The SSA processes 2 ½ million disability applications each year. The organization’s trained workers painstakingly go through each application by hand to make sure that they don’t pay more applicants than they should. Being an underfunded and understaffed organization, its DDS department (disability determination service) often takes as long as four months for initial claim processing. Many applications take as long as a year. To help the process along, though, there are a few things that you can do once you file your application is filed.
Be ready to respond to the SSA’s requests
The first thing that the disability examiner at the SSA does upon opening your case is to order all recent medical records from doctors treating you. At the very least, you can speak to your doctor each time you have an appointment, and remind them to respond to the SSA’s request for medical records the moment they arrive.
In many cases, if the records that your doctor is able to provide are inadequate, you will get a call from the disability examiner to come in for a consultative exam with a doctor, or fill out additional information about your work history over the past 15 years. If you haven’t filled detailed information of this kind with your application, you need to prepare to supply it when the call arrives.
Check the status of your disability claim on a regular basis
Disability claim applications can take weeks even when things go perfectly smoothly. Unfortunately, applications often get held up due to clerical mix-ups. It can be helpful to check the status of your application on a regular basis to see if there’s anything that you can do to help.
If your case is denied, get a lawyer with disability experience
Only a third of all disability applications (around 800,000) are granted each year. An appeal can be used to overturn a denial, though.
The first step in the appeals process is to file for reconsideration. With this kind of appeal, you have the exact same rules applied to your case a second time, only, you get a different disability examiner. This type of appeal is of limited use. If the SSA has applied the wrong set of rules to your case, you will usually not know unless you hire an expert disability lawyer with specific experience in disability laws and hearings.
If your appeal is denied at the reconsideration stage, you can move on to the next appeal level where you get a hearing by an administrative law judge. One out of two appeals at this stage are granted. Unlike the disability examiners at the first appeal stage, these judges have latitude to make their own determinations. At this stage, the guidance of an experienced disability lawyer can be even more useful.
The disability claims process is a technical one; in many cases, winning benefits requires deep knowledge of the law. Experts know exactly where applications tend to get stuck, and can work to avoid these problems. When it comes to appealing, seeking legal assistance should be at the top of your list.