COVID-19-related restrictions have impacted the way Social Security is processing disability claims and appeals. Below are some answers to the most frequently asked questions our SSDI attorneys have received in part one of a 2 part series.
In what was already a backlogged system, the time it is taking to process applications for disability, appeals and hearings has increased significantly. As of March 17, 2020, Social Security closed all field and hearing offices for in person operations. Employees began working remotely using a system that was not designed to facilitate work from home making even day to day tasks as simple as processing incoming mail or answering telephone calls more difficult.
Obtaining medical records from applicants’ medical providers is a crucial part of processing applications for disability. COVID-19 has affected the staffing of physicians’ offices resulting in long delays in obtaining those records. Social Security also sends many applicants for medical evaluations when there is not sufficient evidence in the records to make a decision on a case. For months the vendors that provide physicians to perform these evaluations were closed. While most have reopened with restrictions, appointments have accumulated resulting in continued delays.
If you are applying for disability benefits, requesting reconsideration of a denial of benefits or are waiting for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge during year 2020/21, below are answers to the most frequently asked questions we have received.
If the local Social Security offices are closed, how do I apply for benefits?
Although the physical offices are closed for most services, applications can be submitted online using the SSA.gov website. While the online application is straightforward, it can be time consuming.
I was diagnosed with COVID-19 and was hospitalized. Am I eligible for social security disability benefits?
The short answer is no.
In order to qualify for disability benefits, one of the requirements is that you must have a condition that resulted in you being unable to work for 12 months or a condition that is expected to keep you from working for at least 12 months.
As we gather more information about COVID-19, it appears that there may be individuals who experience long term or permanent damage to their lungs, heart, kidneys, and nervous system which could result in an inability to work for the required one-year or more. If you fall into this category, they you may be eligible for benefits.
What information should I have available for the SSDI application?
Applicants should have information such as the names, addresses and phone number of your treatment providers readily available. SSA.gov also provides a more detailed list of the information you should have prior to starting your application.
Do I need an SSDI lawyer to file my application?
There is no requirement for you to be represented by an SSDI attorney to apply for Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI or SSI).
So, what are the benefits of having an SSDI lawyer on my side?
It may be beneficial to have an attorney assist your through the application process. Experienced disability attorneys will be able to answer your questions as you go through the process. They can provide assistance with obtaining, reviewing and interpreting your medical records, completing forms that are required after the initial application is filed, and be there to assist you through the next steps of the process if your application is denied.
How long will it take for Social Security to process my application and make a decision on my case?
While there was no definitive timeframe for processing an application prior to COVID-19, the average wait time from start to finish was around 3 to 5 months. Currently, during the pandemic, it is taking closer to 4 to 7 months depending on the availability of medical records.
If Social Security requires you to attend a medical evaluation it may further prolong a decision on your case. Obtaining copies of your medical records and providing them to Social Security with the application and returning all forms/documentation requested by Social Security in a timely manner, may shorten your wait time.
I was diagnosed with cancer. Is there anyway to get my SSDI application processed more quickly?
Social Security has a Compassionate Allowance Program which identifies claims where the applicant’s disease or condition clearly meets Social Security’s statutory standards for disability. There is a list of diseases and conditions that include certain types of cancers, adult brain diseases and rare disorders that affect children that will trigger Social Security to expedite a case. The complete list of Compassionate Allowance diagnoses can be found on SSA.gov.
When should I apply for social security disability benefits?
The answer to that questions may vary depending on who you ask.
Due to the lengthy process, many disability advocates suggest applying for benefits as soon as you are unable to work. In my practice, I consider each case individually before making a recommendation as to when you should apply for disability. Several factors play into my decision-making process including:
- the length and frequency of medical treatment
- whether or not the medical records document the applicant’s limitations
- how long someone has been out of work
- what kind of work they performed, their age, etc.
A little time preparing an SSDI case can shorten the time processing a claim and increase the chance of a favorable outcome.
What is the maximum amount you can receive per month in 2020 for SSDI benefits?
The maximum amount you can receive per month in 2020 is $3,011.00. Also, SSDI benefits are considered taxable income.
What is the maximum amount you can receive per month in 2020 for SSI benefits?
SSI monthly benefit payments start the 1st full month after the date you became disabled. The maximum amount an individual can receive in 2020 is $783.00 per month. The maximum amount a couple can receive is $1,175.00 per month. SSI beneficiaries are eligible for Medicaid when payments begin. SSI payments are not taxable income.
The questions addressed here are only a very small portion of those that will likely arise during this process. Obtaining an experienced and compassionate attorney that also has a strong medical background will be able to answer these questions for you and provide the assistance you need moving through the process.