Over one million people are currently waiting for disability hearings. This backlog has many causes including a shortage of judges and staff and an increase in the demographic group of people over 50, who are most likely to become disabled by injury or illness.
What does this mean if you are having health problems, finding it difficult to work, and are facing the possibility of filing a disability claim? I am currently seeing social security processing most initial claims in about 6 months. However, the current waiting time for a hearing in Colorado is 16-18 months. The Social Security Administration itself is predicting that the backlog will continue to grow for about another year before it stabilizes and slowly improves.
This means that it is more important than ever for the initial application to be complete and accurate. You need to include information about all of your health problems when you file your claim, you need to inform social security about all of your doctors so that they can request medical records, and you need to promptly and accurately complete your Adult Function Report and Work History Report, along with any other information social security asks you for. In many cases it can be helpful to hire an attorney when you are first filing your claim. In addition to helping with the paperwork burden and the bureaucracy, I can help you to work with your doctors to attempt to obtain the kind of medical evidence which Social Security requires but which is not usually found in day to day medical records kept by your doctors. All of this can improve your chances of having your claim accepted at the initial application stage.
Many valid claims will still be denied even when you have help filing your claim. If your claim has already been denied, the most important thing you can do is to appeal the denial by filing a Request for Hearing right away. If you are unable to work, it always better to file a Request for Hearing as soon as possible; it is always a bad idea to give up or delay and then file another claim later. Filing again in six months or a year will only delay the process and could cause you to lose retroactive benefits or become ineligible for benefits entirely.
Once a Request for Hearing has been filed, your case will be pending at your local Office of Disability Adjudication and Review until a hearing date is scheduled. An attorney can sometimes help bring a case to the attention of a judge sooner if it meets certain criteria, or if your condition worsens while you are waiting for a hearing. This is called an On the Record, or OTR, review. While it has been difficult lately to have a judge assigned to review a case for an OTR decision, social security is working on additional screening and staffing to better address OTR requests.
I am always available for a free consultation, no matter what stage of the process you are at.