According to the Social Security Administration, the average wait time for benefits is 500 days.
With appeals, it can take even longer.
One way applicants can accelerate the process and improve their chances in the meantime, is by avoiding some common mistakes in the application process.
1. Not Having a Disability
"Disability" is strictly defined by the Social Security Administration, and many people are surprised when they learn that their condition doesn't meet the administration's criteria.
So what constitutes a disability?
To qualify for social security disability benefits, applicants must be unable to perform any substantial work and have a medical condition that has lasted (or is expected to last) at least a year, or results in death.
(A lot of people believe they can collect disability benefits if they are not able to do their regular job as opposed to any job. This is untrue. Social Security doesn't only take into consideration the type of work the applicant has been doing, but anything that they believe will suit the applicant in his or her present condition.)
2. Waiting too Long
Applicants who wait too long to start the process do themselves a great disservice. Even if approved, applicants face a five-month waiting period before disability benefits start to arrive. Any delay also means putting off much-needed Medicare coverage, which won't start until 24 months after being approved for disability.
Waiting too long, or worse, giving up can result in smaller benefits as a retiree because Social Security factors in your total number of working years.
3. Not Having Finances in Order
The disability process is a mental and financial marathon. It's critical that applicants use financial-planning basics to tread water until they receive disability awards and Medicare coverage for medical needs.
(Social Security has recently started to fast-track people who have medical conditions that qualify for a compassionate allowance. The allowance is reserved for people with one or more of 50 different disabling conditions, including 25 types of cancer.)
4. Poor Preparation
Organization of the application is critical. To make Social Security take notice of an application gather all relevant medical records, make a list of all doctors seen, keep documents from your physicians handy, along with a list of medications taken, past and present.
In other words, submit a comprehensive package that is exceptional.
5. Giving Up
Be persistent and don't get discouraged in the face of rejection -- almost all applicants are rejected the first time. It's very possible that applicants will receive disability benefits after filing an appeal and possibly go before a judge.
There is some good news: Close to two-thirds of cases that go through one or two appeals will eventually receive benefits.
There is some bad news: Currently, a backlog of 750,000 cases are awaiting decisions at the hearing level. Because there is a shortage of judges to hear these cases, it can take up to two years to make headway.
The key is not to give up. Many people will wonder how long it takes to receive disability benefits. Applicants who receive a denial, however, have 60 days to appeal and should appeal on the day of their denial. Waiting only puts applicants behind another 1 million folks waiting for a hearing.
6. Not Reaching Out for Help
Applicants who ae frustrated and having trouble with the process should contact an experienced social security disability lawyer or a nonprofit advocacy group.
It's no secret, the Social Security Administration speaks a secret language, and good social security attorney will understand their lingo.
7. Not Changing Inaccurate Information
Compare annual Social Security earnings statements against W-2 tax forms for accuracy. And it's not just the math you need to worry about, check all personal data, too, especially after a divorce or name change. If an error has been made, call the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213.
If you're considering applying for Social Security Disability benefits, or filing an appeal, contact the Indiana disability attorneys at Keller & Keller.