SSD Approval Takes Time – Don’t Wait to Apply
Summary: In 2017, more than a million Americans were awaiting a hearing to try to obtain Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits after an initial rejection. The backlog continues today, despite increased funding by the Social Security Administration intended to cut it down. The average wait was nearly two years, which resulted in many applicants dying before they could get a final answer from SSA.
In 2017, more than a million Americans were awaiting a hearing to try to obtain Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits after an initial rejection. The backlog continues today, despite increased funding by the Social Security Administration intended to cut it down. The average wait was nearly two years, which resulted in many applicants dying before they could get a final answer from SSA.
To qualify for SSDI, a physician needs to determine that a disability is severe enough to prevent an applicant from working. It must last at least a year or be expected to be fatal. If an applicant can't perform a former job, part of the process is determining whether the person would be able to work another job.
Cases back up, waits get longer
Most benefit applications are initially rejected, and the next step in the process for many is a hearing to present evidence that the applicant qualified for benefits. While most applicants get rejected early in the process, most who go through the appeals process win benefits. The average wait for a hearing was 602 days in 2017. In 2012 it was less than a year. In 2017 there were 1.1 million applicants waiting for a hearing, a 31% increase from 2012.
About 10.5 million Americans receive SSDI benefits, with another eight million getting disability benefits from Supplemental Security Income, a federal program for the poor who don't qualify for SSDI, according to CBS News. SSA paid $197 billion in disability payments in 2016, with an average benefit of $1,037 a month.
It has been estimated that about 7,400 applicants for disability benefits died while awaiting the outcome of their applications in 2016. SSA’s budget in 2016 was $12.6 billion, similar to what it was in 2011, though six million more people received either retirement or disability benefits.
Reasons for delays go beyond the number of applications
- Failed to meet own goals for hiring administrative law judges and support staff, though Congress was told that extra hiring would be a primary way to reduce the backlog.
- Requires applicants to give it multiple copies of medical records, then complains they’re overwhelmed by their volume.
- No longer gives more weight to the opinions of treating physicians when deciding whether the applicant is disabled. It relies more on the opinions of physicians it hires to examine applicants or review medical evidence, adding more time to the process.
SSA’s Office of Inspector General investigated why cases were backing up and in 2018 found, according to AARP, that a lack of support staff, low morale and bad management were the main reasons. After interviewing almost a hundred SSA employees in two parts of the country, they found that the shortage of support staff was the most common reason given for long processing times. Management reported that low pay and high workloads resulted in high support staff turnover.
What you can do to make the best of a bad situation
Applicants can’t control SSA’s budget or the number of administrative law judges and staff members. They can’t do anything about SSA policies or procedures. What applicants can do is apply and get the process started as early as possible.
An applicant, with the help of an attorney, could provide the Administration with the kind of information and documentation that will make an initial approval more likely. If the application is rejected, the right evidence, along with effective arguments by an attorney, could turn the case around and result in an award of disability benefits; it may be delayed, but that's better than losing hope and giving up.
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