Applying for disability

Help! My friends mom is at her whit’s end. Her son is 34, bipolar and schizophrenic diagnosis. He has been in a psycisos episode for over a month now. She has been talking to me about how he has been denied SS or disability because he has not been hospitalized 3 times in a year. I have tried to help her, but am hitting a wall!

Does anyone know the laws in CA regarding this? Is there anything we can do? Mom is 72, dad is 75 and they are very worried about passing and leaving him without care.

No direct experience, but indirect knowledge from a paralegal I’ve known for years. There are two Federal programs SSI and SSDI which are administered by Social Security, and SDI which is a California specific program. I can’t speak to SDI, but my understanding is SSI and SSDI are rarely granted at first application. The general advice I’d heard is hiring a lawyer experienced in working with the Social Security Administration is your best path to receiving benefits. Granted, this information comes from a law office, but even with legal help I understand claims often take months or years, not days and weeks to be processed.

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It is common for people to be denied social security benefits even when they are legitimate claims of disability because the decision on whether someone is able to work is so difficult to judge in cases of mental illness. There are lawyers who specialize in helping people apply for SSI/SSDI and they are only paid if the claim is won.
I recommend your friends mom read the book, “Planning for the Future providing a meaningful life for a child with a disability after your death” by L. Mark Russell et. al.
The book is a bit outdated, but it offers a detailed description of the Social Security benefit system along with some good advice for setting up a special needs trust. The book features examples of people with developmental disabilities as well as serious mental illness.
I found it very useful in trying to get a handle on this complex topic. It is a primary concern for most parents in this situation.


My son was approved for SSI in California on his second application attempt, without an attorney. I’m not familiar with a hospitalization requirement under SSI. His initial application was early in his illness. The county p-doc saw him once and did not deem him sufficiently disabled (what a farce); this likely was cause for denial. I don’t recall what his p-doc under private insurance at the time submitted.

Two years later I tried again. By then he had been hospitalized four times over the two years. He was no longer being provided services by the county, but had a new p-doc under private insurance. I contacted an attorney and he thought my son had a good case for approval. He thought we didn’t need his help yet and suggested we just reapply. So I asked my son’s p-doc to complete the dr’s questionnaire, confirming the diagnosis of scz. Reading that completed questionnaire just about broke my heart. But the attorney was right; the application was approved.

I suggest checking out the state’s SSDI/SSI website if you haven’t already done so: SSDI/SSI. The local NAMI chapter should have some resources. Also, your friend’s parents might want to just call around to local disability attorney’s offices and try to get an informational appointment. I’ve spoken to three attorneys and a paralegal at different offices with no charge this way. They won’t get a lot of time with them but may get good information to add to their understanding of disability benefits and services. Good luck.

You can appeal when social security is denied. There may be local organization providing free legal help with the social security application/appeal. In my area that organization is called Mental Health Advocates. Hospitalization is not necessary for SS, but having a treatment history helps, if he has not been receiving treatment for his illness, it is more difficult. Check also for a NAMI chapter in your area. They can offer a lot of helpful information on what is available in your area–and perhaps support groups that are helpful. Your friend’s mom should be sure to have herself or someone responsible named as a payee so the SS money does not go directly to her son, but is managed by someone who can make good decisions and see that living expenses are paid.