Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits

What makes the process so daunting?

If you have heard that applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits is overwhelming, you have not been led astray. As you’re probably aware, the government does not like giving money away and fears fraudulent claims, so it appears to go out of its way not to make the application process simple.

The Statistics

To be fair, SSDI already pays out $143 billion annually to the more than 11 million Americans who are unable to work because of serious illness or injury, and the claims for SSDI continue to increase. In 2013, for example the Social Security Administration received nearly 2.7 million applications, up from 1.9 million a decade earlier.

Nonetheless, the rate of approval of applicants for disability benefits averages only 36 percent, and, of these, only a quarter are awarded benefits the first time they apply. The other applicants are either approved on appeal or at hearings. For those who are disabled and struggling to survive without a paycheck, the system is a cruel one, in which, no matter how deserving you are, your plea for help will most likely be denied.

The Delays

Even if you are one of the lucky third of applicants who make the cut, the application process is prolonged and filled with bureaucratic paperwork. If an appeal or hearing is required, the process can stretch out for more than a year.

Although the government is supposedly trying to streamline the process of SSDI applications, according to Co-Chair of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget’s SSDI Solutions, former Congressman Earl Pomeroy, “My guess is, while reforms are being studied and proposed, it’s unlikely that in the very near future, Congress is going to enact anything sweeping by way of process reforms.”

Unfortunately, this means that, even before the insolvency issues surrounding the Social Security Administration kick in, disabled citizens are going to continue to be victimized by a system that is supposed to be helping them. As many people who have been through the process have observed: applying for disability is a job in itself. The irony is, of course that the people applying are unable to fulfill the duties of a job or they would not be applying in the first place.

Increasing Your Chances

In order to apply for SSDI benefits, you must have a disability that is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death. You can work part-time, but you can’t be earning more than $1,130 per month.  Beyond meeting these criteria, there are several steps you can take to increase your chances of receiving benefits. These include:

  • Gathering as many of you medical records as possible before filing your claim
  • Making sure these records continue up until the present and detail your disability
  • Making sure these records contain data about diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis
  • Remembering, if your original application is denied, to appeal quickly, within 2 months

The Bottom Line

Being disabled is difficult enough without taking on the stress of applying for SSDI on your own. Your best bet is to consult with a skilled disability attorney, one who has been through the process thousands of times, and can assist you in attaining the benefits you deserve.