retirement

Claiming Social Security disability benefits

Don't drag your feet

Once you file an application for Social Security disability benefits, there's no time to drag feet. If you're asked to submit more paperwork, do it as soon as possible. If you're asked by the SSA to have a consultation done with another physician, do so immediately, Hinkle says. "It helps us make a decision quicker."

Kazmierczak recommends that you also provide an in-depth description of your job. Managing a fast-food restaurant is likely to involve much more physical activity than managing an office. "How you describe (your work) could make a huge difference in the claim," he says.

If possible, you should seek legal help to fill out the application, but many attorneys are reluctant to get involved at that stage because their fees are based on a percentage of the retroactive benefits you receive.

The National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives and the National Association of Disability Representatives are two organizations that can help identify attorneys and advocates who can help you navigate the system, Setzfand says.

Those earning less than 125 percent of the poverty level can seek assistance from programs affiliated with the nonprofit Legal Services Corp.

Denied? Find an attorney

Because the majority of applications are initially denied and seldom reversed during the reconsideration process, McIntyre recommends finding an attorney as soon as you receive a denial because you have only 60 days to appeal.

While you can file a Social Security disability application online, if you need to file an appeal, McIntyre recommends printing a copy and bringing it to the local Social Security office. Then get it dated and stamped, so you have a receipt.

If you're not getting the assistance you need from Social Security employees or are running into headaches with an appeal, Setzfand advises asking for a supervisor or contacting your local congressman or congresswoman because they have staff members who deal with Social Security issues.

Delays in the process aren't likely to get better anytime soon. More baby boomers are hitting retirement age and flooding the SSA with claims at a time when tight budgets are impacting staffing levels.

On top of that, Hinkle says Social Security disability is "really about the most complex we administer. It's not a cookie-cutter program." The best advice is to be prepared, have everything in order and be patient.

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