Terminal SSD applicants die while waiting for benefits

With such a long list of applicants waiting for Social Security disability benefits in Pennsylvania and throughout the country, the Social Security Administration cannot or does not always grant benefits in time to aid those most in need. Applicants sometimes die during the process and it happens often enough that there is a code for appeals that have been dismissed because the applicant is deceased. There have been more than 15,000 cases since 2005 that have been labeled with this code.

One man who applied for SSDI benefits, but never lived to see them was a 50-year-old man with colon cancer. After he was diagnosed with colon cancer in February 2009, he applied for disability benefits. He was initially denied and his first appeal was also denied because they said he did not give enough medical records.

A year after he first applied for benefits, the man approached his state’s Legal Aid Bureau. As the man’s conditioned worsened, his lawyer contacted four different hospitals for additional records.

He was finally granted benefits and notified by letter December 15, 2010. That was the day of his funeral. He had died nine days earlier. He later received another letter January 31, 2011 informing him that his benefits had been revoked because he did not respond to questions in the previous letter.

Thanks to high unemployment, an increasing number of retirees and system failures, a huge backlog of SSDI applicants has been created. In 2011, about 3.3 million people applied for benefits. Nine months later, 771,318 applicants were still waiting for appeals.

The Social Security Administration created a program called Compassionate Allowances which allows some people with particularly severe illnesses or conditions to get on a “fast track” to benefits. This has reduced the number of dismissed applicants due to death by 20 percent. Though fewer applicants are dying, the backlog has continued to rise.

If you feel that you or someone you know qualifies for Social Security disability benefits, it is helpful to have an attorney with experience in Social Security disability laws to advocate for eligible benefits.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “Growing Case Backlog Leaves the Terminally Ill Waiting,” Damian Paletta and Dionne Searcey, Dec. 28, 2011

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