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Social Security disability approval remains slow, despite improvements
Although the approval process can be long, disabled workers should not be discouraged from seeking benefits.

Although there have been recent signs of reductions in the average hearing processing times for those applying for Social Security disability benefits, the process can be an exercise in patience for most people. The Social Security Administration (SSA) recently reported that the average hearing processing was 353 days in 2012, compared to 360 days in 2011.

In addition to the long processing times, the SSA recently reported that there are 816,575 Social Security disability claims that are waiting to be processed as of the end of the fiscal year for 2012.

Social Security approval process

These statistics illustrate one of the main hurdles that applicants for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) face—a long and complicated approval process. However, those who are unable to work because of a long-term medical condition should not let this deter them from seeking benefits.

SSDI works by providing benefits to people who are unable to work because of a long-term illness, injury or mental disorder that is expected to last at least a year or result in death. The SSA uses the following five-step process to determine if an applicant is disabled.

Employment considerations

The first thing that the SSA considers is whether the SSDI applicant is working. Generally, a person who is able to work and earns more than $1,010 per month is ineligible for benefits.

Severity of consideration

If a SSDI applicant’s monthly income falls below the limit, the SSA will then determine if the medical condition sufficiently limits the applicant’s ability to do basic work activities (e.g. walking, sitting or thinking) for at least one year. If the medical condition does not do this, the application is rejected.

List of impairments

If the applicant’s medical condition sufficiently impairs his or her ability to work, the SSA consults its list of impairments. If the applicant’s medical condition appears among the impairments on the list, the applicant is automatically considered to be disabled.

On the other hand, if the applicant’s condition is not on the list, the SSA checks to see if the condition is as severe as one that is on the list. If the applicant’s condition is as severe, the SSA considers the applicant to be disabled. If the condition is not as severe, the SSA moves on to the next step.

Ability to work previous job

If the applicant’s medical condition is not as severe as one on the list of impairments, the SSA considers whether the condition prevents the applicant from doing the work he or she performed in the last 15 years. If the applicant can do the same type of job, he or she is ineligible for benefits. 

Ability to perform other types of work

If the medical condition prevents the applicant from performing types of work done previously, the SSA considers whether he or she can adjust to an alternate type of work. In doing to, the applicant’s age, education, work experience and skills are taken into account. The SSA considers the applicant disabled if it determines that he or she cannot successfully perform other types of work.

Consult an attorney

Due to the loss of income and the long SSDI approval process, it is important to apply for benefits immediately. If a long-term medical condition is preventing you from working, contact an experienced disability attorney. An attorney can assist you throughout the application process and minimize mistakes and omissions that can add delays to an already long process.

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