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By Jim Allsup
Special to KyForward
The current economic climate has been tough on many people, but what happens if you suddenly become disabled and unable to work? The financial impact can be disastrous, sometimes leading to foreclosure and bankruptcy. – From KyForward’s Savvy Money
KyForward’s recent column, “Savvy Money: Ability to earn money is most important asset – take steps to protect it,” listed some sobering statistics about disability, including the fact that three in 10 workers will become disabled for at least three months during their working career. The same piece briefly mentioned that Social Security offers disability benefits, but pointed out it can take a long time to qualify.
It’s true – it can take months, even years, to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. In fact, the average wait time in Kentucky for benefits at the hearing level of the review process alone is 325 days. This means claimants have been denied twice already in the process.
SSDI provides benefits to Americans unable to work due to a severe, long-term disability. It is funded by workers and employers through FICA taxes, and eligibility depends on having worked and paid into the system before becoming disabled. These benefits are an important, earned safety net for working Americans and are very much needed. More than 206,000 Kentucky residents receive SSDI benefits.
It’s important to be well-informed about eligibility requirements and prepared for the notoriously complex application process. Roughly 66 percent of initial applications for SSDI benefits are rejected – many because of technicalities such as improper documentation.
Because of the complexity of the process, about 78 percent of applicants have a representative by the time they reach the hearing level. Many must apply, appeal, reapply and then wait for an administrative law judge to hear their case. That’s a lot of waiting for those unable to work, while struggling to pay for necessities and mounting medical bills. If you do decide to file on your own, there are many things you can do to expedite your application.
The key to qualifying for these earned benefits – and possibly avoiding a financial crisis – is to submit a well-prepared application as early as possible after determining you are eligible. It’s crucial to provide a realistic picture of how an injury or illness and recovery have affected one’s life, and how the disease has progressed since diagnosis.
Notes or a journal about daily activities can help explain how an applicant deals with the condition on a daily basis, as well as provide a comprehensive overview of the disease’s progression. It’s also important to have doctors’ notes, prescriptions, test results, evaluations and other medical records available when preparing a claim. Another critical step is to cut unnecessary spending as quickly as possible to prepare financially for the long haul.
As with any disease or disability, it’s vital to have a strong support network. Having help from family, friends or professional representatives to keep records, complete paperwork, make and meet appointments, and other tasks associated with an SSDI claim can help minimize the stress and anxiety from the process.
Resources and a support network can help you muscle through the financially and emotionally trying times to prevent disaster following a debilitating diagnosis.
Jim Allsup is the founder, president and CEO of Allsup, a nationwide provider of Social Security Disability Insurance representation and Medicare plan selection services based in Belleville, Ill.