The Social Security Administration’s website proclaims that it is possible to apply for disability benefits online, and includes a link taking readers to a related page. Such one-click accessibility may create a presumption of ease when it comes to filing for Social Security disability insurance benefits. Yet the claims backlog and high denial rate of initial SSDI applications tells a different story.
According to federal data, the SSA’s backlog of disability hearings continues to grow, swelling in the past five years from around 694,000 to about 1 million pending cases in June 2015. The high volume of claimants requesting a hearing is perhaps not surprising, considering that around two-thirds of initial disability claims are denied.
Why is it so hard to qualify for disability benefits from the SSA? The legal requirements are seemingly straightforward: SSDI benefits require an individual to have a disability that will last at least 12 months and a qualifying work history. The SSA maintains a list of disabilities in its Blue Book, and disability examiners take a functional approach in examining whether a physical or mental condition or some combination of impairments prevent an individual from working.
Yet one reason for the high denial rate may be recent negative press involving allegedly undeserving disability applicants, and/or scams brought by able-bodied individuals. Disability examiners may feel political pressure to take an aggressive approach to eligibility. By denying initial claims, they may hope to avoid further scandals. They also rationalize denials by noting that there are additional administrative appeal options after the initial denial. In such an environment, it is crucial for applicants to utilize their chances by consulting with a Social Security disability attorney.
Source: Office of the Inspector General, “Improve the Responsiveness and Oversight of the Hearings Process,” updated September 23, 2015