Applying for Disability Benefits During a Global Pandemic

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Applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits has always been a complicated process. But like everything else in our lives right now, COVID-19 has made things even more difficult.

With Social Security Administration (SSA) offices nationwide closed, phone wait times are averaging 90 minutes, and the backlog of people waiting for that critical income is growing by the day.

With that in mind, here are some expert tips to help you better navigate the SSDI benefits process as efficiently and quickly as possible during the pandemic.

1. Don’t wait to apply.

The biggest mistake applicants make when applying for SSDI is waiting to apply. On average, people wait 7.6 months after the onset of a disability to apply for benefits, and considering that more than 2 million people applied for SSDI last year, waiting now could have serious and time-consuming consequences.

Already, nearly 600,000 people are waiting for a decision at the initial application level, where it takes four to six months for someone to receive a yes or no. About two-thirds of applicants are rejected at the application level, often due to technical errors. This results in longer wait times in the appeal process.

If this happens to you, the good news is that you can appeal for a reconsideration of your claim. The bad news is that a second refusal leaves you with no choice but to go before an administrative judge for a hearing, a process that has an average wait time of over 400 days.

2. Work with an expert disability representative.

As mentioned earlier, the SSDI application and appeal process can take months to years to receive a decision from the SSA, depending on the details of someone’s application. Making a mistake can be expensive.

Fortunately, there are experts who know the ins and outs of the SSDI process by heart. They can guide applicants through the requirements and help them determine if they are likely to qualify before they even attempt to begin the process of gathering information required for the application.

If you qualify, an expert disability representative can potentially help shorten the time it takes to be approved by:

  • Collect and submit detailed and accurate information required by the SSA.
  • Communicate with the SSA on your behalf.
  • Identify the important facets of your claim that are specific to your experience with disability and provide the evidence that SSA requires.
  • Monitoring the status of your claim and your appeals.

Finding an expert SSDI representative is important for your claim, as it can often lead to a faster path to approval, avoid an appeal, and reduce representation costs. For example, some representatives help people apply and then assist with appeals if they are denied. Other representatives only assist with appeals or the hearing. Representatives typically provide details online about their approach, success, how many customers they’ve helped receive SSDI, and whether they primarily focus on SSDI representation.

3. Continue to keep your options open to return to work one day.

Many people do not apply for SSDI because they see it as giving up on their professional career. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the SSDI program could provide you with significant financial relief and a path back to work in the future.

It is true that the unemployment rate of people with disabilities is historically higher than that of people without disabilities. And the effect of COVID-19 on the economy has brought new challenges to all job seekers. In May 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 17.9%and for people without disabilities, the unemployment rate was 12.8%.

But the majority of the people we help want to return to work when they are medically able. The added value of the SSDI program is to give people a starting point, a place to start when considering returning to work.

SSA is free Ticket to work The program is available to anyone receiving SSDI and connects them to SSA-certified employment networks to streamline the return-to-work process by matching capable workers with employers who need their unique skills and talents. The program protects benefits during a period of trial work while people test their ability to return to work after their medical condition. (For more information, please read How to return to work when you are on disability.)

COVID-19 brings new barriers for everyone, but people with disabilities are at an even greater disadvantage when it comes to applying for benefits. Knowing that there are supports and resources available to help you can make all the difference.

Assistant Vice President, Allsup

Mike Stein, assistant vice president of strategy and operations planning, has 25 years of experience helping people with disabilities through his work with Allsup. He oversees claims operations for the Social Security Disability Insurance Representation and Veterans Affairs Appeal Service. During this time, he became an authority on the SSDI application process, as well as Social Security Administration programs.

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