Nationwide Analysis Sheds Light on North Carolina Social Security Claims - Disability Claimants waiting for months or years for a decision on social security disability benefit awards in North Carolina.
A recent survey of the amount of time it takes for an applicant seeking Social Security Disability Benefits has shown that when an initial claim is denied it takes an average of more than 14 months for reconsideration. Considering that it can take anywhere from a month to a year for a preliminary decision about whether to approve or deny an award of benefits, this puts the average claimant waiting around 18 months to be paid a penny. The delay can be even longer if the claimant continues the appeals process and requests a hearing before an administrative law judge.
Since two-thirds of initial applications are denied by state-specific Disability Determinations Offices acting under the direction of the federal Social Security Administration (SSA), this lengthy reconsideration process means that hundreds of thousands of Americans are going without much-needed benefits for years. Many people give up during this time, unable to wait any longer. Even if they eventually receive benefits - and retroactive compensation - the financial damage may already be done. Some people have to file for bankruptcy during the waiting period, are forced to return to work (ironically, this could jeopardize their eligibility for benefits), rely upon state assistance like food stamps or seek help from family and friends.
How Does North Carolina Treat Disability Applicants
Sadly, North Carolina is ranked 20th in the nation in terms of having the longest wait times for benefit decisions and reconsideration. This is particularly troublesome since, unlike other states, North Carolina does not have a program that has furloughed state workers who make the initial award determinations and/or have put a hiring freeze in place to prevent additional staffing of state Disability Determinations Offices.
Current statistics indicate that North Carolina has nearly 20,000 people who have been waiting well over a year for a reconsideration hearing.
Historical analysis has shown that initial benefit applications increase during periods of economic trouble - people who had "played through the pain" and worked despite having a recognized disability may now find themselves without a job (and unable to find another one), so they seek benefits in order to keep money coming into their households. As disability applications rise, - there is a projected increase of 300,000 claims this year, an estimated 10 percent more than last year - backlogs will continue to grow, putting further financial strain on already-struggling families.
What Can Be Done
The Social Security Administration has the opportunity to streamline the process by taking advantage of recent technological advances and cutting through the layers of red tape that stand between applicants and an award of benefits. Applications are now available online, as is the ability to check the status of a request for benefits and to begin the process of appealing a denied claim. The SSA could also consider allowing claimants to send their applications directly to their local Disability Determinations Office instead of having the applications sent to the SSA then delegated to those same offices. Having a Social Security Commissioner, Michael J. Astrue, who is committed to reducing the backlog in a timely manner is also beneficial, but he realistically estimates that the waiting list for appellate hearings may not be cleared until 2013 or later.
These are steps in the right direction. Even so, for applicants who are not computer-savvy, the online process can be intimidating, and mandatory steps can easily be overlooked.
Who Can You Ask for Help
Your best bet for a successful, timely benefits application and/or appeal is to work with an attorney in your area who routinely handles these types of cases and has insight into the many "Is" that must be dotted and "Ts" that must be crossed. Statistics indicate that applicants who apply for benefits with the assistance of legal counsel are more likely to be approved.
Lawyers can also improve your chances of an initial denial being overturned on appeal by making well-informed and impassioned arguments to the Administrative Law Judge who will be deciding your case. Experienced Social Security Disability lawyers can help applicants in a number of ways during both the initial and appellate phases of the process. These include:
Evaluating medical records and supporting documentation
Explain the often-confusing SSA definitions of what constitutes a disability and/or impairment
Request an expedited hearing (something the majority of applicants do not even know they have the right to do)
Communicate directly with healthcare providers to gather medical records and secure sufficient evidence of the disability, including the fact that it is anticipated to last more than one year (as required by the SSA)
Whether you are just thinking about filing for benefits or are awaiting a reconsideration of a denial, the assistance of a Social Security Disability attorney can have a huge impact on your chances of receiving much-needed and well-deserved assistance.
Article provided by The Law Offices of Goodson & Piemonte, P.C. Visit us at www.pgoodson.com
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