Living with a disability is tough enough. Today, people with physical and mental impairments face extended wait times to receive benefits. The bogged-down system is creating dire survival situations in many households.
What's going on? Why are people waiting many months to receive answers on their Social Security disability claims and other applications for assistance? Here's what you need to know:
There's a perfect storm of problems brewing
The Social Security Disability system is suffering from a host of challenges that cut efficiency and create long waits for hearings. One of the biggest factors behind lagging caseloads is the increased number of applications for Social Security disability benefits caused by aging Boomers and the economic recession.
Primary reasons for long wait times in some locations are the recent state and federal budget cuts, which slashed money awarded to hire and retain judges and other administrative workers. More Social Security staff is needed to process the increasing number of claims, yet state and federal legislators have chosen to cut funding for necessary staff instead.
Long wait times are happening nationwide
Depending on where you live, you may wait 18 to 24 months to have a hearing on your disability claim. That's a long time to be out of work and uncompensated for medical and other expenses.
In other states, there are long waiting lists for Medicaid and other services for the disabled. In Kansas, the wait is as long as seven years to receive help including job coaching and assistance with daily living.
While the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the long waiting lists in Kansas, and the U.S. Office of the Inspector General has scrutinized the long waiting lists in San Diego and other cities, the lines keep growing.
Some factors that may speed your case
Depending on where you live, you may be able to get your case placed on a faster hearing track if you've become homeless due to the financial hardships of your disability. In some states, your age and/or condition may grant you automatic approval for assistance and supplemental income.
More military veterans are applying for benefits for traumatic head injuries and PTSD, and their cases are often put at the head of the line. If you're a veteran, you may qualify to receive a decision in a shorter time than civilian applicants.
Having a qualified disability attorney, such as Bruce K Billman, is also key to making your way through the system. A lawyer who knows your state's procedures and protocols is a vital ally when working to get your situation addressed by the state and federal Social Security authorities.
While you're waiting for your decision, keep track of all of the help you receive from friends, family and food banks. This proves you're not able to make an income but are at the mercy of others' kindness. Be open to help from all sources, and consider online or other fundraisers if you face losing your home or an inability to afford medicine.
You don't need a disability ruling to receive a disability placard for your vehicle in most states, so go ahead and have your doctor sign off on the forms for you (check with your state's department of motor vehicles for the correct documentation.) The ability to park closer to shops and doctors' offices is one positive in your life that will help get you through the long wait for more substantial help.