Despite the uninformed opinions of some people, it has never been easy to get Social Security disability benefits. Yes, some unqualified applicants do slip through system, but many more qualified applicants are denied benefits — especially if the applicants are trying to maneuver through the process without the assistance of a qualified Social Security disability attorney.
But now getting benefits may be even more difficult than in the past. That’s the gist of an article recently published in the St. Augustine Record newspaper. The reason has to do with the number of Baby Boomers who are reaching the age at which diseases and injuries mount to the point that a person simply cannot continue to work. Here are excerpts from the article:
Kim Paul Carter of St. Augustine thought he would easily qualify for Social Security disability after his second round of debilitating cancer cost him his carpentry job, his house and all of his savings.
“It’s pretty hard; it gets you depressed,” said Carter, who now is living in a camper on land his family owns behind his foreclosed house. His family members have to give him money for the gas he uses for the generator that supplies the electricity and he is often without phone service. “It’s hard after working all your life … depending on everybody else,” Carter said. “You feel like a burden to them.”
Carter is one of millions of Americans waiting longer for disability benefits because the number applying for benefits has grown substantially in the last few years, as has the number of rejections.
“Baby boomers reaching their disability-prone years and the economic downturn have contributed to the increase in applications,” said Patti Patterson, Social Security Administration regional communications director. Congress has imposed a strict definition of disability in order to be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, she said.
“Your condition must be so severe that it is expected to last at least a year and you are unable to work,” Patterson said.
The annual number of applications for the program has increased more than 28 percent over five years, going from about 2.5 million to about 3.2 million, according to administration statistics. At the same time, the number of approved applications has shrunk from 35 percent to 33 percent over the same time period.
The waiting period is slightly shorter than it was five years ago; initial claims take about 115 days to process now versus 120 on average, Patterson said. But for those who have been rejected, it could take a year or more to appeal the decision at the court level, she said.
By the numbers
Fiscal Year 2011: 3,243,079 applied for social security disability and 33.5% were approved at the initial level.
Fiscal Year 2006: 2,524,550 applied and 35.2% of these applications were approved at the initial level.
Source: Social Security Administration