Despite what the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) would have you believe there is nothing easy or quick about the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) application process. The wait in many areas, including Boston is approaching two years and it seems this problem is getting worse rather than better.
A recent news article from the Orange County Register is asking whether SSA is using this delay the to cheat disabled Americans out of well-deserved and much needed Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.
The Story of One Claimant Still Waiting for SSDI Benefits
The article first looks at the story of a 37-year-old woman who had been gainfully employed since the time she was in high school. Her first job was selling concessions at a local movie theater. She then worked various jobs including a cashier and a hotel desk clerk until she found her most recent job as an administrative assistant for a mortgage broker. She worked most of her life despite having been born with Crohn’s disease.
As our Boston SSDI lawyers can explain, Crohn’s disease is a very serious illness affecting the digestive system that can be entirely debilitating to the point where it is virtually impossible to engage in substantial gainful activity. This is the term used by SSA for a claimant who is healthy enough to earn $1127 a month using the current guidelines. This guideline can change from year to year based upon current economic conditions including the national and local cost of living.
While she suffered with the serious medical condition for her whole life as she was born with the disease, a few years ago the pain became unbearable. She had seven major surgeries and also suffered from arthritis and internal bleeding disorders that caused doctors to have to remove part of her intestines. Once she completed this last round of procedures, she was in a serious car accident that injured her spine. She applied for SSDI benefits and has been waiting for more than two years as has become quite common.
SSDI Is Not and Entitlements Program
This was only one of many similar stories, but the question about disabled Americans being cheated comes from how the program is supposed to work. Many politicians act like Social Security Disability Insurance is some type of welfare or entitlement program when this could not be farther from the truth. Much like a private long term disability insurance plan,workers must pay a premium to qualify for SSDI benefits. While workers do not pay this premium to a private insurance company, they do pay it to the government.
If you look at your pay stub you will see that there are various categories of withholdings. Some of your money goes to state and local taxes and some it does to the Social Security Fund. This money is used to administer the Old Age and Retirement Benefits Program. This program, which is also run by SSA, is the program that provides money to seniors when they reach the federal retirement age. Then there is money that goes to the Social Security Disability Fund. This money is used to pay SSDI benefits to claimants who are disabled and have earned enough quarterly credits to qualify for benefits. The number of quarterly credits is determined by claimant’s age at the date of the onset of disability. The older a claimant is, the more quarterly credits he or she is required to have. This means that a person who was 40-years-old at the date of onset of disability is required to have more quarterly credits that a claimant who is only 20.
The reason the wait is so long is because of how U.S. Congress has set up the system coupled with the fact that the SSA doesn’t have anywhere near enough money in the budget to pay all disability claims even if they wanted to so it is hard to know where the blame should fall, but it is imperative that congress allocates the appropriate amount of funds to end this excessive wait and give the millions of disabled Americans the respect and dignity they deserve.
The SSDI Applications Process
As for how the system works, the process begins with a claimant completing an application and turning it in at the SSA office that is located in the appropriate jurisdiction. For claimants in Boston, we have an SSA office located in the city. Once this application is filed, the claimant will wait a while only to learn the application has been denied. This not say every single application will be summarily denied, but the clear majority of them are initially denied. At this point, claimant will have 60 days to file a request for reconsideration. This can be filed on paper or electronically. Regardless of how it is filed, this request will also be denied after a few months since it is almost unheard of for an application that was initially denied to be approved at this stage.
At this point claimant will have another 60 days file an appeal before an administrative law judge (ALJ) and it can take more than a year to get this hearing. This is a complex process and claimant is very much at a disadvantage if he or she is not represented by and experienced Boston SSDI attorney. The rules of evidence will apply and the claimant will be required to cross-examine the experts hired by SSA.
One reason many claimants do not get an attorney is because they fear they cannot afford one. This should not be a concern because the system was set up in such a way that there will be no legal fees unless claimant is successful in obtaining SSDI benefits. Once an award of benefits has been ordered, the claimant will also be entitled to retroactive benefits in the vast majority of cases. This means claimant will get benefits from the date of the onset of disability to the date on which the application for SSDI benefits are actually paid. The legal fees will be paid as percentage of these retroactive benefits so there will still be no out of pocket money owed by claimant.
If you or a loved one is seeking Social Security Disability Insurance in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.
Is Social Security cheating the disabled? The wait time to get a hearing is nearly 2 years, November 27, 2017, By Margot Roosevelt, OC Register
More Blog Entries:
SSDI Appeal Results in Affirmation of Denial, Feb. 15, 2017, Boston SSDI Attorney Blog