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For many with mental illness, SSDI/SSI is essential


The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program is, as its name implies, a disability program for those who worked. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provides similar support for those who have never worked. For SSDI, some applicants are denied benefits because their disabling medical condition does not meet the statutory standard, which requires that they have been out of work at least 12 months or suffer from a terminal condition.

It is not an unemployment program, and while some applicants might be forgiven for making this mistake, lawmakers should know better. Virtually every discussion of how to "fix" SSDI includes statements like, "Those who are already on the program could be given more support in efforts to return to work."


While it sounds like a noble goal, for many beneficiaries, it is a nonstarter. They are too sick or suffer too severe a mental impairment to presume they could find work. A large percentage of those on SSI do suffer from types of mental illness. One writer puts the number at one-third of the 13 million on SSDI/SSI.

He notes this is not surprising, because if a young person is diagnosed with intellectual development/developmental disabilities (ID/DD), they are likely to never leave the program. This is unlike those with fatal diseases, like lung cancer or heart disease, who are likely to die due to their condition.

This leaves a larger proportion of those with mental impairments within the program as time passes. However, because they may never qualify for work, the benefits they receive from the program are even more essential.

Congress must recognize that while "back to work" programs may help some within the SSDI/SSI programs, those programs are complex and costly to administer and would require increased funding, not less. And even with the maximum participation of those who could benefit, it would be unlikely sufficient to solve the funding shortfall issue.

Source:, "We must address the threats to SSI and SSDI," Ron Manderscheid, September 20, 2015

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