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The long, winding road to disability benefits

It's no surprise that the Social Security Disability Insurance system is overwhelmed and underfunded. Since its inception in 1954, the system has taken on more beneficiaries. Applications are flooding in and the backlog continues to grow, in part because the list of eligible SSDI disabilities and illnesses has expanded. Applicants have also increased as the unemployed have sought the protection of disability benefits after their unemployment benefits run out.

The system is simply ill equipped to handle the volume of cases and budget cuts have not helped the situation. The Social Security Administration says that in a group of 10 adult workers, three of them will become disabled before retirement age. In fiscal year 2011, approximately 3.4 million people applied for SSDI. Nearly three-quarters of those applications were rejected.

The wait time for benefits is also extremely long. There is a backlog of more than 1.8 million cases somewhere in the five-step application process. It can take more than 800 days to fully process a claim.

With all the rejection and waiting involved in the process, it is easy for applicants to be discouraged. However, there are experts who can help and advisors to give guidance in the process. A claim can be easily thrown out that it is worth the extra time and effort to make sure the application passes all inspection.

Many applicants go through the process alone and fail to meet the requirements. SSDI requires proof of paid payroll taxes and a medical impairment that will prohibit work for at least one year.

Benefits of SSDI go past the monthly payments. Once a person has received SSDI for two years, they become eligible for Medicare. Their dependents may also qualify for additional assistance if they are minors. SSDI also freezes earnings, preventing years of inactivity due to disability from negatively impacting retirement benefits.

Source: The Street, "Disabled or Hurt? Only 800 Days to Wait for SSDI Rejection," Joe Mont, Feb. 21, 2012

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