So many things in our lives these days have become more complicated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That certainly holds true when applying for either of the two Social Security assistance programs for the disabled: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The road to winning disability benefits has always been difficult to navigate and now it is even harder.
The more than 1,200 Social Security Administration (SSA) field and local offices have been shuttered since March due to the pandemic. The vast majority of SSA employees have been teleworking from home. While local SSA offices are accepting in-person visitors to their offices, they are only admitted by appointment and only in “dire need” situations. Wait times for phone calls to SSA offices are averaging 90 minutes.
As a consequence of all of these factors, It is very likely you are going to wait months or maybe even a year or more to get a ruling on your claim. In fact, the backlog of applications for disability benefits is so large that the Social Security Administration has a special code—DXDI—for appeals dismissed because the applicant died waiting. This leads us to a key mistake that applicants make when applying for SSDI or SSI: waiting too long to apply. On average, people wait more than seven and a half months after the onset of a disability to apply for benefits.
At Nash Disability Law, two of the most common remarks we hear from disability applicants are: “I should have come to see you sooner,” and “I should not have waited so long to file my disability claim.” If you are disabled and unable to work, our best advice is to pursue a claim for Social Security disability and file the claim immediately. Do not wait for the “perfect claim,” and do not wait until other sources of income run out (like workers compensation). Here’s why:
Because of the backlog of Social Security disability cases you are going to wait a long time to get a ruling on your claim, so the sooner you file your claim the sooner you can start receiving benefit payments.
Although Social Security only pays benefits for disabilities that have prevented a person from working for at least a year, you do not have to wait to file for benefits if your disabling condition is expected to last 12 months or longer. At Nash Disability Law, we see many people who put off filing for disability benefits because they were hoping their medical situation would improve. “If you get better you can always return to work,” Attorney Tom Nash points out. “The wait is bad even if you file quickly, but life can be much more difficult if you wait and your financial situation takes a turn for the worse. If you don’t get better, there’s no way to make up for the time you’ve missed.”
Another common situation we see is among people who are injured at work and are eligible for workers compensation benefits (WC). Sometimes such individuals will hold off on filing for SSDI benefits until their WC claim is decided. Or, if they have been awarded compensation, they will wait until those benefits have ended. However, many people run out of money while their Social Security claim works its way through the system, leaving some penniless and homeless. There are other good reasons not to wait. Because of time limitations on retroactive SSDI benefits, you may even lose Social Security back pay if you don’t file soon after you stop working. SSDI can only be paid up to a year prior to the date of the application. In addition, as more time passes from the onset of your disability, the harder it may be to prove how your condition prevents you from working. By applying for disability early, it will be easier for you to remember and collect critical information needed for your Social Security claim, like details about how and when you were injured, what doctors you have seen, and what medical treatments your doctors have prescribed.
Applying for Social Security disability while you are receiving WC payments, or while your WC claim is pending, is permitted. Your Social Security disability may be reduced or suspended for months in which you are eligible for both benefits if the two benefits together exceed a certain amount. The reduction is called a WC offset. It is your responsibility to tell the SSA when you are receiving workers’ compensation benefits so Social Security can calculate your payments correctly.
Also, if your Social Security disability claim is denied, don’t wait to be denied two or three times before calling an attorney. Any delay can increase your wait time for benefits, have a negative impact on your case, and can potentially reduce your back pay.
If you are disabled, unable to work, and are considering applying for Social Security disability or have been turned down for benefits, contact Nash Disability Law for a free evaluation of your situation. Studies show that applicants using an attorney or representative have much better outcomes than those who chose to represent themselves.