Sunday, February 17, 2008

Waiting for Social Security disability to be approved can be crushing

The title for this post was taken from a statement in a recent newspaper article. Without a doubt, waiting for disability benefits to be approved is something of an endurance test, in financial terms.

How slow is the social security disability approval process? Well, the process starts off with an initial claim, which is the application for disability. This phase of the process usually consumes about three to four months, meaning that it takes 3-4months to receive a decision notice. Nationally, about 70 percent of the decisions rendered at this level are denials meaning that a claimant who wishes to move forward will need to file a request for reconsideration.

How long does a reconsideration appeal take to decide? Very often, since this appeal follows on the heels of a disability application (meaning the medical records may be relatively "fresh") a reconsideration decision will be made faster than a decision on an initial claim. However, in many cases, due to high caseloads, it may take a disability examiner just as long to process a reconsideration. When this happens, a claimant's case may easily have been in the system for 6 to 8 months.

What happens if a reconsideration appeal is denied? A claimant would be wise to request a disability hearing. A disability hearing is not the same thing as "going to court". However, it does involve a federal judge who specializes in rendering decisions on disability claims. The chances of being approved at a hearing are actually quite good, particularly when a claimant is represented. And especially in light of the fact that claimants who are approved at hearings were previously at the first two steps in the system.

How long does a hearing take? The hearing itself will generally take less than an hour. However, getting a hearing scheduled after one has been requested may take one to two years, depending on where you live and how backed up your area's particular hearing office is.

Once a hearing has been scheduled, a claimant's case may easily have been in the "system" for three years or longer. However, it doesn't stop there.

Claimants who are denied at a disability hearing face the prospect of having to decide whether or not to file an appeal to the next appeal level (the appeals council) or to begin with a new disability application, which may consume many more months.

Claimants who are approved at a disability hearing may face the prospect of having to wait additional weeks or months before their benefits are authorized for delivery.

From beginning to end, it is not improbable that it may take a person three and a half years to actually receive benefits. Which brings us back to the title of this post----"Waiting for disability to be approved can be crushing".

How does one minimize the extent to which the disability application and appeal process can be financially devastating. Here are a few simple bits of advice, none of which are more than simply obvious. But, amazingly, many people fail to heed them.

1. If you are disabled, file an application with the social security adminitration immediately. Do not spend time thinking about filing, because the longer you do so, the longer the "lines" will get.

2. If you file a claim for disability and get denied, appeal. Do not start over with a new claim. This is generally a huge waste of time because your claim will typically be denied again.

3. If you file an appeal, do not wait until just before the deadline expires to do so. Social security gives you sixty days to file your appeal. But every day that you wait is just one day that can aggravate your financial situation. So, if you are denied, file your claim immediately with no delay.

4. Periodically check the status of your disability claim. By doing this, you can learn whether or not the individual working on your claim is having trouble getting your medical records gathered. If that is the case, you may be able to assist by contacting your doctor's office directly. By checking the status of your claim, you may even find that the disability examiner has been attempting to contact you but did not have your most recent contact information (in other words, if you move or change your phone number, make sure you pass it on to social security).

Return to the homepage for the Social Security Disability SSI Blog