Applying for Social Security Disability (SSD) is not an instant guarantee that you will receive disability payments. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), in addition to the long application process, there is an automatic five-month waiting period for SSD benefits to ensure that during the early months of disability they don't pay benefits to persons who do not have long-term disabilities. "Social Security disability benefits will be paid beginning with the sixth full month after the date your disability began. You are not entitled to benefits for any month in the waiting period."
Additionally, in a 2010 press release Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, disclosed that the average SSD application and appeals process for hearing decisions takes 442 days ( socialsecurity.gov/pressoffice/pr/hearings-backlog-0310-pr.htm). That's more than a year that most SSD applicants must wait, often going months at a time without hearing anything about their Social Security Disability case. So what can you do to change that? Unfortunately, not much. Millions of Americans file for Social Security Disability every year, but due to a backlog of cases, most applicants won't even receive an initial decision on their claim for at least three months from the time they apply.
Hiring a Social Security Disability advocate to help you with your claim from the very beginning can significantly improve your chances of receiving an approval for your benefits on the SSA's initial decision, but you will still have to wait for your claim to be processed. There are some things you can do while waiting for the initial decision or appeals process however, that will improve your chances of receiving SSD benefits even more.
Keep on top of your claim at all times. When the SSA sends you forms to fill out, you usually only have ten days to fill them out and send them back. If you don't complete their forms in time, you could be denied benefits based on a "lack of cooperation." Because of the financial hardships most people encounter while waiting for their SSD, many applicants move around. Don't assume that mail from the SSA will be forwarded. Make sure the SSA always has your current address and phone number. Send your address change to the local SSA office, and be sure to keep a copy of your address change notification letter.
Continue with All Doctors' Appointments
You can be visibly suffering in from of an SSA or Administrative Law judge, but your Social Security Disability eligibility depends on your medical records; if you haven't been to a doctor in the last year and have no records of your disability, your benefits will be denied. If you don't have medical insurance, go to free clinics or see if you qualify for insurance through the state you live in. Even more importantly, make sure to go to any and all doctor appointments that the SSA sets for you. If you can't make it to an appointment that they have scheduled, call the SSA and have them reschedule it.
Keep Medical Records Organized
The SSA will subpoena your medical records for your claim, but they almost never have a complete set. Always maintain a comprehensive record of your medical records, including all doctors and specialists you have seen, the dates of your appointments, types of medication and/or therapies you have been prescribed, etc. If you are denied benefits you can always submit additional medical records the court may be missing for your appeal. Additionally, if you choose to hire an SSD advocate, they will be much more prepared to handle your case with a complete set of medical records to look at.
Keep a Written Journal
It's easy to remember how you felt yesterday or last week; it's a lot more difficult to remember how you felt or what you were capable of doing two years ago. However, you may just have to testify about your activities going back that far. By keeping a journal of your activities and pain levels, you can testify a lot more accurately, and an appeals judge is going to give your testimony a lot more consideration. You don't have to write a novel, just summarize your pain and what you can and can't do once a month. If anything serious happens, make a note of it for the day.
Getting approved for Social Security benefits takes time – it many cases, a lot of time. If you're unable to work due to a disability, it can be really easy to go broke while waiting for your benefits. Try to be patient, and don't panic. Before applying for SSD benefits, plan on the process taking at least two years or more. If it takes less time – great! If it ends up taking two years, you will have been prepared and hopefully had a financial plan for making it through these two years. The best thing you can do is to keep going, and don't let the SSA get you down. Keep appealing your SSD claim, keep seeing your doctors, and stay patient. By staying proactive on your case at all times, you will help your case and hopefully get your benefits sooner rather than later.
Binder & Binder® was formed in 1975 to help clients all over America obtain Social Security Disability benefits. As America's Most Successful Social Security Disability Advocates®, they have served tens of thousands of people throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and all U.S. territories in matters of Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income.