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Disability claims for mental illness on the rise

Experts say the long-term unemployed, including many New Jersey residents, are applying in record numbers for Social Security disability benefits.

Since the beginning of the recession, the percentage of Americans between 25 and 64 years of age receiving SSDI payments has climbed from 4.5 percent to 5.3 percent. Claims related to mental illness account for the largest increase. Research indicates that the overall percentage of claims based on mental illness has risen ten percent during the recession. The data also indicates that more men who previously had white-collar jobs are seeking benefits.

SSDI can be challenging to obtain for mental illness. Applications are scrutinized because a disability determination is generally permanent. Some worry that people with expiring unemployment benefits may be driven to apply for SSDI out of financial desperation. Many applicants, however, may be experiencing deteriorating mental health due to the stress of unemployment.

Mental illness can represent a serious disability. Mental disorders are distressingly common, estimated to afflict more than 25 percent of Americans over 18 years of age in a typical year. Studies indicate that many people who suffer do not get the necessary treatment.

People who suffer from mental illness deserve fair consideration when applying for benefits. SSDI has specific guidelines for coverage of mental illness, including a status exam that determines whether an applicant is too sick to work.

The process of applying for SSDI can take a long time, and is complex. However, an experienced disability attorney can work with SSDI applicants to ensure that their claims are evaluated in a just manner.

Source: New York Post, "Jobless disability claims soar to record $200B as of January," Janet Whitman, Feb. 19, 2012

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