Social Security Disability Applicants Face Unprecedented Delays

With the Social Security Administration staggering under the weight of an unprecedented caseload, families and individuals in need of disability benefits are facing wait times of months or even years. In a startling number of cases, the wait is simply too long: About 2,000 cases were dismissed in 2011 because the claimant died, according to the SSA.

In recent years, a number of factors have converged to place additional strain on the overburdened Social Security system. With growing numbers of baby boomers reaching retirement age and leaving the workforce, the number of applications for retirement benefits has skyrocketed. The crunch has been compounded by the weak job market in the wake of the Great Recession, which further increased caseloads and delays.

While much of the added strain on the SSA comes from a major influx of people seeking retirement benefits, many of those most affected by the delays are people in need of disability benefits. More often than not, the Associated Press reported, people who apply for disability benefits have their initial claims denied - often for lack of adequate documentation. Most applicants drop their claims after the first denial, while those who choose to continue can face an appeals process that may easily last two years or longer.

Appeals Often Lead to Benefits

Fortunately for those who are willing and able to persevere, many claims are ultimately approved on appeal after first being denied. According to the Associated Press:

  • Disability Determination Services, a state agency, denies about 63 percent of initial disability claims after an average wait of 111 days.
  • DDS denies about 86 percent of appeals, which takes an additional 104 days on average.
  • Applicants whose appeals have been denied by DDS can then appeal to administrative law judge. These judges approve benefits in about 63 percent of the cases they hear, after an average of 491 days.

Including appeals and processing times, the entire process takes an average of 777 days, according to the Congressional Research Service. While many people whose claims are approved on appeal are eligible to receive retroactive benefits in addition to the benefits they receive moving forward, it is often difficult to make ends meet during the lengthy application and appeals process.

Legal Help for Disability Applicants

In many cases, it can be beneficial for people seeking disability benefits to work with an attorney throughout the application process. An experienced lawyer who is familiar with the system can work with an applicant to document his or her disability and ensure that the application is completed correctly, thus improving the chances that benefits will be granted initially. In addition, an attorney can see to it that all deadlines are met and can be a powerful advocate on an applicant's behalf in the event that an appeal becomes necessary. For more information, or for help filing a claim or appeal, contact a Social Security lawyer in your area.

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