Friday, April 08, 2011

How many people file for disability benefits?

It's no secret that the number of disability claims that are being filed with the social security administration has been steadily rising. Typically, in past years we've attributed this to the fact that the population of the United States is graying. When people get older, they develop more health issues and begin to have more difficulty with normal daily activities. This doesn't happen to everyone, certainly, to the extent that they become unable to perform their past work, or unable to do some type of other work, provided that they can no longer do their regular employment. But aging does become vocationally disabling for a percentage of workers. It's simply a fact of life.

In more recent years, the rise in disability claims has also been attributable to a changing economy, accelerated, of course, by the financial meltdown of 2008. Again, this shouldn't be surprising. As people lose long held jobs, particularly in industries that are in decline and which are doubtful to make a resurgence, there will always be a percentage of individuals who will be in the position of being unable to find new employment due to limiting medical impairments for which they were able to find some level of accomodation in their prior employment (as we all know, new employers tend not to give the same consideration or "breaks" as an employer who has had you on the payroll or clock for twenty years).

What is surprising--at least somewhat slightly--is this recent statistic: 2.7 million people filed for social security retirement benefits last year. 3.2 million people found it necessary to file for disability benefits last year.

Those stats say a lot about the depth of the recession that is allegedly in recovery. Many jobs are simply not coming back ever. And individuals with impairing physical or even mental conditions who might have tried to keep working and supporting themselves simply will not have the opportunity to even try. They will be forced to file for disability and wait out the process. Which brings us to a point: if you are no longer capable of earning a supporting income, you need to consider filing a claim.

Many people put off filing for quite a long time because they really don't want to face the reality of their situation. But because of how long it takes to process claims, and because most individuals will be forced to enter in the appeals process before they can be approved for disability benefits (usually, a very lengthy process), waiting for the right moment to file, or just delaying the inevitable, can be very disadvantageous. And perhaps even more so as the social security system slows down due to funding issues.

As it becomes ever more the fact that the social security administration, due to budgetary constraints, will not appropriately replace its attrition losses (workers who retire or quit), so too comes the reality that work will slow down, particularly as more claims pile up. Evidence of how bad the budget outlook is can be seen in the decision by SSA to suspend sending out its annual report to workers of what their anticipated retirement benefits will be. By not mailing this annual notification any longer, the agency will save 70 million. Seventy million, of course, is a drop in the bucket for a federal agency, which underscores how cash strapped the situation is becoming.

And its not just within the social security administration that things are slowing down, or will be forced to slow down. In the state of North Carolina, for example, there is a hiring freeze on disability examiners within Disability Determination Services. That, in a state that routinely had annual training classes for new disability examiners each and every single year because the turnover rate for examiners was amazingly high. This kind of freeze will only mean bigger caseloads distributed among fewer workers, meaning that things will slow down. And this is a mirror of what the social security field offices are looking at.

So, back to the point, anyone consider filing for disability benefits due to one or more conditions that negatively impacts their ability to work and earn a substantial and gainful living should probably stop thinking about doing it and just take the necessary steps to file. Ideally, that begins with contacting your nearest social security office.

Return to the Social Security Disability SSI Benefits Blog

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