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Wait times for Social Security benefit appeals leave people in limbo

Wait times for Social Security benefit appeals leave people in limbo

The radio program Marketplace recently featured a story about the backlogs for Social Security Disability Insurance applicants that in some cases have gone on so long the applicant died before ever receiving benefits. In fact, in 2016 alone about 7,400 people died waiting for their SSDI cases to be heard. While this certainly doesn’t happen to everyone, it obviously happens far more often than it should. If you’re applying for SSDI benefits, your best chance in avoiding these delays is to talk with a social security disability claims lawyer. In the meantime, here are some tips that can help speed up your application:

  1. Avoid having to appeal a negative decision

According to Michael Astrue, who served as commissioner of the Social Security Administration from 2007 until 2013, the first two levels of the application process actually work very efficiently. A small number of applicants (slightly more than 5%) have cases that so obviously qualify for benefits that decisions can be made during the initial review process, sometimes in as little as 24 hours. Most cases are not so clear, and must be reviewed by Social Security officials who will then make a decision and inform the applicant. Typically applicants can expect to receive a decision a little more than three months after they apply.

However, the problem arises when applications are rejected, which occurs to about two-thirds of applicants. Applicants who have been denied benefits are entitled to appeal the decision, which generally involves a hearing before Social Security officials. But the number of applications—and therefore rejected applications—has been on the rise, and the Social Security Administration is simultaneously in the midst of a financial crisis and is therefore unable to hire more hearing officers to meet the growing demand. As a result, the average appeal takes nearly two years to process. That means the very best tip for making sure your disability application is processed quickly is to avoid having to appeal a denial. You can do this by being absolutely sure your application is completed correctly, supported by all the necessary evidence and documents, and filed correctly.

  1. Request an “OTR” decision

If your application does get rejected, one way to expedite the appeals process is by requesting an “On The Record” (OTR) review. This type of appeal is best for applicants who have submitted substantial evidence and documentation with their application that clearly establishes their eligibility for benefits without the need for testimony from any experts. If you are granted an OTR decision, you can essentially skip the appeals hearing backlog and get a decision much more quickly.

  1. Request an Attorney Advisor Decision

Another way to skip the wait for an administrative law judge to hear your appeal is to request review by an “attorney advisor,” a lawyer employed by the Social Security Administration. Attorney advisor decisions are typically granted in cases where the applicant can show that a mistake was made processing his or her application, where new evidence has become available to support the application, or where the law relevant to the application has changed.

  1. Submit a “TERI” request

Patients with terminal illnesses are supposed to receive expedited processing through Social Security’s TERI program. Applicants with terminal illnesses should submit medical records with their initial applications to speed up the process, and should make Social Security officials aware if they are currently receiving hospice care.

  1. Request Compassionate Allowances

There are some conditions (such as early onset Alzheimer’s disease and a variety of cancers) that are so serious that applicants suffering from them receive special expedited processing. Although these conditions are supposed to be screened for, if you believe your condition is on the Compassionate Allowances List you should make sure the Social Security Administration is aware.

  1. Request Presumptive Disability payments

Presumptive disability refers to a list of conditions that are so likely to establish eligibility for benefits (such as Down Syndrome or cerebral palsy) that the Social Security Administration will begin making benefits payments even before the application has been fully processed. However, if the application ends up being denied these payments will have to be paid back.

  1. Submit a Dire Needs request

Finally, in some cases Social Security will give special consideration to applicants who are experiencing an immediate threat to their health or safety as a result of not receiving benefits. Applicants who are homeless or facing eviction or foreclosure, applicants who can’t afford needed medical care, and applicants who can’t afford food are all candidates for dire needs consideration.

Applying for disability benefits can be a nightmare, and if your application isn’t accepted the first time around you could be stuck waiting years for the benefits you’re entitled to. Our firm’s attorneys have been helping clients successfully apply for benefits for years, and are available to help you complete your own application. If you’re applying for SSDI and would like to speak with an attorney, call us to arrange a free consultation.

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