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Report: Terminally Ill Claimants Still Forced to Wait for Social Security Disability Benefits

Everyone who has suffered a disability and is contemplating filing for Social Security Disability Insurance (SDDI) benefits is probably aware that it is often a difficult process to get their applications for benefits approved by the Social Security Administration (SSA). And the process takes a long time to complete.

1100587_hospital_handIt would make sense that people who are terminally ill and may not have a long time left to live would be given priority to obtain approval for their SSDI benefits, and SSA even has some specific cases where this occurs, but the reality of the situation is that most people, including the terminally ill, have at least six months of waiting before getting approved for benefits. This is assuming they get approved, which, for many unrepresented claimants, is also no easy task.

As our Boston Social Security disability benefits attorneys understand, this is not news to Congress. Over the years, a number of politicians have raised this issue, but they have not been successful in getting the problem resolved. In 2013, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown and Republican Senators John Barrasso and Mike Enzi worked together on a rare bipartisan effort to end the wait, but their bill got buried in a subcommittee, and that was the end of it. A couple of years prior, in 2011, a Democratic House of Representatives member, Heath Shuler, tried as well to sponsor a bill ending the wait, but his bill also died in committee.

As it turns out, the minimum wait time allowed by the SSA in every case is five months with no exceptions, even though people are literally dying as they wait, according to a recent news feature from Cleveland.com. However, this past week, Barrasso and Brown reintroduced their bill to end the wait for terminally ill people, and they are hoping that with the upcoming election, it will be easier to get support, as politicians do not want to look bad in front of the media with respect to a bipartisan issue to help terminal ill Americans.

One interesting aspect of this issue is, while most people are quick to assign fault to the Social Security Administration for the wait for SSDI applications to be processed, Congress purposefully created the waiting period, and it is Congress that has the power to fix the situation. When SSDI was first created 60 years ago, the drafters and amenders specially added a six-month waiting period to the bill. This was eventually shortened to five months, but the waiting period of five months is still in existence.

While the reason may seem questionable, a recent report of the Congressional Research Service said Congress chose a five-month waiting period to deter people with a disability that would go away in a matter of months from applying for benefits, and also to deter people capable of working from seeking benefits. In other words, if a person knows he or she won’t be eligible for benefits for at least five months, he or she is not likely to quit work and fake a disability to get benefits. We know this reasoning is not logical, and to make matters worse, people who only have a few months to live and cannot work are told they have to wait, even though they are likely to die waiting.

If you are seeking Social Security Disability Insurance benefits in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

If you’re terminally ill, you still must wait for Social Security benefits, September 10, 2015, Cleveland.com, by Stephen Koff

More Blog Entries:
Hanson v. Colvin: A Critical Look by a Court of Appeals on a Denial of Benefits, August 14, 2014, Boston Disability Lawyers Blog.