Filing a disability claim in California - don't procrastinate, get it done

There exists a myth in some circles that claims for Social Security Disability and SSI disability benefits are spiraling out of control, with numbers of disability applications increasing disproportionate to population growth.

However, this is only a myth at best. The truth is, a very large percentage of individuals who file for disability benefits in California do so only after a great amount of consideration and hesitancy. In fact, many individuals put off filing for months, and sometimes years. And, without question, this is a mistake.

The process for filing a disability claim is fairly long. And, in all candor, to say that it is fairly long is a gross underestimation of how long the process can literally take these days.

How long does the disability process take? Let's consider the various steps of the disability claim process. All cases begin with filing a disability claim at the initial claim level. This is the application level (which can be initiated in a social security office, over the phone, or even online).

Applications are taken at social security field offices and are then forwarded to a state agency that makes medical decisions on disability applications. This is where the wait begins. An initial disability claim (application) can take several months to process and, in some cases, may take as long as a year. Nationally, about 70 percent of these initial claims are denied.

For those applicants who choose to file an appeal (and this is the wisest course of action in most cases), the next step is something known as a review or reconsideration. This is actually the first step in the appeal process and this stage is conducted in the same manner as an initial claim. In other words, once again a claimant's medical records are reviewed and a decision is issued. The only real difference between this first appeal and an initial claim is this: a different adjudicator reviews the applicant's claim.

How long does this step of the Social Security Disability - SSI process take? Fortunately, many first appeals are go faster than initial claims. And it is not unusual to get a decision at this level just weeks after this appeal has been requested. Just the same, a disability claim can, nontheless, still get tied up at this level for several months.

If a first appeal is denied, a disability applicant may already have spent a year or longer pursuing disability benefits (and with regard to financial stress and impact, a lot can happen in that time). However, for those who choose to appeal once more, the wait, unfortunately, can get even longer.

The second appeal in the social security administration's disability system is the disability hearing. Disability hearings give claimant's who have been denied on applications and on first appeals a chance to actually have their case presented to a federal judge who specializes in hearing disability claims. Furthermore, disability hearings allow the claimant to meet the individual deciding their claim (the judge). Thirdly, claimants who choose to do so can appear at a disability hearing with a disability lawyer or non-attorney representative (going to a hearing without representation is seldom advised).

Disability hearings, for a large percentage of claimants, represent the most important step in the SSA (social security administration) appeal system. Unfortunately, the wait to get a hearing may be the longest step in the system as well.

How long does it take to get a disability hearing? It can take, in many instances, as long as 2 years, depending on how backlogged the local hearing office is.

The entire disability application and appeal process can, therefore, take as long as three years to get through. For this reason, individuals who are considering filing a disability claim should not delay filing, but, rather should simply apply and get their application started. In other words, don't procrastinate, just get it done.

Here's an analogy to consider. When a line has formed and is getting longer, you need to get in line to save your place. Unfortunately, at the current time, the line for disability applications and appeals only seems to be getter longer.

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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