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For those who cannot work because of a disability, waiting a year or longer to find out whether they have been approved for Social Security Disability benefits can be devastating, both personally and financially. Unfortunately, there appears to be no end in sight to the current backlog of disability claims plaguing the Social Security Administration (SSA) or the state-run Department of Disability Services (DDS) offices.
The average processing time for a Social Security Disability claim is approximately three months at the first level, then an additional two to three months for reconsiderations. If the initial claim is denied, applicants are forced to wait another one to two years before their appeal can be heard before an administrative law judge (ALJ). In all, there was a 15 percent increase in the number of disability claims filed in 2009 over 2008, with the total number of claims in 2009 reaching 2.8 million.
The numbers for 2010 are not expected to improve. According to SSA estimates, there will be approximately 3.3 million initial disability claims filed this year. Even though the SSA has received an influx of federal funding and hired thousands of new employees, the agency does not believe it will have the backlog completely cleared until 2013.
The SSA blames the current economic recession, soaring unemployment rates and state and federal budget cuts for the backlog. The aging baby boomer population also has contributed to the increase in claims. At the end of 2009, there were some 780,000 claims for disability benefits waiting for hearings before Administrative Law Judges.
How Can An Attorney Help?
The long processing times only add to the frustration felt by many who are filing their first claim or appealing a denial of benefits. While there is little that can be done about the average length of the Social Security Disability claims process, there are steps that individual applicants can take to improve their chances of filing a successful claim. This includes working with an experienced SSD/SSDI attorney.
It is estimated that 65 percent of all initial claims for Social Security benefits are denied. Why? Usually because the applicant made a simple error in filling out the paperwork or failed to provide sufficient medical information for the SSA to make a disability determination.
Working with a good attorney can help minimize the possibility of making an error or omitting important information in the initial filing. Moreover, statistics show that those who work with an attorney have a higher success rate at obtaining benefits than those who decide to complete the process on their own.
Here are some of the most important ways the right attorney can help disabled people receive the benefits they are entitled:
- Help file the initial claim. Many lawyers will not help people with their initial benefits claim. A good attorney, however, knows that it is more beneficial to the individual to become involved in the claims process from the beginning. This way, the attorney can help the applicant fill out the mountain of paperwork to make sure that he or she has provided all of the necessary information and help protect against minor mistakes or important omissions. Of special concern is the Activities of Daily Living Questionnaire that state agency staff sends to Claimants. This form is confusing and can be the basis of a denial if not carefully answered.
- File appeals right away. After an initial disability benefits claim has been denied, applicants have 60 days to file a written appeal of the decision. Some Claimants will wait until day 59 to file the appeal, but a good attorney knows that up to two months of waiting time can be saved by filing the appeal right away. Another way to speed up the claims process is by filing the appeal online.
- Appear before the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). While it is true applicants do not have to have an attorney represent them in the hearing before the ALJ, it is in their best interests to have legal representation. Experienced lawyers understand how the Social Security Disability system works and can present an applicant’s case in the most beneficial fashion according to these rules and regulations. An attorney also can help applicants prepare for the hearing and make sure that they have all of the necessary information ready for the judge, including recent medical records. Many people underestimate the importance of this hearing and fail to adequately prepare for it. An experienced attorney can do this work for you. Many hearings involve medical and vocational experts and experienced representatives know how to cross-examine and work with these experts to try to protect your rights.
Whether you are at the beginning of the claims process or have received your first or second denial of benefits, a lawyer experienced in handing Social Security Disability claims can help your with your case. Many times, people make simple errors in the claims process that prevent them from obtaining the benefits they deserve. By working with the right attorney, you can avoid making these mistakes.
For assistance with the Social Security Disability claims process, contact an experienced lawyer today.