Wisconsin Disability Benefits: Qualify, Apply, and Get Approved
May 4, 2023 · 8 min read
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The Social Security Administration (SSA) paid disability benefits to just over 175,000 Wisconsin residents in 2022 alone. Even though the application process can feel overwhelming, every single one of them is proof that it can be done.
To help you apply, this guide will explain what you need to know about qualifying for Social Security disability benefits in Wisconsin — who’s eligible, how to navigate the application process, and the value of your potential benefits.
What Wisconsin disability program should I apply for?
Wisconsin doesn’t have a disability program at the state-level. Residents will need to apply for benefits through the federal government unless they have coverage through a private insurer. These are the disability programs available to Wisconsinites:
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): If you have a long work history, you may be eligible for the federal government’s SSDI program. You’re more likely to qualify if you’ve worked at least five of the last 10 years but can’t continue because of a medical condition. The SSA will consider the income you’ve earned and the taxes you’ve paid to determine your monthly benefit amount. SSDI has the largest payment of any disability program and comes with Medicare health insurance.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI): If you have limited income and assets, you may qualify for SSI benefits through the federal government. SSI also covers people who’ve never worked or haven’t worked enough to qualify for SSDI. This program also provides Medicaid.
Veterans disability benefits: Active-duty or retired veterans may be eligible for benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). To be eligible, you must have sustained an injury during your military service that keeps you from working. You can receive SSDI or SSI at the same time as VA benefits. Learn more about how Atticus can help you apply for VA benefits.
Long-term or short-term private disability insurance: Wisconsin doesn’t offer its own short-term disability benefits, but you can get a private plan through your employer or purchase one directly from an insurer. If you had the policy before you stopped working, you can file a claim. Payments may last months or years and are typically worth up to 60% of your former paychecks. Even if you qualify for private long-term private disability insurance, your insurer may require you to apply for SSDI.
SSDI and SSI are the most common programs available to Wisconsin residents with disabilities, so the rest of this guide will take you through the application process for both programs. Read our overview of the types of disability benefits to learn more about your other options.
Skip the reading. See which benefits you qualify for in 2-minutes or less.
How to qualify for disability in Wisconsin
To qualify for disability, you’ll have to meet strict medical and technical criteria overseen by the SSA. SSDI and SSI have the same medical requirements, but their technical requirements vary based on your income or work history.
Medical qualifications for SSDI and SSI
The main medical criteria for SSDI and SSI is that you have a disability or medical condition that keeps you from working. You’ll need to provide documentation from your doctor, showing that they expect your condition to impact you for at least one more year — if not for the rest of your life.
The SSA will also consider your age. Over the age of 50, qualifying for disability is easier because you only have to prove you can’t continue doing the types of work you already do. Under age 50, qualifying for disability gets harder because you have to prove that it’s impossible for you to do any work because of your condition, even if you retrain or learn new skills.
Technical SSDI qualifications
To qualify for SSDI, you must meet two basic criteria:
You’re 66 years old or younger (under your full retirement age).
You meet Social Security work credit requirements, meaning you’ve paid enough taxes into Social Security. You will likely qualify if you’ve worked for years, including at least five of the last 10 years. To see how many work credits you have, create a free account on SSA.gov.
Make sure you give yourself enough time to complete the application properly. Set aside at least one to two hours. You’ll also need to spend some time gathering your medical or treatment records.
A disability lawyer can help you with the application but even if you have help, here are some key steps you should follow:
Prepare all your personal records first. This includes medical records, treatment forms, bank account information, work and income history, and contact information for your healthcare providers. The more medical information you submit with your application, the better.
Submit the application and all supplemental documents. Check to make sure you answered every question and completed every form. Missing forms or skipping questions could lead to processing delays.
Answer honestly. Your application responses must line up across every form and medical document you submit. The SSA will look for inconsistencies. Be realistic and honest about the limitations caused by your condition, including pain levels and symptoms.
Follow up with the SSA right after you submit. Talk to someone at the SSA to verify that they’ve received and are processing your application.
Respond to requests from the SSA immediately. Even though you can take 10 days to respond, you can prevent processing delays by responding faster.
Applying online is the easiest option but if you don’t work with a lawyer, applying in person may be more helpful. The SSA can explain what the questions are asking and make sure you answer everything. There are limitations to that, though.
Only a lawyer can give you personalized advice, like strengthening your responses or telling you which details to focus on (this all qualifies as legal advice). Your lawyer can also submit your application and follow up with the SSA on your behalf.
Getting help with the application can make the process a lot easier. Working with a lawyer is your best bet because they’ll know how to improve your answers and maximize your chances of approval. This includes filling out the application for you, communicating with the SSA, and representing you during appeals.
We at Atticus are a law firm, which means we can provide legal advice on filling out your application and finding the right lawyer for your case. Fill out our 2-minute disability quiz to get started.
What happens after I apply for disability?
After you apply, the SSA will look to confirm that you meet the technical requirements for SSDI or SSI. Your state’s Disability Determination Services will then verify that you are medically eligible. They’ll review all the documentation you submitted and may request a consultative exam with either your doctor or an SSA doctor.
Based on whether you meet the medical and technical criteria, the SSA decides whether or not to approve your application. All said and done, this process takes an average of six months from the time you submit until you get a decision from the SSA.
Your chances of getting approved for benefits
Unfortunately, getting approved for disability isn’t easy. You should expect to go through multiple stages of denial and appeal before you receive benefits.
About 70% of first-time applicants get their application denied. You can then appeal by filing for reconsideration. At that point, the SSA rejects 90% of applications. If denied a second time, you can request to appeal the decision in a disability hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ).
A hearing may sound daunting, but your odds of approval are fairly high. In 2022, more than half of appeals ended in approval. Applicants who work with a lawyer for their hearing are also three times more likely to get approved.
Here’s how the wait times break down for Wisconsin applicants:
Initial decision: 6.1 months (184 days)
Reconsideration decision: 6.1 months (183 days)
Wait time for a hearing: 16 months (plus 1-3 months to get a decision)
Your total wait time will also vary based on the hearing office you’re assigned to. You can see the wait times in Wisconsin’s two hearing offices below.
Wait time for a hearing
How to speed up the process
The bad news is that you can’t speed up the process since it depends on SSA processing times. But you can take steps to avoid delays. Apply as soon as you’re able and follow up with the SSA to make sure your application doesn’t get lost. If you respond quickly to additional requests, you can also avoid possible processing delays. Your lawyer can also move the process forward by communicating with the SSA and filing your appeals.
The good news is that you will receive benefits to cover the wait time. Your first check after approval will include back pay benefits, which cover the payments you missed while waiting for a decision from the SSA.
Disability benefits vary from recipient to recipient. Your actual benefit amount will vary depending on whether you get approved for SSDI or SSI — or if you get benefits from both programs at the same time.
Log in or create an account with your Social Security number (SSN).
Scroll down to the section titled “More Benefits.”
Average SSI payments in Wisconsin
The maximum possible payment for SSI in 2023 is $914 but in Wisconsin, benefits recipients receive an average monthly payment of $626.81.
Your benefit amount depends on your current monthly income. The SSA subtracts the money you have coming in each month from the monthly maximum. So If you have no other income, you’d receive $914 per month from the SSA.
Applying for SSDI and SSI is stressful. Working with a disability lawyer can take a lot of the worry and confusion out of the process. Your lawyer can communicate with the SSA, oversee your appeals, and handle court proceedings — even cross-examining witnesses if necessary.
If you do decide to work with a Wisconsin disability lawyer, consider these factors as you search for the right fit:
Reviews: Positive reviews are a good sign but don’t discount all negative reviews. Instead, look for patterns. If, for example, multiple people said the lawyer was rude or missed deadlines, they likely aren’t the right fit for your case. A lawyer can’t win every case (some losses could actually be a sign they’re willing to take harder-to-win cases) but they should always be kind, respectful, and responsive.
Communication: Processing times are long and you won’t hear from your lawyer every week or even every month while your application is under review. That said, your lawyer should be willing to answer your questions and get in touch with the SSA as your claim moves forward.
Primary area of practice: Social Security benefits are unique, so look for lawyers with experience in this specific legal area. A firm that focuses on personal injury or workers’ comp may not be the right fit.
Location (to an extent): If a lawyer is local to your hearing office, their knowledge of the judges may help your case. But remember that Social Security disability rules are the same in every state. A remote lawyer who consults over the phone can still be a great option. Hearings can also happen virtually. A helpful remote lawyer is always better than an unhelpful local lawyer.
Good lawyers aren’t easy to find. Atticus exists to help you find an experienced lawyer who will make your case a priority and treat you with respect. Start with our free disability quiz so we can learn more about your situation and match you with a lawyer from our network. Getting matched is free, you’ll still get to choose whether to work with our lawyers, and you won’t pay anything until after you win benefits.
Ready to get benefits today?
Frequently asked questions about disability in Wisconsin
What qualifies you for disability in Wisconsin?
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 Wisconsin?
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 Wisconsin?
It takes an average of 6.1 months to get an initial disability decision in Wisconsin. Most people who apply are initially rejected, and need to appeal this decision. If you appeal and go to a hearing, the process takes around two years on average. Read more: How Long It Takes to Get Approved for Disability Benefits
How much does disability pay in Wisconsin?
The average SSDI payment in Wisconsin is $1,340.21 per month. The average SSI payment is $626.81 per month. What you’ll earn is dependent 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 Wisconsin?
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 Wisconsin have a state disability program?
No, Wisconsin does not have a state disability program. Only five states (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island) have a state program. Residents of Wisconsin can apply for federal disability programs (SSDI and SSI). Read more about SSDI and SSI here.
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