Massachusetts Disability Benefits: How to Qualify, Apply, and Get Approved
March 16, 2023 · 8 min read
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In 2022, over 200,000 Massachusetts residents received disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). They’ve all been where you are right now, so consider them proof that you can get through the application process no matter how overwhelming it may seem.
To help you apply and get approved for disability in Massachusetts, this guide will explain who can qualify for benefits, how the application process works, and how much you could earn in monthly benefits.
What Massachusetts disability program should I apply for?
There are no disability programs specific to Massachusetts, but residents with disabilities can still qualify for benefits through federal and private insurance programs.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): The federal government offers SSDI for people who’ve worked and paid taxes for years, but can no longer work due to a medical condition. SSDI offers the largest benefit amounts of all disability programs and comes with health insurance (Medicare).
Supplemental Security Income (SSI): Americans who have a limited work history or haven’t worked recently enough to meet SSDI requirements may qualify for SSI. There are income limits to qualify for SSI but it does come with Medicaid coverage.
Veterans disability benefits: These benefits are available through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and are reserved for active and retired veterans, specifically those who were injured during their military service and can’t work because of it. You can also receive VA benefits alongside SSDI or SSI. Learn more about how Atticus can help you with VA benefits.
Long-term or short-term private disability insurance: Private insurers and employers both offer these policies. Payments are worth up to 60% of your former paychecks, but you can only qualify if you had a policy before the health condition that is keeping you from working. If you do qualify, benefits may last months or years depending on your plan. Long-term disability insurance plans may also require you to apply for SSDI and dock your payments if you don’t.
The best option for most Massachusetts residents is SSDI or SSI, so the rest of this guide will focus on these two programs.
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How to qualify for disability in Massachusetts
To qualify for disability, Massachusetts residents have to meet strict medical and technical requirements. The technical criteria vary between SSDI and SSI, but both programs have the same medical requirements.
Medical qualifications for disability benefits
Medically qualifying for disability is twofold. You have to prove that you have a disability or qualifying medical condition AND that your condition makes it impossible for you to work. The SSA will also need to verify that your condition is expected to last at least one year or the rest of your life.
For severe or terminal conditions, you can qualify for an expedited process. Check the SSA’s compassionate allowance list to see if you can automatically qualify.
Your age is also important. If you’re 50 or older, you can more easily qualify for disability because you only have to prove that you can’t keep doing the types of work you’ve previously done. If you’re under 50 years of age, getting disability is more challenging because you have to prove that your condition makes it impossible for you to do any work, even if you retrain.
Technical SSDI qualifications
To qualify for SSDI, you must meet two criteria:
You are 66 or younger.
You meet SSA work credit requirements, which typically means you’ve worked at least five of the last 10 years. You can create a free SSA.gov account to see how many work credits you have.
Common conditions that qualify for disability in Massachusetts
The SSA awards disability benefits for many different conditions. What’s important is that you provide evidence that your condition interferes with your ability to work and that it will continue to for at least a year.
The following are the most common conditions among Massachusetts benefits recipients, according to SSA data:
To apply for disability, start with the main application form. Then move on to supplemental forms. You’ll most likely need to complete a work history report, which describes your work experience, and a function report, where you explain how your condition impacts your daily life.
You can complete the application on your own, or you can work with a disability lawyer. If you’re helping someone else get benefits, also check our advice on how to apply for disability for a child or another loved one.
How should I prepare my application?
Preparing your application takes time. Give yourself plenty of time to answer each question and collect all supporting documents. A lawyer can manage these documents for you, but there are some things you can do on your own.
Gather your personal records. Think about your medical records as evidence that builds your case for why you deserve benefits. In addition to any hospital records, collect lab work, image results, treatment forms, doctor notes, and anything else that’s relevant. You will also need your bank account information, work and income history, plus your doctor’s contact information.
Submit the application and all supplemental documents. Before you submit, double-check that the responses in your application and supplemental forms match. Missing forms or skipping questions will lead to processing delays. The SSA will also look for any inconsistencies across all your application forms, so be honest, be realistic, and answer questions consistently.
Follow up with the SSA after you submit. The SSA receives a high volume of submissions. When you follow up, you’re verifying that the SSA has received and is working through your application. If you have a lawyer, they can do this for you.
Respond to SSA requests immediately. The SSA may ask for additional documents. You’ll have 10 days to respond, though we recommend you respond as fast as you can to avoid processing delays.
If you choose not to work with a lawyer, consider applying in person at your local SSA office. The SSA staff can answer questions about what the forms are asking for. That said, only a lawyer can give you personalized legal advice, like how to improve your responses and what to avoid saying. A lawyer can also submit the application on your behalf.
Applying at an SSA office is useful but the only way to get personalized help is by working with a disability lawyer. They’ll help complete and submit your application and then they’ll handle interactions with the SSA. A lawyer can make applying a lot less stressful. Here at Atticus, we provide free legal advice on filling out your application and finding the right lawyer for your case. Get help today by filling out our 2-minute disability benefits quiz.
What happens after I apply for disability?
After you apply, the SSA will review your application to confirm that you meet the technical requirements for SSDI or SSI. Disability Determination Services (DDS) will then confirm your medical eligibility, which may require a consultative exam with an SSA doctor or additional medical information from you. Next, the SSA will make a decision on your application. While this may sound straightforward, it’s important to note that this process takes about six months on average.
Your chances of getting approved for benefits
Only 30% of applicants get approved on their first application, but your chances of approval improve after appeals. If you do get rejected, the next step is to file for reconsideration. At that stage, 90% of applications are once again rejected by the SSA. Applicants can then appeal again, which provides you with a hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ). This may feel intimidating, but it can actually be a good thing.
In 2022, more than 50% of applicants who appeared in front of an ALJ won their case. Applicants who work with a lawyer are also three times more likely to get approved for benefits.
As of 2022, the average wait time to receive an initial decision was 6.1 months (184 days). The average wait time to receive a decision on a reconsideration request is an additional 6.1 months (183 days). After that, the amount of time it takes to get a hearing varies from hearing office to hearing office. Massachusetts residents typically wait about 14 months to get a hearing.
When all is said and done, the average Massachusetts applicant waits two years and three months from the time they apply until the time they’re approved.
The table below shows wait times at the three hearing offices in Massachusetts:
Because the application process can take years, it’s important that you apply as soon as you can. Remember to quickly respond to all SSA requests, since that’s the best way to keep your application on track. A lawyer can also follow up with the SSA and handle any appeals to help avoid any delays.
The good news is that your first SSA check will come with some relief. If you get approved, you can expect back pay benefits for the months or years of payments you missed while waiting for a decision.
SSI has a maximum monthly payment of $914. That said, disability recipients in Massachusetts received an average payment of $620.78 per month.
Your SSI checks are based on your current monthly income. To calculate your payment amount, the SSA will determine how much other income you earn each month and subtract it from the monthly maximum. If you have no other income, you’ll receive the maximum payment of $914 each month.
Disability benefits can provide some much-needed relief. But before you can get approved, you have to get through what can be a stressful and lengthy application process. Working with a disability lawyer can make the process easier. They can handle your application through every stage of the process, communicate with the SSA, handle appeals, and argue your case to a judge. For all these reasons and more, working with a lawyer increases your odds of approval.
As you search for a Massachusetts disability lawyer, here are five things to consider:
Reviews: A pattern of positive reviews is a good sign that a lawyer is easy to work with and may be a good fit for your case. When looking at negative reviews, steer clear if you see patterns where people say the lawyer wasn’t dependable or communicative.
Primary area of practice: Disability law is unique from other areas of law. Find a lawyer who specializes in Social Security disability. A lawyer who mainly works in personal injury or some other specialty might not have the right skills to win your case.
Location (to an extent): Local lawyers often know the judges at your hearing office, which can help them argue your case better. That said, don’t discount a remote lawyer. Disability law is the same in every state, so a remote lawyer can still represent you and you can win benefits with a remote lawyer.
Communication: Look for a lawyer who is responsive and takes the time to answer all of your questions. The process is long and a good lawyer wants to help you feel more confident throughout.
Here at Atticus, we’ve been researching disability lawyers for years. We can help match you with a trusted lawyer who is a good fit for your case and who will give your case their full attention. To get advice and find the right lawyer for your case today, fill out our disability quiz. Our services are completely free and you never have to pay the lawyer unless they help you win benefits.
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Frequently asked questions about disability in Massachusetts
What qualifies you for disability in Massachusetts?
To qualify for disability you need to have a condition that prevents you from working for at least a year. You’ll also need to meet certain work history requirements (for SSDI) or be within certain income limits (for SSI). For more on these requirements, read our full write up here.
What conditions qualify for disability in Massachusetts?
Any condition that will prevent you from working for a year or more can qualify for disability benefits. Some of the most common conditions include musculoskeletal disorders, mental disorders, nervous system diseases, and circulatory system diseases. See our full list of conditions that qualify here.
How long does it take to get approved for disability in Massachusetts?
It takes an average of 6.1 months to get an initial disability decision in Massachusetts. Most people who apply are initially rejected, and need to appeal this decision. If you appeal and go to a hearing, the process takes just over two years on average. Read more: How Long It Takes to Get Approved for Disability Benefits
How much does disability pay in Massachusetts?
The average SSDI payment in Massachusetts is $1,366.75 per month. The average SSI payment is $620.78. What you’ll earn depends on your income, or the amount you’ve historically paid into the Social Security program. Read more on what amount you can expect.
How should I prepare my disability application in Massachusetts?
Answer the application questions truthfully, consistently, and succinctly. You should also ensure that you gather and submit all your medical records with your application. The SSA paperwork can be complicated, so our legal team has written a full guide to the application here.
Does Massachusetts have a state disability program?
No, Massachusetts doesn't have its own state disability program. Only five states have a state program (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island). Residents of Massachusetts can apply for federal disability programs (SSDI and SSI). Read more about SSDI and SSI here.
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