Disability Benefits: Too Little, Too Late?

Can you depend on disability payments when you need them?

Suffering an accident or illness that results in permanent disability is life-altering as well as traumatic. Most people are under the impression that here, in the United States of America, we can count on our government to help us when we become unable to support ourselves and our families. Unfortunately, while the Social Security Administration has a well-established program to provide benefits to workers who have become disabled, bureaucracy gets in the way of processing those benefits in a timely manner. As a result, more than 1 million Americans wait an average of almost 2 years (longer than some of them will live!) to get a hearing that will decide whether they are eligible for benefits.

Delays Built into the System

Most applicants for disability benefits are denied coverage at least once, so they will, almost certainly, spend time waiting, first for a rejection, and then for an appeals hearing. In the meantime, they may use up savings, borrow at high interest rates, lose their homes or have to declare bankruptcy. This awful scenario need not be the case. If you find yourself in need of disability benefits, it is essential that you engage the services of a competent disability attorney who has the experience and the clout to navigate the system efficiently and effectively. Having a knowledgeable professional at your side can make a tremendous difference in getting your case handled more quickly and in getting positive results.

How Social Security Disability (SSD) Works

Unlike veterans’ benefits and workers’ compensation which grant awards according to percentages of disability, in order to be awarded SSD benefits, you must be considered completely disabled, not only unable to perform the duties of your previous position. If you are unable to perform your previous job, officials will evaluate whether you can adapt to a new type of employment.

The government defines complete disability as disability lasting at least a year or expected to result in death. Also, to receive SSD, rather than SSI benefits, applicants over the age of 31 must have accumulated a total of 20 work credits within the past 15 years. The only other way you can be eligible for SSD is if you are the unmarried child (under the age of 18) of a disabled parent, a full-time student up to the age of 19 (no higher than grade 12) of such a parent, or have yourself become disabled before the age of 22. If you are not entitled to SSD because you have never worked and don’t fit into any of the previous categories, you still may be eligible to claim disability through the SSI program if you are found to be medically disabled and also have limited income and resources.

How Much Will Social Security Pay if You Become Disabled?

If and when you are awarded SSD benefits, you should not expect the payments you receive to pay all your bills or to support your family. Though Social Security pays out almost $200 billion in disability payments to about 10.5 million people annually, the average recipient receives a check for only $1037 per month, not enough for a single individual to survive on, let alone a family.

Efforts To Improve the System

The Social Security Administration reports that it is working hard to reduce the dangerous backlog of disabled individuals who, in spite of dire need, are not yet receiving benefits. Efforts to remedy the situation include hiring 500 new administrative law judges and more than 600 new support staff members. These judges are expected to join the current 1600 judges who hear appeals from those who were initially denied benefits.


In addition, the agency is attempting to expand a program that will move more quickly to award benefits to individuals with the most serious conditions and illnesses, including certain cancers. Nonetheless, budget cuts over the past few years have interfered with the progress of this plan.

An illustration is that the agency’s budget for 2017 was $12.6 billion, about the same as it was in 2011, even though during the intervening years an additional 6 million people are receiving either retirement or disability benefits from Social Security.

Don’t Wait Too Long to Seek Legal Counsel
For some, the benefits come too late. Believe it or not, last year 7,400 people whose names were still on waitlists for SSD benefits had already died. When the two-thirds of original applicants for assistance have their claims denied by state agencies, they can ask the same state agencies to reconsider, though usually to no avail. The next step for people in most states is to file an appeal with an administrative law judge. At this point, the backlog of cases increases to 1.1 million applicants waiting for a hearing. Though this year there has been a slight decrease in those waiting, the number is 31 percent higher than it was in 2012.

Don’t lose out on disability benefits you need and deserve. Get in touch with a skilled Social Security Disability attorney who has a comprehensive knowledge of the the laws surrounding SSD benefits and the agility to move you through the process as quickly as possible.