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How disability claims are working their way through the system

Published on June 28th, 2013

It’s hard to find a news source that isn’t reporting on the Social Security Disability trust fund and its current state. That’s because, if the trust fund runs out–which it’s expected to in several short years–millions of beneficiaries will see their benefits decrease and several thousand more may see their applications and benefits denied altogether. So what is going on with the process and how can disabled people here in Illinois protect themselves from a bad financial situation in the future?

First let’s look at how initial applications are looked at. When a person first files for SSD, they must prove through medical documents that they are physically or mentally unable, have a condition covered by the Social Security Administration and are expected to be disabled for at least a year or result in death. But even if you have met all of these requirements, you may still have your application denied. And according to SSA, most cases are rejected the first time through.

Knowing this, and knowing that you can appeal your case, thousands of Americans are forced to take their cases to administrative law judges. But with such a large backlog, some judges say they feel pressured to approve cases despite lack of evidence to support a person’s claims. It’s not pressure from the applicants though, some judges say, but rather from SSA that has been fervently trying to maintain its image by decreasing the number of backlogged requests.

Now let’s say you’ve survived the appeal process and are receiving your disability benefits. The next worry on your mind is the shrinking trust fund you’ve been hearing so much about. According to trustees in charge of the trust fund, if the government doesn’t do anything to help revitalize the fund, it will run out as soon as 2016 (though some estimates peg it as closer to 2026). This could mean that benefits are decreased or in some cases stopped altogether. When this time comes, it will be important for beneficiaries to have the appropriate medical documents and forms ready so that if they need to appeal their claim, they can do so in an efficient manner.

Source: The Washington Post, “Judges tell lawmakers they are pressured to approve Social Security disability claims,” Stephen Ohlemacher, June 27, 2013

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