Alaska Disability Benefits: How to Qualify, Apply, and Get Approved
April 27, 2023 · 8 min read
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Millions of people across the U.S. receive disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) if they have a health condition that’s left them unable to work. Alaska residents make up a small portion of that large number, with just over 13,000 people receiving benefits in the state.
While SSA disability benefits are a vital source of income, they’re not always easy to get. That’s why we’ve created this guide. It’s full of helpful information about applying for, qualifying for, and receiving disability benefits in Alaska.
What Alaska disability program should I apply for?
Alaska isn’t one of the five states with its own disability program, but there are private and federal programs residents may be eligible to apply for:
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): SSDI is available to workers who have to leave the workforce because of a health condition. If you qualify for SSDI, you’ll receive monthly benefit payments and Medicare coverage. You need to have worked and paid taxes for years, including at least five out of the past 10 years, to qualify. The amount you receive in benefits depends on your income history and tax payment history.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI): SSI also offers monthly benefits to individuals who cannot work due to a medical condition. However, the program is an option for people who have never worked or don’t have much work history, including children. Unlike SSDI, SSI has income restrictions. Recipients also get Medicaid coverage.
Veterans disability benefits: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers disability benefits for active and retired service members. You can get these benefits in addition to both SSDI and SSI. Learn more about how to apply for VA benefits.
Private disability insurance: Private short-term and long-term disability insurance policies are an option if you have a plan before developing any disabling health conditions. Depending on your policy and plan, you can get benefits worth up to 60% of your income for months or years. Some employers have a small policy through their employers, but you can also buy them independently. Even if you qualify for a long-term private disability plan, your insurer will likely require you to apply for SSDI benefits.
The rest of the guide will focus on SSI and SSDI because they’re the benefits that Alaska residents are most likely to qualify for.
Skip the reading. See which benefits you qualify for in 2-minutes or less.
How to qualify for disability in Alaska
Qualifying for SSDI and SSI means meeting specific medical and technical criteria. The medical requirements are the same for each program, but the technical requirements differ.
Medical qualifications for SSDI and SSI
SSI and SSDI require applicants to have a health condition that makes working for at least a year impossible. To prove your condition meets the criteria, you must provide medical evidence of your diagnosis, treatments you’ve received, and the condition’s impact on your ability to work or care for yourself.
You must be 66 years old or younger (meaning below your full retirement age).
A certain number of work credits is required for SSDI. Most applicants need 40, with 20 earned within the last ten years. To verify the number of work credits you have, set up a free account mySocialSecurity account on SSA.gov. Usually, people meet the minimum requirements if they’ve been employed for at least five out of the previous ten years.
To apply for Social Security disability benefits, the first step is to fill out the main SSDI and SSI application form. You’ll also need to describe your previous work history in the work history report and how your condition impacts your daily activities in the function report. The SSA may also request other forms to help it make a decision.
Completing these forms takes time and it can be confusing, but working with a disability lawyer makes it more accessible. They can help you with questions or even complete the forms on your behalf, making your experience much less stressful.
Start your application as soon as possible and set aside a couple of hours to give yourself enough time to fully answer all application questions. Working with a disability lawyer will help, but there are some steps you should follow.
Gather your personal records. You want to provide the SSA with as much medical evidence for your condition as possible. That can include lab work, treatment plans, imaging results, doctors notes, and anything else you have. Also collect contact information for your primary care provider and any specialists you see. SSI applicants should also have proof of their income, savings, and other owned assets. (Learn more about what counts as income for SSI.)
Answer every question. Review your application a few times before submitting to ensure you’ve answered all the questions on every form. Missing questions could lead to processing delays or a denial.
Follow up with the SSA after you submit. Call the SSA to confirm they have received your application after you submit. Either you or your lawyer (if you have one) can do this.
Respond to requests from the SSA immediately. Applicants typically have up to 10 days to respond to SSA requests for additional documents or proof. Sending the documents more quickly will help you avoid delays.
If you aren’t working with a lawyer, filling out the application in-person, at an SSA office is beneficial since the staff can assist you in answering questions correctly. It’s worth noting that the SSA staff can’t offer specific advice, such as information you should include or exclude to improve your answers. That would qualify as legal advice, which only a lawyer can offer.
We recommend finding a disability lawyer when applying for disability benefits. With their guidance, you can submit the strongest application possible and avoid common mistakes — making your life a lot less stressful. A good lawyer can help you with appeals and represent you in a hearing with a judge, which most applicants must do to receive benefits.
A good disability lawyer also won’t charge any up-front fees and you won’t have to pay them at all unless you win benefits. For more advice on your application and to get matched with an experienced lawyer, fill out our 2-minute disability quiz.
What happens after you apply for disability?
Once you apply for disability benefits, the SSA will check to see if you meet the medical and technical requirements. The SSA handles the technical rules and the Disability Determination Services (DDS) in your state looks at your medical records to see if you medically qualify. The SSA may ask to talk to you over the phone and DDS might also need a medical consultative exam with one of its doctors.
As of the start of 2023, the average wait time to get a decision on your SSDI or SSI application is about six months.
Your chances of getting approved for benefits
It’s important to know going in that most SSDI and SSI applicants need to go through multiple rounds of denial and appeal before receiving benefits.
About 70% of people are denied the first time they apply. You can appeal through a process called reconsideration. The chances of winning your reconsideration aren’t great, with 90% of applicants getting denied. At this point you can appeal for a disability hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). A hearing offers the best chance of success. In 2022, about 54% of people won their hearing and got benefits. People with lawyers have an even better chance of winning at this stage — three times better.
How long does it take to get disability benefits in Alaska?
The average disability applicant waits about 27.5 months (just over two years) from the time they submit their application until they win benefits. The long wait is because of the multiple appeals most claims must go through.
Here are the average wait times at each stage:
Initial decision: 6.1 months (184 days)
Reconsideration decision: 6.1 months (183 days)
Wait time for a hearing: 15.3 months (plus 1-3 more months to get a decision)
Your wait for a hearing will also vary depending on which hearing office handles your claim. There are hearing offices in Alaska that currently hear cases, but luckily you don’t need to attend a hearing in person.
How to speed up the process
Unfortunately, there’s no way to make the process go faster. However, you can help avoid further delays by responding to any SSA requests immediately. A lawyer can also help you stay on top of your appeals.
The good news is that when you finally get approved, your first check will include months or years of back pay, which covers the time you spent waiting for benefits.
Every person receives a different amount for their monthly benefits, and how much you get depends on which program you qualify for. For SSDI, the SSA considers your work and tax history. For SSI, your monthly income affects your monthly payment amount. (It is possible to receive both at the same time.)
Average SSDI payments in Alaska
People in Alaska get, on average, $1,333.89 each month from SSDI benefits. The most you can get in 2023 is $3,627 monthly.
The amount you get depends on your income history and how much you’ve paid into the Social Security program. It doesn’t matter where you live in Alaska; The SSA doesn’t look at geographic location to calculate your monthly SSDI benefits.
Here’s how to check your monthly SSDI check amount:
A good disability lawyer can make the whole SSDI and SSI process more manageable. They can talk to the SSA for you, handle appeals, and respond to requests for more documents. If you have to go to a hearing, they can represent you before the judge — applicants with lawyers are three times more likely to win their hearing.
Here are four pieces of advice when you’re picking a disability lawyer:
Communication is key. You won’t need to be in touch all the time since much of the process is waiting for the SSA to respond, but you want a lawyer who will keep you updated and answer questions when you have them.
Disability experience is a must. Disability law is unique and it’s important to find a lawyer who specializes in disability benefits and has years of experience.
Look for patterns in reviews. To understand if a lawyer is a good fit for you, look for what others have said about them. However, don’t just look at whether the reviews are good or bad; look for patterns. Do people often say this lawyer was hard to reach, missed deadlines, or was rude? If so, that’s a warning sign.
Location is less important than you think. A local lawyer may know the tendencies of judges at your hearing office. You may also prefer to meet with your lawyer in person. However, disability rules are the same in every state and remote lawyers who represent you over the phone are common. A good remote lawyer is more likely to help you win than a bad local lawyer.
Finding the right disability lawyer is difficult but at Atticus, we’ve done the research to find lawyers who will treat you with the attention and respect you deserve. Take our free disability benefits quiz to get matched with a lawyer who will work hard for you. If you decide to work with one of our lawyers, you’ll never have to pay anything unless you win your case.
Ready to get benefits today?
Frequently asked questions about benefits in Alaska
How do I qualify for disability in Alaska?
To be eligible for disability benefits, you must have a health condition that stops you from being able to work for at least one year. Additionally, you have to meet specific requirements for your work history (for SSDI) or have an income below a certain level (for SSI). For more on these requirements, read our full write up here.
How long does it take to get approved for disability in Alaska?
On average, it takes an average of 6.1 months to get an initial disability decision in Alaska and across the nation. While most applicants are denied at the first stage, that decision can be appealed through reconsideration and a hearing — which takes around two years, on average. Read more: How Long It Takes to Get Approved for Disability Benefits
How much does disability pay in Alaska?
The average SSDI payment in Alaska is $1,333.89 per month. The average SSI payment is $613.36 per month. The amount of money you’ll receive in Social Security benefits depends on either how much money you earn or how much you’ve paid into the program over time. Read more on what amount you can expect.
How should I prepare my disability application in Alaska?
It’s important to answer the application questions truthfully, consistently, and briefly. Make sure you gather and submit all your medical records with your application. The SSA paperwork can be confusing, so our legal team has created a complete guide to help you with the application process.
Does Alaska have a state disability program?
No, Alaska doesn’t have a state disability program. Only five states (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island) have a state program. Residents of Alaska can apply for federal disability programs (SSDI and SSI), or have a private or veterans’ policy. Read more about SSDI and SSI here.
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