If you’re applying for disability benefits in Montana, you’re not alone: 4.3% of Montanans (637,502 people) actively receive benefits from the Social Security Administration—and many more apply each year.
Still, the process can be long and cumbersome. For most applicants, there’s a lot of paperwork, a hearing before a judge, and a considerable wait to get the benefits they’re entitled to.
We’ll go over how to qualify for disability benefits, how to apply, how long it will take, and how to improve your chances of getting approved.
What Montana disability program should I apply for?
Montana doesn’t have a state-specific disability program — but there are some national and private disability options you might qualify for. Here are the most common:
1. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): SSDI supports Americans who can no longer work due to a medical condition. Most American workers pay into the social security program through their taxes, and the amount you receive from SSDI largely depends on how much you’ve historically paid in. For this reason, your work history — as well as your medical history — determines whether or not you qualify (more on that below).
2. Supplemental Security Income (SSI): If you haven’t worked enough, or worked recently enough, to qualify for SSDI, you may qualify for SSI. It’s another federal program, and you use the same application to apply. SSI is only for individuals with very little income and very few assets. It generally pays out less monthly than SSDI.
3. Long-term or short-term private disability insurance: If you (or your employer) purchased disability insurance prior to you becoming disabled — you can file a claim with the insurer. These pay out a percentage of your former income — but the exact amount and duration of the benefit will depend on the policy.
4. Veterans disability benefits: If you served in the military and suffered an injury that left you unable to work, or you’re retired and have a medical condition as a result of your service — you should apply for disability benefits through Veterans Affairs. For more information, visit the VA’s disability benefits website.
For the rest of this article, we’re going to focus on SSDI and SSI. These are the programs most people qualify for in Montana, and is generally what someone means when they talk about “applying for disability.”
It’s also frequently necessary to apply for SSDI and SSI when trying to qualify for other programs (like most long-term disability plans). Or, they’re advantageous to apply for in conjunction with other programs (like VA benefits).
Qualifying for disability in Montana
What conditions qualify you for disability in Montana?
Any medical condition that prevents you from working can qualify for disability. Generally speaking, your condition qualifies if it lasts longer than one year or could potentially lead to death.
You cannot get SSDI benefits if your condition will improve, such that it no longer prevents you from working, within the year.
Amongst these the most common condition types to qualify in Montana were:
Mental disorders: 36.4%
Diseases of the musculo-skeletal system: 29.1%
DIseases of the nervous system: 11.6%
Diseases of the circulatory system: 4.6%
Diseases of the respiratory system: 3.0%
Endocrine nutritional and metabolic diseases: 1.9%
Diseases of the digestive system: 1.7%
Diseases of the Genito-urinary system: 1.4%
Congenital Abnormalities: .6%
Infectious and parasitic diseases: .5%
Diseases of the skin and subcutaneous tissue: .2%
Diseases of the blood and blood forming organs .1%
Amongst the mental disorders the most common conditions were:
Depressive, bipolar, and related disorders: 2,864 people
Intellectual disorders: 2,739 people
Schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders: 1,428 people
Some particularly severe or terminal conditions (stage 4 cancer, ALS), may be listed for compassionate allowance. In these cases, you automatically qualify for federal benefits (so long as you meet the work or income requirements).
Additional SSDI qualifications in Montana
To qualify for SSDI benefits, you must also:
Be under 67 years old.
Meet the requirements for “work credits” for your age. You can check your work credits by making an account at SSA.gov — but most people qualify if they’ve worked five out of the last 10 years.
You can apply for disability benefits with the help of a lawyer, or on your own. Most often, you’ll be required to file the application and supplementary documentation on your work history, your day-to-day functioning, and your treatment history.
How do I submit an application?
There are three ways to submit an application for disability benefits:
Apply through the SSA website
Apply by phone by calling (800) 772-1213
Apply in-person at your local SSA office
If you’re not applying with a lawyer, it’s generally helpful to apply at the SSA office. They won’t give you legal advice, but can advise you on how to answer the application questions accurately.
How should I prepare my application in Montana?
It takes most people hours to submit an application because of the documentation needed.
Here’s what you’ll need to do to submit an application:
Collect your records. This includes medical records, work history, education records, bank account information, and other documents you will need to include with your application.
Fill out and submit the application and include supplemental documents and forms. All told, the forms can be more than 30 pages and take hours to complete. When filling out the forms, be extremely clear and specific about your limitations and pain level while remaining realistic. It’s also critical to make sure that you’re consistent with your answers between forms, as they often ask similar questions.
Follow-up with SSA right after you submit. Sometimes applications get lost, and the SSA has a lot of claims to get through. You’ll want to confirm they have received and are processing your application.
Respond to any requests from SSA immediately. They may ask for supplemental information or request that you see a SSA doctor. You will typically have 10 days to submit documentation.
If you’re working with a lawyer, they should fill out your application for you (the right way), and confirm receipt with the SSA. (If you’d like more advice on how to fill out the initial application, or how you can find the right lawyer — Atticus can help out for free).
What comes next?
While some people have their application accepted at the initial decision stage — most people (about 70%) are rejected, and have to file for reconsideration. About 91% of reconsiderations are also rejected, and applicants request a hearing with an administrative law judge.
The average monthly SSDI benefit in Montana was $1,209.16 per month (according to the most recent SSA data). This is less than the nationwide average and well below the maximum possible SSDI benefit for 2023, which is $3,627 per month.
It’s easy to learn exactly what you would qualify for by signing up for an SSA.gov account. To check your potential benefit amount, and your SSDI work-history eligibility:
Create an account using your Social Security number
Scroll down to the section titled “Disability”
SSI payments in Montana
The average monthly SSI payment in Montana is $536.35 per month. The maximum you can receive for SSI nationwide is $914 per month. The SSA will subtract any other regular monthly income from this amount. So if you make any additional income (stocks and investments, SNAP benefits, part-time work, etc.) it will be deducted from your monthly check.
How long does it take to get disability benefits in Montana?
The length of time it takes to get benefits can vary. Most applicants will be denied at first, and there will be waits from the SSA between stages of the appeal process.
In 2021, to receive an initial decision took an average of 5.5 months (165 days).
The time to process reconsideration requests took 4.9 months (147 days).
The time you wait for your hearing depends on your SSA hearing office. In Billings, the average wait time is on the longer side — 11 months.
Adding these up, if you file your paperwork immediately, it takes 1.77 years to get disability benefits in Montana. Once you add in the time spent sending in supplementary forms, filing for reconsideration, requesting a hearing, and waiting for the judge’s decision — most applicants will spend around two to two and a half years going from application to approval.
Sending the SSA your documentation as soon as possible is the only way to speed up this process — so it’s important to meet deadlines, and get forms and medical records their way as fast as possible. Your lawyer can help you stay on track, and will call to confirm the SSA has all the information they need.
Finding the right disability lawyer in Montana
When you’re applying, disability lawyers can save you from critical application missteps and save you weeks of paperwork.
At the hearing stage, they’re critical to have in your corner. They cross examine witnesses from the state and help you make the best possible case before a judge.
If you’re trying to vet for a disability lawyer on your own, ask these questions before choosing one:
What is your primary area of practice? Do you take on other types of cases, or just SSDI and SSI? If they specialize in disability law, that’s a good sign they’ll have some experience with cases like yours.
How do you reach out to and communicate with your clients? Do you email them, call them or text them? Having a lawyer that’s available, keeps you in the loop, and answers your questions is critical. Make sure you can reach out and get the insight you need from them.
How do you prepare for a hearing? Bad lawyers often show up on the day of the hearing with no preparation. Good lawyers meet with the client at least once or twice before the hearing and go over the case.
Do you fill out the application for me by yourself? Invested lawyers, who understand the disability process well, generally fill out the application for you. If they don’t, they’ll have a good reason why (e.g. I know the judges in this area and they prefer applicants fill out applications alone).
It can be challenging to suss out great lawyers from mediocre lawyers without a legal background. If you’d like to be matched with a lawyer who’s a great fit for your claim, Atticus can help (for free).
We’ve spent years vetting disability lawyers and have built a network of legal teams (chosen from the top 5% of firms). We trust them to treat our clients well, and to win their cases. If you want our help evaluating the right disability lawyer for you, sign up here.
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