Preparing Yourself for the SSDI Process
Most people cannot afford to lose their job due to a disability. As a result, unless a person has a private disability insurance policy, he/she must quickly turn to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) to recover some portion of lost income. However, getting a decision on a disability claim from the Social Security Administration (SSA) is not fast by any measure, and if a person has to appeal a denial of benefits, it may take years and several rounds of appeals to finally gain approval. This overwhelming backlog of pending disability claims is not new, and according to recent reports from the SSA, the average current wait time for a disability hearing is 600 days nationally. Unfortunately, this leaves claimants with little choice but to sit and wait for the process to play out. Understanding the various stages of the claims process may help claimants better cope with the length of time it could take to receive a final decision.
How long it takes to get through the SSDI claim process is entirely dependent on how far into the appeals process a claimant must go before approval is obtained. Once the initial application is filed, it takes approximately 90 days to receive a decision from the SSA. Some states, Florida included, have a state agency to assist the SSA with the evaluation of disability applications (Division of Disability Determination, a branch of the Florida Department of Health), which could add time as the claim is shifted between agencies. The level of approval at the initial decision stage is quite low, and most applicants must appeal a denial of benefits to keep the disability claim active.
If the claim is denied in the first review, the first stage of the appeals process is to request reconsideration. This stage is typically faster than the initial review since the procedure is the same, and all the applicant’s medical records are already with the SSA, unless new medical evidence is submitted. Approval at this stage is even lower since the same examiners are looking at the file, but time to receive a decision is usually less than 60 days, though this timeline is likely to be longer if new medical evidence must be considered.
The second stage in the appeals process is to request a hearing in front of an administrative law judge. Commonly referred to as the disability hearing, this stage is where the majority of disability claimants receive approval, but it can involve the longest waiting period between the time the request for the hearing is made and when it occurs. It is not uncommon for individuals to wait a year or more to receive a date, and then be forced to wait months to receive a decision from the judge. This stage is the last in which new evidence can be submitted, prior to the judge’s decision, so it is important to ensure the most recent medical records are provided in advance of the hearing. This is the only opportunity an applicant has to meet the decision-maker in person, and argue his/her case. Having a disability attorney at this stage makes approval much more likely.
The next level of the appeals process, the Appeals Council, very rarely approves a claim, and claimants are not permitted to file a new disability application while the Council’s decision is pending. Absent the condition worsening or a major error by the administrative law judge at the disability hearing, a denial is almost certain.
Federal District Court
The final appeal stage is to file a petition in federal court, which can involve considerable costs to the claimant. Involving a disability attorney early in the disability claim process can usually avoid the need to go this far, which gets the person the money he/she needs much sooner.
Applying for SSDI benefits is complicated, and can overwhelm someone already dealing with impairment. Working with a disability insurance attorney takes the pressure off you to figure out how the program works, and allows you to focus on your health. Farrell Disability Law has years of experience representing individuals at all stages of the SSDI process, and is available to review your claim. If you live in Jacksonville, Atlantic Beach, Orange Park or the surrounding areas, contact the office about a free consultation.