10 Tips for Filling out an SSA Benefits Application When You Have a Brain Injury
10 Tips for Filling out an SSA Benefits Application When You Have a Brain Injury

Categories: Benefits & Assistance Programs

A photo of Cheryl Green

By Cheryl Green, Filmmaker and Blogger at Who Am I To Stop It

If you have had a brain injury or you know someone with a brain injury, you’ve got some insider information when it comes to filling out multi-page forms and applications: it’s really hard to keep track of all the pages and pieces! If it’s an application for Social Security benefits, then there are a lot of pages and pieces on your plate. And every single one is critical.

Social Security benefits applications are lengthy. A lot of people applying for benefits feel stress directly from their disability or because their finances are strained. Stress can make anyone forgetful or sloppy. If you are already forgetful, disorganized or have trouble keeping track of steps, you need some good strategies before your start an important process like this.

  1. Make your own master list or chart to keep track of everything you need to write down, collect and send to Social Security Administration (SSA). Note the due dates for sending those things in. Check things off when you have sent them in! That way you won’t wonder if you really did send them or only dreamed it.
  1. Keep all the letters from Social Security and your representative (such as a lawyer or other kind of representative) in a safe place. These are not the kind of papers you want to just stick in your regular piles. Store them carefully so you can find them quickly.

  1. Get someone to help you. It’s not cheating. You will answer all the questions from your own experience. The person helping you can check to make sure you answered every question. Take it from me, it is actually normal for us people with brain injuries to forget our own story. There is a lot to recall and put into the application and you need to be thorough.
  1. Read every bit of paperwork SSA sends you. I mean every bit. If you can’t read, can’t read well or are not able to pay attention and remember what you read, go back to step #3. Get someone to help you!
  1. ALWAYS flip over SSA letters and read the back. There is very helpful information there. That’s where they give instructions on how to appeal your case if you disagree with something SSA decided. You should appeal, not start a brand new application if you disagree with the decision. Appeals have deadlines, too. Put those dates on your master list or chart.
  1. Keep on top of all of those due dates. SSA has to be serious about their deadlines because the application process is complex and a lot of people apply. Don’t miss them. You don’t automatically get an extension for being forgetful, confused or feeling spacey, even if those are some main reasons why you might be applying!
  1. Recognize that the bigger and more complex a task is, the harder it is to keep track and finish it (or even start it). Break things down into manageable pieces and steps and complete each step.
  1. If it is difficult for you to keep control over your emotions, be aware that this process can bring up a lot of feelings for some people. You have to write about all the doctors and clinicians you have seen, the impairments you have and the daily challenges from your disability. Not everyone enjoys doing that.
  1. When your representative or doctor tells you something that you need for your benefits claim, get it in writing. For some people, audio recordings may be helpful. That way, if you forget the details, you still have a record.
  1. If you don’t know who can help you, check with a family member or close friend who knows you well. Also, the state Brain Injury Alliances and Associations often recommend lawyers and agencies who specialize in working with our population. Sometimes an Independent Living Center in your area can help out.

Because our disabilities often include cognitive, physical, emotional and sensory challenges, we sometimes have a harder time filling out long applications than it seems like we should. We require lots of patience and understanding, lots of repetition and, well, lots of repetition. So as you fill out your application, give yourself structure by setting out all the pieces and deadlines before you start. Review them as you go along so you don’t miss anything.

What I find important is that after a brain injury, your impairments do not make you a weak, needy or incomplete person. If you are too impaired to hold a full-time job right now, that may or may not be true in a couple years down the road for some people. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself and get or keep stable housing and supportive people around you. If you choose to apply for Social Security benefits, then keep in mind that if SSA determines you have a disability, that does not mean you are a less valuable person in the community.

Cheryl Green, MFA, MS integrates her degrees in performing arts and speech-language pathology to explore how story can be used to break down stigma and barriers through film, blogging and podcasting. After a traumatic brain injury in 2010, she began making films that combine personal narrative and self-advocacy to create dynamic, artistic tools for disability justice. She is on the board of Disability Art and Culture Project and served on the board of Brain-injury Information Referral and Resource Development (BIRRDsong). She volunteers with National Black Disability Coalition. Cheryl also blogs about disability in film and media at www.WhoAmIToStopIt.com and podcasts at www.BlogTalkRadio.com/brainreels

22 Responses to 10 Tips for Filling out an SSA Benefits Application When You Have a Brain Injury

  1. dianne says:

    i was diagnosed at age 16 1/2 years old boston mass general Hos
    with brain disfunction could not read spell or write took many years to
    learn had trouble finding work i could do suffered a lot emotionally
    became homeless living in my car when husbend passed away i was told by my mother to go to get ssi because of disability i started this prosess on my own 2006 and BOY! do i have a tail to tell it takes me long time to type i will use audio when i am ready I WANT TO THANK ALL OF YOU FOLKS FOR SHARING YOUR EXPERIENCES IT HELP ME SO MUCH DIANNE.

  2. Rsa says:

    I get ssd each month, I suffer from 6 different issues with my health. Most days it takes every ounce of my being just to get out of bed every day. My husband works and it use to be enough but I am trying to force myself to do something away from house each week and want to know how my benefits will be affected if :
    I work when I’m forceably able what is the monthly amount I can work without loosing my benefits?
    My illness is not going to get better but will continue to deterate and will not be able to keep working. Its depressing, discouraging and people don’t understand. So, if anyone can tell me how much each month I can earn w/o jeperdise the benefits I am receiving that would be great, cause who knows no one my hire me anyway!
    Thank you

  3. T. Brian L. says:

    I suffer from epilepsy. Whether it was caused by an injury or high fever is un-attainable. I’m in the middle of my fifth attempt for SSI, as well as my second lawyer. I don’t feel that he is putting forth much effort. We are into the seventh week of application and still no news… according to him. My ex-wife is getting ready to vacate me from the house, that’s right I live with them but not for long. I will be on street and my lawyer sends me information about shelters and centers for men? This is not the positive information I’m looking for.

  4. Howard S. says:

    SSI is an unfortunate process. But then consider all the non disabled persons looking to collect on government aid. I think this process has evolved from doctors telling people they have conditions that don’t exist because they couldn’t get paid by insurance companies unless they had a name for a condition and lacked the depth of training to refer folks to someone else. I think the first application is so stressful to weed out those who really haven’t a disability. Unfortunately it becomes stressful for everyone who really needs it. So, within six month of the first denial apply again, and them contact an attorney. Some attorneys do “pro bono work” or will prorate their services. Check with all your community resources, including Catholic Community Services and other faith based resources. CCS built a ramp for free on my mom’s mobile. You just never know what assistance exists until you check out everything.

    • James L. says:

      Howard, you are absolutely right, SSI is a very unfortunate process. The only problem is, the only discrimination that takes place is against the truly disabled. The people playing the system, say and do all the right things, the truly disabled may not, and are ill prepared to fight. When you have medical people being over ruled by people with no medical back ground, there is truly an unfortunate situation.

  5. Elle says:

    Hi Cheryl- You are doing a v importamt thing for
    the disabled community. I for one am grateful and only wish
    I had seen your blog earlier.
    Presently, I am awaiting a date to go befor an ALJ due to a ‘mild’ TBI& several other disabling factord. Meanwhile, I have found that part of tge reason I was denied SS benefits is that I did not fill out
    everything they asked. This is just ONE example of the TBI effects I suffer from. Ive been to neurolgists gor help who tell me to do SUDOKO which I cannit do. Ive contacted TBI rehab centers but my injuries are not serious dnough to admit me. I want to help muself. Can you recommend an outpatient centet to help me in S Florida please? I cant read well, I cant count well, Im missing 20k & fear others take advantage. Suggestions?

  6. HEIDI H. says:

    I had to give up working 2000-2001 due to my Episodic Ataxia Type 2. I filed for SS. I went to their Neuro at Dayton VA hospital He said I had EA2 – -this was after I had already given them the info from Ohio State Hospital – Cleveland Clinic. My work history included manager of two different store – a buyer at another and reg worker at another. I tried to explain that I live on a farm in small town; not Dayton. The person who says what jobs I should be able to still do said I could stuff envelopes. lol I did not have a lawyer. I really thought that as long as you went in and told the truth and had all the necessary paperwork. Including their own neruologists was all i needed. Guess what – – about 2005 they said i would have to refile. My husband said the stress was to much for me as it just makes my ea2 worse. But, I am now considering reapplying. This will come in handy, I will have a lawyer this time. Maybe they run it like the VA these days.

  7. Demita Jo B. says:

    Help me please
    Brain damage an 18 wheeler accident
    Someone help me please ?

  8. Howard S. says:

    Nothings impossible. I’ve had a TBI for over 40 years. I’m telling my story and advocating for inclusive community for everyone whose met up with a calamity. You’ve got some condition, apply your knowledge to changing the culture. I’m writing about museums and compliance issues under the ADA. Sure I’ve the head aches, I’ve found ways to deal with all my other problems. A lap top computer helps. Oh and here’s a good one, Did you know you can attend college? What better place to affect change. Pick a topic, and help the cause. Check out the history of the disability rights movement online, it all started out with returning veterans from WWI. Have fun.

  9. WIllIAM D. says:

    español / soy descapacitado quiero mudarme para new jersey Essex east orange a y esta mi familia a una casa o apt no es gratis es conforme a la ley del estado nj tengo aprobado mi SS y pencion de gov. de PUERTO RICO gracias la ayuda anticipada

  10. carol s. says:

    had head injurgy at 8 years old, fractured skull, and mental disabilitys, eating disorders

  11. RICHIE T. says:


    • Howard S. says:

      Hi Richie. You can file a fraud complaint. I’d go to several places to file on this person. Department of Justice has a complaint feature on their web site. usdoj.gov. and I’d file with the Social Security Administration. Next I’d file a complaint with your state attorney general office. I mention the last one because they helped me resolve an ID theft problem in three months, even though all the players were out of state. Don’t give up, just stay on top of the process. Your’s is probably not the first time someone has committed fraud on a relative.

  12. James L. says:

    Ten more rules for Social Security Disability in General

    1 SSD is something you pay into as a form of insurance, it is no longer your money, it is their money, and they will decide if they want to give it to you, and , they usually don’t want to.

    2 You have Life Insurance, Car Insurance, and Health Insurance which is optional and pays when you die, or an accident, or when you are sick. SSD is mandatory, and yet it is recommended that you get a lawyer if you want to collect.

    3 The disabled person pays the Lawyer, the person that can least afford it.

    4 The Veterans Administration has taken allot of heat over letting Veterans Die without getting treated. SSD is very similar, people have died without getting their benefits. I guess when they were dying they were able to work.

    5 When you go to SSD, the person filling out your form may not be very competent. Don’t allow them to leave anything blank, if they say it will be taken care of at a later time, they may be lying.

    6 The ALJ has the unique ability of combining sentences from differant years so that he may deny you. He may deny your claim on things you don’t even claim.

    7 If you call SSD and they say your claim is being reviewed, and you keep calling over the next two years and they say it is being reviewed, IT MEANS THEY LOST IT.

    8 IF you suffer from something that didn’t exist 30yrs ago, was discovered 20yrs ago and SSD found out about it 20 yrs ago and realized it could prevent you from being gainfully employed, they probably still haven’t updated their ADULT LISTING.( ie Hematological 974P)

    9 SAVE ALL YOUR MEDICAL RECORDS and make your doctor write down all your complaints, aches pains, malaise and fatigue etc.

    10 You may be in it for the long haul, 9yrs, 8000 pages of medical records and still fighting. If legally I could stop paying FICA, I would

  13. Catheryn says:

    Hi this me Catheryn S. I am deaf Person, I went to ssi office to give her dr letter. I sk them to give me file disable fill out. They won’t give me. . Why my dr say I can’t able to work. Yes I get ssi benefit. I want to change to ssa or ssdi rom ssi I had problem with panic disorderd and other. How I can get file disable paper to fill out. Thanks

    • Patricia T says:

      Go straight to the website and registered with a user name and password and they will give you an access code. They do not issue these in paper form
      It is MUCH easier to do this on line as it give you ALL the space you need too ALL diagnoses, medications and doctor information
      Approach it with a detail detail detail mindset and you will be successful

  14. LA says:

    As a person with a disability for over 25 years and since the ripe age of sixteen, I cannot emphasize using resources in your local area or finding a CIL( Center for Independent Living). The task can be long and daunting. Also as a disability advocate, you are not alone with your disability! Reach out to someone and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

    • Cheryl Green says:

      Yes! Attempting the benefits application process alone isn’t a wise idea. Many lawyers don’t work with someone on their first application. They wait until it’s an appeal. But you can always try a lawyer. The CILs are always a great place to start.

  15. Ruth W. says:

    I have left lobe damage, speech, balance and memory. I have received S.S.I. state bnenifits for 31 years. I get $881 I think and It is so hard to live and sirvive.

    • Cheryl Green says:

      It is hard to make it on that amount of money. That’s absolutely true. It’s a rock and a hard place for sure.

  16. Tai says:

    Thanks for the practical and helpful advice, Cheryl.

    • Cheryl Green says:

      You’re very welcome! I got the info from interviewing a Social Security lawyer in my town named Cheryl Coon. I added in my own experiences and experiences I watched my friends have as they applied. Together, I think we covered most of the tough stuff!