Yes, Social Security Disability Claimants Can Die While Waiting for a Hearing

Published on: April 22, 2021

The headline is gruesome: “With COVID Delays, You May Die Waiting for Disability Benefits.” But the headline and the accompanying article in the February 2021 issue of In These Times are true. Disabled individuals who apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) often have to wait years to receive the benefits they have paid for throughout their working life.

The situation is terrible, and we see it every day, with clients who cannot pay rent, who cannot afford to eat every day, and who have to wait for years before they receive the SSDI benefits they are entitled to. For some, it can seem like a death watch.

The reality is that SSDI claimants who are denied benefits, and have to wait years for a hearing, struggle to get adequate medical care, making their already deteriorating health even worse.

Most people don’t even realize that they are paying for this federal disability insurance benefit, although it is listed on the annual Earnings Report. SSDI is by payroll tax contributions. Workers and employers currently each pay a 0.9 percent tax on wages up to $113,700, with a portion going into the Disability Insurance Trust Fund. Those payments fund the SSDI system.

To obtain benefits, an individual must apply. And it is from the time of the application that the delays begin. An individual who is unable to continue working and seeks SSDI benefits applies for benefits. It can take anywhere from a few months to much longer for SSA to make an initial decision about each claim – and in fact that initial determination is made by a state agency in the state an applicant lives, not even the SSA.

About 65 percent of the applications are denied on the first application.

Next, the applicant must request reconsideration. That process takes on average three to five months, and it is typically a rubber stamp denial of the application. The denial rate for reconsideration is at least 85 percent.

At this point, applicants have just spent roughly nine to twelve months and have gotten nowhere. But if they do not jump through these hoops, they will never receive SSDI benefits.

The next step is the one that matters – getting a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), who will actually look at everything and give applicants a full and fair impartial hearing. Applicants must request a hearing. After that, they have to wait for SSA to assign the request to a local hearing office. After the file is assigned, then the wait begins.

According to the latest SSA statistics, the average wait time for a hearing is 208 days in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, and between 249 and 323 days in Philadelphia, although it is often far longer. The In These Times article, for example, quotes an SSA spokesperson who acknowledged that as of the end of March 2020, the average waiting time was 408 days.

So what can you do to improve your chances of getting benefits and getting a hearing as quickly as possible?

The first recommendation given by Social Security is to appoint a representative, which means “Hire a lawyer,” and “do so as early as possible.” SSA statistics also show that SSDI applicants who hire an attorney to handle their SSDI or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability claims are more likely to be approved than those who don’t.

At the Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel, LLC, we regularly represent individuals with disabilities seeking Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income benefits. We understand the system and do everything we can to keep our clients’ cases moving through the system as quickly as possible.

If you need SSDI or SSI lawyers, give us a call at 610-446-3457 or send us an email, or contact us through our website’s chat feature.