Navigating the public-benefits maze

Medical and financial concerns can be overwhelming for caregivers.

Person in a maze
Where do you turn for help?

For many individuals — and their families — the onset or progression of a disability or chronic illness can be overwhelming.

People often experience anxiety over not just the new challenges but also the uncertainty of the future.

A sense of overall confusion is also common during this transition phase. Essential decisions need to be made for the well-being of everyone involved. Where or whom do families turn to at this point?

It’s first necessary to identify the difficulties that people face when dealing with a physical or cognitive impairment. Medical and financial concerns are typically the predominant issues that need to be addressed. Financial challenges alone instigate short- and long-term stress, which can affect the entire family.

A disability resulting from an accident or illness usually results in loss of employment. This leads to a significant reduction in household income and health-care benefits. Financial strain is increased when the primary caregiver needs to reduce his or her work hours to handle added responsibilities. If additional health insurance and/or income is lacking, out-of-pocket medical expenses can exhaust one’s resources.

Exploring publically funded programs can mitigate the risk of depleting one’s financial reserves. If total income and assets meet certain criteria, families can sometimes be eligible for specific programs.

These five strategies may help you navigate those special services and benefits:

Apply for SSDI: Complete an online application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). An individual can qualify for benefits if he or she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. It’s important to provide all required documentation when requested. This will expedite the process in determining eligibility.

Calculate income: Many public services and benefits have specific income and asset restrictions, so it’s important to determine monthly income and total assets to verify eligibility for certain programs. It’s a waste of time and energy to apply for programs if a person doesn’t qualify. You may want to consult with a financial planner for guidance.

Research other programs: Outside of SSDI, there are other publicly funded programs that you can consider. People who qualify for Medical Assistance may also be eligible for other waivered programs to support their health and safety. Veterans may be eligible for financial and/or medical benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Enlist the support of others: Navigating the maze of public resources can be both confusing and frustrating. Indeed, it requires a lot of time and energy. Delegate some of these tasks to friends or family members who want to help. Utilizing a professional who has expertise regarding public resources is another option to help ease the burden.

Maintain detailed records: Careful documentation of all conversations and information is vital for acquiring accurate knowledge. It’s important to keep records of emails, phone calls and other data collected.

Navigating “the system” for services and benefits in the public sector can be a source of confusion, frustration and irritation. However, choosing appropriate programs can significantly minimize the financial burden that a family has to carry.

Adhering to these five suggestions will, I hope, facilitate the research process, resulting in greater peace of mind.

David Sherman is the owner of Disability Consulting Solutions in Minnetonka, which offers support services to seniors, people with disabilities and their families/caregivers.