Applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits is often a long process. According to a recent news article from the Memphis Daily News, the backlog of disability benefits cases is now up to 1 million.
The waiting time across the country is now in the neighborhood of two years and people are reportedly dying as they wait for benefits. All of those on the wait-list have had their benefits denied at least one time.As our Boston Social Security Disability Insurance lawyers can explain, the vast majority of all applications are denied at least once. A claimant files an initial application with the Social Security Administration (SSA). Once the application has been filed, it will most probably be denied by saying the claimant is not disabled. This review generally does not involve any input from a doctor as this work is done by a claims handler.
At this point, the claimant is given 60 days, plus an additional 5 days to count the time it takes to mail the rejection letter from the date written on the denial benefits to file a written request for reconsideration. This can be done by submitting an SSA Form 561 at a your local SSA office, or by doing it online.
This request for reconsideration is reviewed by another claims handler at SSA. This is often done on a peer review basis meaning that an an SSA employee at the same level as the one who initially denied the application will be reviewing to see if their coworker improperly denied the initial application. It is very unlikely than an application that was initially denied will be approved at the request for reconsideration stage.
At this point, claimant is given another 60 days, plus time to allow for mailing, to submit an appeal and request for an administrate hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). The ALJ is supposed to be neutral like any other judge, but ALJs actually work for SSA. SSA has an interest in denying or delaying claimants because, unfortunately, the agency does not have a budget to pay benefits to everybody who applies for benefits even if they are truly disabled.
This hearing is set up in such a way that it puts the unrepresented claimant at a serious disadvantage. There are a lot of formal rules and evidentiary procedures that must be followed, and while an unrepresented claimant may be given some leeway, it will not be enough.
One of the reasons why many claimants do not hire an SSDI attorney is because they are afraid they cannot afford one. However, they should not be concerned about this issue because the system is also set up so that a claimant does not have to pay any legal fees unless they are successful in obtaining federal disability benefits.
As disused in the article, a man who had worked as a brick mason applied for SSDI benefits. He had suffered from extreme back pain much of his working life, but that did not stop from going to work every day. Once he suffered his second heart attack, however, he had no choice as he could not longer work.
When he applied for Social Security Disability Insurance, his initial application was denied, which as we know is the normal protocol, even though it has never been publicly stated by SSA. The agency said he was capable of going back to work, so he was not disable. Under SSA regulations, even if a claimant can’t go back to his old job, if he can work any job in Boston, or anywhere else in the nation (the national economy), the agency will say he is not disabled and deny his application for disability benefits.
Once his initial application was denied, he submitted his request for reconsideration in a timely manner. This was also denied, which should come as no shock to anyone familiar with the agency operates. He then applied for a hearing before an ALJ. He was placed on a very long wait list that can take over a year before a hearing is held. During his wait, he died at the age 0f 58 due to complications with his fourth massive heart attack. His death occurred during a time when the agency considered him not to be disabled.
When someone dies during the pendancy of a Social Security Disability Insurance benefits appeal, the decedent’s next of kin or the administration of his or her estate can proceed with the claim and the estate can collect retroactive benefits. In this case, his adult son took over the appeal, and at the hearing, he was granted benefits. It would be even more difficult for an ALJ to deny benefits in good conscience at this stage in the process, but it has been known to occur. His son stated that his was father was not simply limited in his ability to work, but rather it was virtually impossible for him to do anything at all.
The best thing a claimant can do is to make sure they have an experienced attorney representing them as early in the process as possible. It is often much easier to make sure things are done right from the beginning rather than trying to go back and fix things after the fact. This does not mean that every claimant will be successful, but having an experienced Boston SSDI lawyer will greatly increase the chances of a successful outcome. It also doesn’t mean that a claimant who waited until further in the process will not benefit from having retaining an attorney as soon as possible. In some cases, deadlines may have been missed, but if that hasn’t happened, it may no be too late, but no additional time should be wasted.
If you or a loved one is seeking Social Security Disability Insurance in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at (617) 777-7777.
Disability Backlog Tops 1 Million; Thousands Die on Waitlist, September 18, 2017, By Stephen Ohlemacher, AP
More Blog Entries:
SSDI Appeal Results in Affirmation of Denial, Feb. 15, 2017, Boston SSDI Attorney Blog