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The Perils of Waiting to File Your Disability Claim

March 5, 2018

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 filed 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:

Social Security disability cases are seriously jammed up and you are going to wait a long time to get a ruling on your claim. A recent investigation by the San Francisco Chronicle found that “the backlog of cases pending a hearing stands at about 1.1 million, up from 700,000 in 2010. [And] the average wait time is 596 days or 19½ months, up from 545 days [a year ago] and only 353 days in 2012.” Tragically, Social Security’s inspector general says that in 2016, 7,400 people died while waiting for a hearing. (In fact, the backlog of applications for disability benefits is so large that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has a special code—DXDI—for appeals dismissed because the applicant died waiting.)

Although Social Security only pays benefits for disabilities that have prevented a person from working for at least a year (or that result in death), you do not have to wait to file for benefits if your disabling condition is expected to end in death or 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 Social Security Disability Insurance (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. As more time passes from the onset of your disability, the harder it may be to prove how your condition prevents you from doing any “work which exists in the national economy,” as determined by the SSA. By applying for disability early, it will be easier for you to remember 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 prescribed.

Applying for Social Security disability while you are receiving WC payments, or while your WC claim is pending, is permitted. However, 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.