April | 2019 | White Bird Clinic

Public Benefits Assistance with SSI/SSDI Applications

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 us.

Crisis 101

Responding to someone in crisis can be difficult, and knowing someone is suicidal can be scary, especially when we’re not sure how to respond. For many of us, our natural reactions to crisis can quickly escalate a situation and make things worse. That’s why professional crisis workers seek out training and practice crisis intervention strategies so that they’re prepared to navigate a crisis situation and offer support. When we develop a plan for offering support in crisis situations, it is more likely we will not go into crisis ourselves when assisting someone.

Often, for those experiencing suicidal thoughts, help can be as simple as having someone to talk to. For many, social isolation, history of trauma, mental health issues, or belonging to historically oppressed groups can lead to periods of suicidal ideation. But how do you know if someone is experiencing suicidal ideation? Often there may be signs of suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

Some warning signs of suicidal ideation can include:

  • Threatening to hurt or kill oneself
  • Seeking access to means to hurt or kill oneself
  • Talking, thinking or writing about death, dying or suicide
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Withdrawing from family, friends or society
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge, appearing agitated or angry
  • Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live, or being a burden to others
  • Making a plan or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
  • Talking about great guilt or shame
  • Feeling unbearable pain (emotional pain or physical pain)
  • Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
  • Giving away important possessions

If these warning signs apply to you or someone you know, get help as soon as possible, particularly if the behavior is new or has increased recently. Suicidal ideation is complex and there is no single cause, people of all genders, ages, and ethnicities can be at risk. In fact, many different factors contribute to someone making a suicide attempt. But people most at risk tend to share certain characteristics known as risk factors.

Often, family and friends are the first to recognize the warning signs of suicidal ideation and can be the first to assist in reaching out and getting help. Showing someone who may be experiencing a crisis that you care can make a world of difference in their life. Know how to start the conversation. Know how to ask, “Are you suicidal?” Know how to say, “I’m here for you,” and really mean it. Be aware of resources available in your community like the White Bird Crisis Line, CAHOOTS Mobile Crisis Services or the Help Book.

Risk Factors vs. Protective Factors

Characteristic and attribute that reduce the likelihood of attempting or completing suicide are known as Protective Factors. They are skills, strengths, or resources that help people deal more adequately with stressful events. Protective Factors enhance resilience and help to counterbalance Risk Factors.

Protective Factors:

  • Effective clinical care for mental, physical, and substance abuse disorders
  • Easy access to a variety of clinical interventions and support for help seeking
  • Family and community support (connectedness)
  • Support from ongoing medical and mental health care relationships
  • Skills in problem solving, conflict resolution, and nonviolent ways of handling disputes
  • Cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide and support instincts for self-preservation

Risk factors impact our ability to manage high stress situations. Being aware of these factors can assist if you are in crisis or helping someone in crisis.

Risk Factors:

  • Being exposed to others’ suicidal behavior, such as that of family members, peers, or celebrities
  • Depression, other mental disorders, or substance abuse disorder
  • Certain medical conditions
  • Chronic pain
  • A prior suicide attempt
  • Family history of a mental disorder or substance abuse
  • Family history of suicide
  • Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
  • Having guns or other firearms in the home
  • Having recently been released from prison or jail

Suicidal thoughts can come on at any time like a tidal wave. Like a tidal wave, suicidal thoughts can leave a wake of destruction in their path.  It is important for someone experiencing these strong thoughts and emotions to have an anchor during one these episodes. Suicidal ideation can make it seem like death is the only way out in that moment. Our rational mind may not be able to see any other solution when amid suicidal ideation. If we can help someone ride out the wave until they receive professional help, the likelihood of suicide is greatly reduced. Below are 10 steps to assist you in helping someone in crisis.

Ten Steps to Help a Person in Crisis

Step 1. Encourage the person to communicate with you.

Step 2. Be respectful and acknowledge the person’s feelings.

Step 3. Don’t be patronizing or judgmental.

Step 4. Never promise to keep someone’s suicidal feelings a secret.

Step 5. Offer reassurance that things can get better.

Step 6. Encourage the person to avoid alcohol and drug use.

Step 7. Remove potentially dangerous items from the person’s home, if possible.

Step 8. Encourage the person to call a suicide hotline number. You as the helper can also call.

Step 9. Encourage the person to seek professional help.

Step 10. Offer to help the person take steps to get assistance and support.

For our 24/7 CAHOOTS mobile crisis services, call the police non-emergency numbers 541-726-3714 (Springfield) and 541-682-5111 (Eugene). For our 24/7 crisis hotline, call 541-687-4000 or toll free at 1-800-422-7558.