I have a criminal history - can I still get disability benefits?

If you have a criminal history, it could possibly affect your claim for Social Security disability benefits.  Although the Administrative Law Judge in your case will typically not hold it against you if you have had legal troubles in the past, there are ways that those past legal problems could hurt your disability claim.

One way it can adversely affect you is if you lie to the Judge about your background.  The Judge has access to criminal records and probably just wants to hear your side of the story.  However, if you lie about your past and the Judge knows you are being dishonest, he/she will likely believe you are lying about everything else you say as well.  Also, if you spent time in prison and had a job while you were serving time, that job is considered work.  The question will be, if you could do a job while in prison, why can't you do the same job as a civilian?  Think long and hard about this particular question when deciding whether or not you should file for disability. The Judge will certainly want to know the answer to that question.

Another stumbling block to think about is if you did not receive any medical treatment for your disabling conditions while in prison or jail.  This lack of treatment may appear to the Judge that your disabilities are not as severe as you say they are.  You will be expected to explain this discrepancy to the Judge.

Typically, if you have a criminal history, and it is one “slip up", you can explain to the Judge what happened and then they might be more likely to overlook your time in jail.

IF YOU APPLY FOR SSI, you MUST know that the Social Security Administration will not pay you for any time that you are actually incarcerated.  SSI is meant to pay for shelter and food; therefore, since you receive shelter and food when you are incarcerated, Social Security will not “double” pay you by sending you a check for that period of time.  If you are already receiving SSI benefits, those benefits will likely be stopped if you go to jail and definitely if you go to prison.   Once you are released, you can always reapply.   However, keep in mind It will most likely be harder to prove you are disabled after spending time in prison because of the mandatory work programs that are implemented there.

Please factor in any recent jail or prison time when you apply for disability benefits and remember that it can definitely affect your ability to receive benefits.  However, by being up front about your criminal past with the Judge, you may be able to minimize the damage that those legal problems could cause.  The experts at Morgan & Weisbrod have years of experience working with individuals with all kinds of backgrounds, even lengthy criminal histories so we know how to help you if you are now truly disabled and need your Social Security disability benefits, regardless of your past.

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