How To Speed Up Your Social Security Disability or SSI Claim

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If you are out of work and disabled, you are likely hoping to win SSI disability benefits sooner rather than later. It goes without saying that disability benefits are far less helpful when they come too late. If you have a medical condition, time is of the essence.

What Steps Should You Take To Get Your SSI or SSDI Disability Benefits Fast?

We often hear of claims that drag on for four months, and in some cases, the disability determination process can take over six months if the Social Security Administration is missing key evidence.

We advise five steps to ensure your disability application will be processed as quickly as possible.

  1. Obtain all of your medical evidence prior to applying
  2. Follow your application (case file) at both SSA and DDS offices
  3. Verify the SSA (Social Security Administration) or field office received your claim
  4. Verify the DDS (Disability Determination Services) received your claim
  5. Hire a disability attorney from the beginning

We discuss each of these five steps in detail in the rest of this article.

1. Get Your Medical Records in Order

Besides hiring an attorney, we believe getting medical records squared away is the number one trick to speeding up the disability determination process. Whether you are seeking social security disability insurance (SSDI) or supplemental security income (SSI) (learn the difference between SSDI and SSI here), complete medical records are essential.

There are two methods of getting medical records more quickly:

  • First, persistently follow-up with your provider. In some cases, your primary care physician (PCP) will have all your records (including hospital stays and specialty referrals) but more often you will need to contact multiple sources.
  • Second, consider enlisting a disability attorney or family members to help you get social security disability medical evidence.

You may not know where to begin in collecting medical records, in which case a law firm that is experienced in obtaining a medical history from you is a great place to start. Such firms offer a free evaluation and help you get your medical visits and history in order.

2. Follow The Status of Your Application Closely

Once you have applied–with or without the help of a law firm–you claim is sent from the Social Security Administration to the Disability Determination Services (DDS), a separate office located in your state whose sole job it is to determine whether you are medically eligible for disability.

At this office, a Disability Examiner collects information about you: your phone number, work history, other contact information, names of friends or family members who know about your impairment, and the name of your attorney if you’ve employed one–for starters.

We encourage anyone with a Social Security disability claim, but especially if it’s your first time, to call and make contact with your Disability Examiner, or DE. The DE is a dedicated individual who has the ability to sway your claim gently in one direction or another (even though she or he follows strict SSD guidelines) but perhaps more importantly when you establish a relationship with your DE you will get updates on the progress of your claim.

But let’s not put the horse in front of the cart, since before you ever get a DE your claim will begin its journal at the Social Security Administration (SSA) office. Whether you apply online or in-person, you will spend some portion of your time sitting with an SSA representative. This individual is tasked with making sure whether you qualify under SSA rules to receive either SSDI or SSI, or both.

You don’t need to become best buddies with the person who begins your Social Security disability benefits process, but it is quite helpful to ask for an overview of the process. Since the amount of information required for disability evaluation can be somewhat overwhelming, many applicants choose to hire a disability attorney from the beginning.

3. Verify Your Disability Claim Was Received by Both SSA and DDS

How can you be sure the SSA even got your application? Like many social services offices, the SSA is inundated with claimants (the technical term for a person who completes an application, as they are “claiming” disability). SSA representatives at the field offices are human, and make mistakes. It’s up to you to follow your claim and follow-up with all Social Security office personnel, at every stage.

Again, if you are intimidated or unsure about your ability to keep in touch with the bureaucrats who will decide your claim, a law firm can be of great help.

To confirm your application was received, be sure to check its status online and, once you’ve spoken with an SSA representative at your local office, via a phone call. Once your claim has been transferred from the SSA to the DDS, you will receive a letter from the DE asking for further information (such as forms about your daily activities). But prior to that, it is prudent to stay on top of your claim’s progress. You can do that by following the Social Security Disability application process carefully.

4. Hire A Disability Attorney To Assist You

If you’ve read this far, you are probably already overwhelmed with the amount of work you’ll need to do to ensure a swift and effect disability evaluation process. For that reason (and others) we recommend contact an attorney to help. Especially in the case of claimants who are seeking SSI only, attorneys are proved to be far more effective in securing benefits.

Besides what we’ve discussed already, there are multiple appeals processes that the majority of claimants will experience. While about one in three claimants win disability quickly–whether due to compassionate allowance (CAL) status or a combination of age, work history and severity of impairment–statistically, most will go before an Administrative Law Judge, or ALJ. Beyond the ALJ, there are even more disability hearing and appeals steps for a small percentage of claimants.

An SSI or SSDI Attorney can help in many ways, but we recommend that the decision to contact a law firm should be made up front. Decisions you make at the beginning can have a big impact on how quickly you get SSI or SSDI benefits.

Confused Yet? Let’s Do a Quick Review!

Before we continue, let’s quickly recap some of the new “jargon” you’ve learned:

  • SSA is the office where you make your initial claim and stands for Social Security Administration
  • SSI is Supplemental Security Income (also called Title 16, or the “Medicaid” benefit)
  • SSDI is Social Security Disability Insurance (also called Title 2, or the “Medicare” benefit)
  • DDS is “disability determination services,” a state-contracted office that reviews medical records only
  • CAL is a “compassionate allowance” and can fast track a claim after it reaches the DDS
  • A DE is a person who handles the claim once it reaches the DDS

Follow Up Consistently

If you choose to go it alone, remember to follow up consistently at the SSA office and DDS. With an attorney, be sure whoever you hire is reaching out consistently for updates to your disability claim.

How Long Do SSI and SSDI Benefits Take To Get Approved?

On average, one-third of claimants receive SSI benefits or SSDI within six months of application. For the other two thirds, however, the average processing time is over a year. Overall, according to the SSA website, once your claim reaches an ALJ, the longest average wait times are between 272 and 622 days.

Common Reasons Your Disability Case May Be Denied

Common reasons for denial at the initial level include:

  • Your impairment is not severe enough (doesn’t limit your ability to do ANY kind of work)
  • Your impairment isn’t expected to last for a full 12 months
  • You lack current medical evidence and/or miss a scheduled Consultative Exam
  • You do not have a single impairment that is severe enough (multiple impairments are NOT “added up”)
  • You are relatively young (under 50)
  • You have an impairment that lacks objective medical testing (for example, fibromyalgia)

Plan Ahead to Avoid Pitfalls in the Application Process

Social security benefits are highly dependent on adequate medical evidence and completion of all required paperwork. In order to ensure timely processing, always:

  • Obtain all your medical records
  • Attend all scheduled medical and psychological examinations
  • Follow-up at the SSA and DDS offices

What Should I Do If My Claim Is Moving Slow?

If your claim seems to have come to a screeching halt, make sure you have checked these proactive three steps off your to-do list:

  1. Have you called your DE?
  2. Is all your medical evidence in the file?
  3. Have you completed ALL paperwork?
  4. Have you attended all scheduled medical exams?

If you’ve accomplished all of these, there are a couple of common reasons why your claim could have slowed down. The most likely is that your case has slipped through a crack at the DDS, or, you may have a second Consultative Examination (CE) scheduled. The DDS schedules CEs if your medical evidence isn’t comprehensive or current enough.
DEs have the incentive to complete older cases (especially over 100 days) because it affects their “numbers,” but if your claim is, say 90 days old, it may not be receiving much attention. You may also have a DE who is inexperienced or simply tolerant of having a large caseload with many “old” cases.

How A Disability Lawyer Will Help Your Claim Move Faster

Disability lawyers aren’t magicians but they know how to win cases or they would be out of business. They are particularly valuable in the beginning of the application and during any court or appeals stages. A disability attorney will:

  • get all medical records, and do it quickly
  • make scheduled follow-up calls with the DE
  • advise you on individual pitfalls for your claim
  • represent you as you go before the ALJ

Disability lawyers are experts in speeding up disability claims at all stages of the process, from initial application through the appeals process. Let them help you fast-track your disability claim and provide peace of mind at the same time.