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What can I do to speed up my disability claim?

Many claimants have heard that it can take up to 2 years to get disability benefits. If this is true, this could be financially devastating for many of you. Add the fact that the SSA will automatically deny your claim if you are working and making too much money - $1,000 per month in 2011- and you have a real problem.

You may be wondering, “What do you do while you wait for disability benefits and is there anything you can do to speed up the disability process?”

First, given the length of time it can take to process a disability claim it is imperative that you SAVE YOUR MONEY while you are working. This seems to run counter to our culture’s idea of spend, spend, spend, but if you do not prepare for the potential lengthy processing time, you could be in real trouble. If possible, save at least 6 months to 1 year of living expenses so you can pay your bills while you wait for your claim to process.

Now, back to the real question: what can you do to expedite your claim? The SSA has created several new programs to expedite disability claims. They include:

• The Compassionate Allowances initiative

The Compassionate Allowance program was the created expedite disability cases for claimants who have certain mental or physical health conditions, with established medical criteria, that most often are considered disabling. This program was first created in 2008 and it covers 25 cancers and 25 rare diseases. This program has been expanded to include an additional 38 more conditions. If you meet the criteria for the compassionate allowance program you may have your disability benefits approved within days, not months or years.

• Terminal Illness (TERI) Cases

If your disability case is determined to be TERI, the process to be considered disabled is the same, but the process is expedited by the Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA will use special handling, labeling, flagging and tracking of your TERI case to ensure that it is processed as quickly as possible. Common TERI cases can include: AIDS, ALS, bone marrow transplant cases, any malignant cancer that is metastatic (stage IV), and small cell or oat cell lung cancer.

• Wounded Warriors Program

Military serviceman who have been seriously injured or disabled from their military service on or after Oct. 1, 2001, may have their SSDI or SSI applications expedited. The requirements to qualify for disability are the same as for other applicants.

These are the main programs which allow disability claims to be expedited. What if you do not meet any of the requirements listed above? Are you completely out of luck?
No, there are several steps you can take to ensure that your case is evaluated as quickly as possible.

Steps to expedite your disability case

1. Make sure you understand the requirements of each disability program. If you are working too much or making too much money, you have not earned enough work credits (for SSDI only), or your condition is not expected to last 12 continuous months, you will be denied.

2 If you are applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) make sure your income and resource level is below the federally allowable limit. If it is not, you will not qualify for SSI.

3. Understand how the SSA makes their disability determination. Review the SSA Listing of Impairments (Blue Book). Is your condition on this list? If it is not, can you prove through valid medical evidence that you are unable to work for at least 12 continuous months?

4. Review your medical records. Do you have to do this? No, but if you are not going to hire a disability lawyer it is imperative that you understand what is in your medical file and how the SSA will view this information. Are your records legible? Do they clearly state your diagnosis? Have you seen the right doctors for your conditions? Do your records clearly state your limitations to work? If not, is your doctor willing to complete a residual capacity form?

2. Most importantly - go to the doctor. Too many claimants sit back and wait for the SSA to do all of the “heavy lifting.” Did you know that there were over 2 million people who applied for disability last year? If you are waiting for the SSA to do all of the work, you will be waiting a long time.

3. It is time to find your own doctor and start building good medical records that support the claim that you cannot work.