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Why Is My Social Security Disability Claim Taking So Long?

disability“The American people deserve to have a federal government that is both responsive and effective,” Politico said just this March. “That simply isn’t the case for more than 1 million people who are awaiting the adjudication of their applications for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. Washington can and must do better.”

If you’ve submitted a claim for Social Security disability benefits, you’re probably familiar with the long, long road to approval. It can be a financially and emotionally draining process. In fact, if your claim for benefits is denied, it can take two years or more to present your case to a judge. But why does the Social Security Administration (SSA) seem to operate at snail-speed? What is taking so long?

The Initial Process

No one likes to be rejected, but most people who file for Social Security disability benefits are rejected not only once, but often twice or even more! The application and appeal process progresses like this:

The Application

Who can get Social Security disability benefits? Well, the SSA pays benefits to people who can’t work due to a medical condition that’s expected to last at least one year or result in death. “While some programs give money to people with partial disability or short-term disability, Social Security does not,” according to the SSA official website.

You should apply for benefits as soon as you become disabled. To meet the earnings requirement for disability benefits, you must complete two different earnings tests:

  • A recent work test based on your age at the time you became disabled
  • A duration of work test to show that you worked long enough under Social Security

You can apply online, over the phone, or during an appointment at your local SSA office. For more information, click here.

Social Security disability applicationsThe Backlog

The initial process is lengthy enough, but the principal cause of the slowness in the system is actually backlog caused by:

  • The rising number of applicants including:
    • An aging population
    • High unemployment rates
    • A larger workforce
  • The limited number of administrative law judges
  • A lack of medical evidence and missing paperwork at the initial application level

The Right to Representation

Social Security disability attorneyThe SSA states, “You have the right to be represented by an attorney or other qualified person of your choice when you do business with Social Security.” Because it’s an uphill battle to obtain benefits, many people struggle to navigate the complex and lengthy application process without the help of a professional. If you’re struggling to obtain your benefits, feel free to chat with a Social Security disability attorney about your options.

Any Improvements?

So far, the lengthy SSA process is here to stay. A person can only get expedited treatment “if you are dying or losing your home to eviction or foreclosure,” according to the Ohio State Bar Association. However, an example of promising improvement can be found in the Veterans Association (VA). Politico reports that in 2013, the VA cut its backlog by 84% and reduced wait times in just two years. But things are a bit more complicated at the SSA, where applicants increase with unemployment rates, judges are in high demand, and delays are more frequent due to the recent increase in oversight of adjudicators.

The End of the Road

Yes, the road to Social Security disability benefits is very long and hard. But as I wrote in Eight Mistakes to Avoid When Filing for Social Security Disability Benefits, “It’s not that the government is heartless. In fact, the opposite is the case. Social Security is a system devised to help people in need. The government must be rigorous in evaluating claims, so that undeserving claimants don’t drain the program’s resources.” As a deserving claimant, consider enlisting the help you need to avoid the pitfalls and traps that can cause your case to be denied so you can get the benefits you deserve.