DDS.
- Makes referrals for other White Bird programs/services, as well as other community resources
- Helps claimants file a reconsideration for a denied claim (for clients who have already filed an initial claim with the benefits advocate)
- Make referrals to disability attorneys when appropriate (reconsiderations and Administrative Law Judge hearings).
What the Benefits Advocate Can’t Do:
- Cannot do it without the client! It is vital that the client stays involved in the process and maintains communication with the Benefits Advocate. MANY disability claims get denied simply because the claimant does not maintain contact or respond to requests from SSA/DDS
- Cannot guarantee approval on a claim. We screen clients for various eligibility factors and work with people who have a strong chance of being approved, but it is SSA/DDS that makes a determination of disability status.
- Cannot “expedite” or otherwise speed up the process. We can help the claimant put together a complete application and proactively fill out reports in advance of them being requested, but the agencies that make the decisions are often dealing with a backlog of applications and sometimes things move slowly.
- Cannot see into SSA’s or DDS’s systems or files. The benefits advocate does not work for SSA or other governmental agencies; the benefits advocate can communicate SSA/DDS and confirm that these agencies have what they need, but does not have direct access to the records.
- Cannot help apply for other benefits/services – SSI/SSDI only. (No Section 8, housing/rental assistance, SNAP, energy assistance, phones, IDs, birth certificates, etc.)
*SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR) is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and is a national program designed to increase access to the disability income benefit programs administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) for eligible adults who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness and have a serious mental illness, medical impairment, and/or a co-occurring substance use disorder.
For more information and to set up an appointment, please contact Meaghan Taylor, Public Benefits Advocate, at 541-246-2334 or firstname.lastname@example.org.