Social Security Administration Disability Benefits From SSD and SSI

If you are filing for Social Security Disability (SSD) or Supplemental Security (SSI) benefits, the time it takes to receive a final decision on your claim varies widely, anywhere from a few months to more than a year.

The fact is, while there are some applicants that are approved for benefits fairly quickly (the average wait time for a decision on an initial application is about three months), most people who file for disability benefits are turned down. Nationwide, about 70 percent of all initial applications for disability benefits are not approved.

If you are turned down for disability, then you have the right to appeal. It usually takes less time to receive a decision on an appeal, but again, due to backlogs in the system it could take several months depending on the locale in which you file.

Unfortunately, the first appeal, called a request for reconsideration or reconsideration appeal, is decided by the same agency that denied the initial application, the state disability determination services (DDS) agency. Disability examiners employed by DDS make all decisions on SSD and SSI applications and reconsideration appeals for the Social Security Administration. These examiners are all under a considerable amount of pressure to keep their number of approvals low, and thus they are not likely to overturn a denial issued by a previous disability examiner, at least not without significant new medical documentation to consider, or some evidence of gross negligence in the initial decision-making process.

Thus, the majority of disability applicants must file a second appeal, a hearing before a federal administrative law judge, before their odds of approval are 50/50 or better. Due to the steady increase in the number of disability applications filed each year, it can take one to two years to appear before a judge and plead your case (preferably with some sort of legal representation). For those who pursue a claim to the hearing level, the statistics are encouraging. ALJs approve about 60% of all claims previously denied by DDS.

In short, it is not easy for most to get Social Security Disability benefits, but for those who are coping with a severe physical or mental impairment, giving up is not really an option. In addition, it is possible for claimants who file a request for a hearing and who can demonstrate that they are in severe financial straits to call the hearing office and ask for their hearing date to be moved up on the calendar.

There are a couple of things disability applicants can do to prepare themselves for (what can be) the long, frustrating process of getting Social Security Disability benefits.

One is to call the local Social Security office for a status update on your claim to be sure that it is being considered rather than lying buried on an examiner's desk, as well as to be sure that Social Security has everything it needs from you to render a decision on your claim.

The other important thing to is to be sure that you have supplied a complete medical history of all places at which you have received treatment for your impairment. Be sure to include current addresses and phone numbers when possible, so that a decision on your claim isn't further delayed because the disability examiner can't get a copy of your records.

Also, if at all possible, ask your physician to fill out a statement detailing exactly what your physical or mental limitations are as a result of your impairment, which will allow the person deciding your claim to have a clear overview of your ability to work (or not).

Historically, examiners working for DDS do not give much weight to treating physicians' statements, but disability judges tend to weigh them heavily in their decision-making, which may be a major factor in why judges are much more likely to approve disability applications than disability examiners employed by DDS.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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