It's never too late to file for disability

A commenter stated that, in their opinion, "It is basically too late to apply. A person can't even get a court date for more than a year and you have to be severely disabled with doctor records. And those records need to be continuous with no breaks in treatment or you can forget being approved".

There's a fair amount to address in these short comments, but I'll start with this: It's never too late to file for disability. One consistent theme I keep encountering after many years is that a great many applicants wait far too long to apply. This is because, in many instances, they are not sure that their condition will be severe enough to get them approved, or they have heard or read that the process will be long and complicated and will eventually necessitate getting a disability representative.

In many cases, I am quite sure, the individual really does not want to file a claim for disability benefits because this mentally signifies giving up: giving up on the hope that their condition will improve, and giving up on what will assuredly be a reduced financial position in the coming years...

For those who would criticize the mere fact that the Social Security Disability and SSI disability program even exist--and there are many of these, though they become fewer as they themselves get older and more subject to developing illnesses and the occurrence of functionally limiting injuries--I should point out that even the most favorable monthly disability benefits are a very poor tradeoff for gainful employment, i.e. most people would rather be working.

Filing for disability should occur as soon as a person is unable to work and earn what the social security administration refers to as SGA, or substantial gainful activity. There is no point, of course, to filing before one's income drops below this level because the result will simply be a technical denial issued on the basis of having too much earned income. But waiting too long is equally pointless.

In the past, I have encountered individuals who have actually waited years before filing. In that time span, they could literally have initiated filing a disability application, been denied on this, filed a disability reconsideration, been denied on this, filed a request for a disability hearing, attended the hearing, and then...possibly have been approved. Waiting for interminable periods after one's physical or mental condition has robbed them of the ability to earn a livable income is never a good idea.

Point two: "A person can't even get a court date for more than a year". Yes, it can take a long time to get a date for a hearing before an ALJ, or administrative law judge. However, the social security administration has the goal of reducing wait times. And, frankly, lengthy waits for hearing dates have been the norm since, oh, the year 2001 at least. Again, to belabor the first point, you can't get a hearing if you don't follow the necessary steps that lead you to the point of being allowed to request one (you have to have been denied on a request for reconsideration before you can make a request for a disability hearing).

Point three: "You have to be severely disabled with doctor records". Correct on both counts. You must be severely disabled, and this is proven via the information contained in one's medical records, in combination with a review of one's vocational factors (how old they are, what work skills they possess, how transferrable those skills are, their age and level of education, how limiting their condition is and to what extent it may limit them from types of work they have done in the past or might, otherwise, have been able to do, i.e. other work).

What is severe according to the social security administration? Severe means having a condition that lasts for at least one full year and which has the effect of functionally limiting you to the extent that you cannot do your past work. It also means being severe enough that the functional limitations imposed you rule out your ability to do some type of other work.

Final Point: "Those records need to be continuous with no breaks in treatment or you can forget being approved." Not quite true. You can have breaks in treatment. What the social security information needs from your records is as follows: (continued on the next post)

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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