Why Your Disability Claim is Taking So Long and What You Can Do While You Wait

If you’ve stopped working because of a disability, you’ve probably considered applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. Perhaps you’ve already filed your application and now you’re just waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

Unfortunately, wait times for SSDI claims are currently hitting record highs. This post will provide a snapshot of the current wait times and some strategies to help you get by while your claim is pending.

Waiting Times are at a Record High

Last Fall, the Social Security Administration (SSA) reported longer wait times than they’ve seen in the last decade and a half. The SSA cited underfunding and reduced staffing as the source of its growing backlog of claims. As of February of 2023, wait times for the initial benefit application has reached a new high of 220 days – up from 133 days in February 2020.

What’s worse, most people are denied at the application stage and have to appeal to the Reconsideration stage – at which they can expect to be denied again. In 2022, Reconsideration-level claims were taking on average 183 days to process.

Fortunately, when your claim gets to the hearing level, it’s more likely to be approved than denied. However, the wait times for a hearing are long: in Madison, where I practice, the average wait time for a hearing is 18 months.

So, while you’re waiting (and waiting and waiting) for your disability claim to be approved, you probably still have bills to pay, mouths to feed, and a roof to keep over your head.

Get Creative to Stay Afloat While Your Claim is Pending

While your disability claim is pending, the SSA does not provide any financial assistance, so you may have to take some creative financial steps to keep your head above water while you wait.

  • Apply for Other Assistance. Wisconsin has many programs to help keep you on your feet while your disability claim is pending. It’s worthwhile to familiarize yourself with the various benefits that may be available to you and your family, including:
    • FoodShare Wisconsin or WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrution Program;
    • Medicaid and BadgerCare health insurance programs;
    • Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program;
    •  and more.
  • NOTE: A word of caution for Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits. When you apply for UI benefits, you allege that you are willing and able to work; when you apply for SSDI, you allege that you are unable to work any job full-time. Technically, the SSA can deny your disability claim if you collect UI benefits. Plus, claiming contradictory statements on government benefits applications could harm your credibility when your case goes to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at the hearing level.
  •  Work Part-Time. You are allowed to work part-time while your application is pending as long as your earnings don’t exceed the threshold of “Substantial Gainful Activity” (SGA), which is an amount set annually for SSA. In 2023, SGA is $1,470 for a non-blind individual claimant, $2,450 for a blind individual claimant. A word of caution: even if you’re earning under SGA, the SSA could deny your claim based on the number of hours you work or the difficulty of your part-time job.
  • Rely on Your Community. There are a number of ways that you can look to your friends, family, and greater community for support while your SSDI claim in pending.
    • Ask friends and family for help;
    • Seek charitable donations from community institutions such as churches and food pantries;
    • Join local social networks online to find free or low-cost goods and services; and
    • Get a roommate to split living costs.
  •  Banks and Credit Cards. Consider taking out a loan to make ends meet while your claim is pending. Check your credit score to shop around for the best rates. Some types of loans to consider include:
    • Personal loan;
    • Mortgage loan;
    • Auto loan;
    • Medical loan;
  • NOTE: If you have a pending Supplemental Security Income (SSI) application, loans could be counted toward your resource limit. Read more here.

Working with an Experienced Attorney Can Help

Generally, hiring an attorney cannot speed up the disability process. In limited circumstances, SSA will expedite claims, including:

  • Compassionate Allowance List. If you have one of the conditions on SSA’s “Compassionate Allowance List ,” the SSA should approve your claim right away;
  • Terminal Illness. If you have a terminal illness, the SSA’s TERI program can help get your benefits approved quickly;
  • Military Service Disability. If your disability began while on active duty, you can request an expedited claim;
  • Dire Need. If you are unable to afford food, shelter, or medical care, you may qualify for an expedited hearing.

If you don’t meet any of the list above, you can still work with an experienced attorney who can:

  • Request an ‘On The Record’ review in which a judge will consider the evidence without a hearing;
  • Address errors in the SSA’s correspondence or records;
  • Collect all of the necessary medical records;
  • Prepare you for the ALJ hearing;
  • Build the strongest legal case for your best chance of approval.

If you or someone you know is seeking a disability attorney at any stage in the process, contact Hawks Quindel to speak with one of our experienced attorneys.

 

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Hayley Archer