It's become common knowledge that, while Social Security Disability benefits can be a life-saver for many people, they can be difficult to qualify for. Some people who are in dire need of assistance avoid filing an application because they're afraid they won't be able to fill it out correctly, won't have the right or enough evidence of their disability, or just because they assume they'll be denied. Working with disability attorneys can help simplify the process, but there's not much that can be done to speed it up once the application if filed.
Is the Social Security Disability Application Process Being Improved?
Fortunately, the Social Security Administration recently announced a success that bodes well for future applicants. For the first time in 10 years, since 1999, the SSA has made progress with their backed up cases and ended the year with fewer disability hearings pending than in the prior year. Their fiscal year 2009 ended with 722,822 hearings pending - almost 40,000 less than they had at the start of the year.
In a time when many baby-boomers are facing retirement age, some feared that strain on the SSA. Common worries included the Social Security Administration running out of money, with none left for Social Security Disability cases, and that the agency would become so bogged down with cases and applications that it would become impossible to review cases in a timely manner. Some would say that the second fear came to fruition.
How Long Does It Actually Take to be Approved for Social Security Disability?
Applicants are warned that it may take 3-5 months to receive a decision on their initial application. Over 60% of people are initially denied benefits, and then file for Social Security reconsideration within 60 days. The state has 90 days to review that request. If denied at that point, applicants must request a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge. A request for a hearing might not get applicants on the docket for up to two years. Adding up all that wait time is pretty scary - applicants awaiting a SSI appeal might be waiting 3+ years for a final decision on whether or not they'll qualify for Social Security Disability.
This recent news, of the Social Security Administration beginning to work through their backed up cases, is promising. The SSA also announced that their average processing time for these cases improved from 514 days in FY 2008 to 491 in FY 2009. While that's not a tremendous achievement, it is a step in the right direction, and hopefully a sign that the Social Security Administration is going to continue to improve.
What Can Be Done to Streamline the Social Security Disability Application Process?
For those who are disabled and unable to work and perform typical daily tasks, 491 days to a decision is still way, way too long of a wait. It's important to provide as complete an application as possible when first applying in order to help streamline the process. Disability lawyers are a big help in this regard - their experience allows them to quickly identify any areas of the application that might halt it's progress. They'll be able to advise applicants of what kinds of information the application is missing, as well as help them work with medical professionals to access the necessary evidence to support their claims.