US Disability applications now number 2.6 million according to the Social Security Administration .
Disability applications now number 2.6 million, according to the Social Security Administration.
The increase in people applying for Social Security disability benefits illustrates the continuing challenge for claimants to receive their entitled benefits, according to Allsup, which represents tens of thousands of people in the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) process each year.
SSA reports the time for a decision at the initial application level is 106 days. At the hearing level, where claimants seek review by an administrative law judge, the processing time is 514 days1 and now more than 765,000 people are waiting2. The federal agency does report some success in addressing the backlog, but the delays continue for hundreds of thousands of claimants.
"One of the realities facing someone who has become disabled and can no longer work is that wait time for their SSDI decision," said Edward Swierczek, an Allsup senior claimant representative and former Social Security Administration (SSA) employee. "This truly is the great unknown for people and their families, and it can be a scary situation to get through. They may have two to four years when they don't have some or any of the income that they did while working."
SSDI is a federally mandated insurance program overseen by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that provides monthly benefits to individuals who are under full retirement age (age 65 or older) and who can no longer work because of a disability (injury, illness or condition) that is expected to last for 12 months or is terminal. Individuals must have paid FICA taxes to be eligible. More details are provided in the SSDI Overview on Allsup.com.
Getting Started With SSDI
One of the first positive financial steps someone with a long-term disability can take is applying for SSDI benefits. "There are a number of financial decisions that need to be made, especially if you were the breadwinner in your family," said Swierczek. "This experience can seem overwhelming - but don't neglect one of the early steps by applying for SSDI."
Sometimes people delay their SSDI application, but because of the length of time to receive an SSDI decision--it's important to get started as soon as it's clear that someone has a long-term disability, Swierczek said. For more insights on when to apply, visit: "Time Is Money When People Wait Too Long To Apply" on Allsup.com.
Top 10 Tips to Break Through The Backlog To help individuals with disabilities apply for and receive the benefits they deserve, Allsup is reissuing its "Top 10 Tips to Break Through The Backlog."
1. Determine eligibility
To be eligible for benefits, claimants must have been disabled before reaching full retirement age (65-67) and meet the Social Security Administration's definition of disabled, which generally means being unable to work due to a medically determinable mental or physical impairment expected to result in death or last for at least 12 months. Individuals must be under age 65 and also have worked and paid into the program for five of the last 10 years. (Obtain a free evaluation to determine eligibility here.)
2. File immediately
If an initial claim is denied, Allsup notes the wait time for an appeals hearing decision now takes an average of 514 days. There is no time to lose.
3. Obtain doctor's support
Claimants need written medical confirmation of their qualifying conditions when they apply. According to Allsup, not having a doctor's support when filing could significantly impact one's ability to secure disability benefits.
4. Get help
Filing for disability benefits is a complicated process akin to preparing a difficult income tax return. Allsup emphasizes that the earlier applicants seek help, the more support they can get to help put them back on the right track.
5. Prepare an accurate medical record
A comprehensive factual record is required to convince the government to provide benefits.
6. Establish your work history
Compile records of dates and tenure of previous employment. As noted above, individuals must have worked for five of the previous 10 years to qualify for benefits. A 15-year work history is needed.
7. Meet deadlines
If benefits are denied at any stage of the process, claimants have only 60 days to file an appeal. If the deadline is missed, the process starts over from the beginning, which could decrease the amount of retroactive benefits to which one is entitled.
8. Reduce spending
The long wait for benefits means that people lose their savings, their cars and sometimes even their homes. Cut out unnecessary spending as quickly as possible and prepare for the long haul. And don't use credit cards. Allsup reminds applicants that high-interest debt will add to long-term problems. There may be other, more affordable options for handling expenses. More insights on Financial Matters can be found on Allsup.com.
9. Maintain health insurance
There will be a temptation to cut spending on health insurance, but Allsup notes that even after individuals begin receiving disability benefits there is a two-year waiting period for Medicare eligibility.
10. Don't give up
The Social Security Administration denies more than 60 percent of all initial applications, but two-thirds of the people who appeal and reach the hearing level eventually will receive their disability benefits.
1 - SSA Performance and Accountability Report FY 2008, November 2008 (ssa.gov). 2 - Ways and Means Committee-Subcommittee on Social Security, September 2008 (waysandmeans.house.gov). 3 - Social Security Continues to Make Progress Expediting Backlogged Disability Cases, October 2008 (ssa.gov).