Since the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic began back in March of 2020, there have been some changes to the process of how the Social Security Administration (SSA) determines eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Indeed, these changes in this process may seem overwhelming to individuals who are considering applying for disability benefits or those who already have a pending claim.
However, applying for a disability claim during the COVID-19 pandemic is not as complicated or prolonged as we might think. This brief article will discuss the current state of the claim process, what you should know and expect regarding the claim process, and why retaining representation can be beneficial for a claimant. It is important to discuss the current situation of the initial, reconsideration, and hearing process separately since they can be distinguished from one another.
YOUR INITIAL DISABILITY CLAIM AND THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC:
An initial claim for Social Security Disability (SSDI/SSI) is filed by individuals who are unable to work secondary to a severe impairment(s) that prevents them for working at least 12 months or will result in death.
Immediately after filing, the SSA will process each application and send the claim to the Disability Determination Services (DDS). DDS is a decentralized State Agency that gathers a claimant’s medical condition and decides whether an individual is disabled under the regulations.
Each claimant is assigned a DDS case worker. A case worker will require a claimant to provide past and upcoming treatment sources and to complete multiple forms pertaining to their past work and alleged impairments. Currently, case assignments at DDS for initial claims takes around 30-60 days.
So, what is different about this part of the claims process compared to how things were pre-pandemic? Well, the key difference is most employees at DDS and the SSA are presently working from home. Rest assured, DDS and SSA representatives are readily available and actively working to process claims.
If you have a disability claim pending, it is important that a claimant or their representative regularly contact the DDS case worker for status and to provide any information about your medical pertaining to the case. Your chances of regularly contacting your case worker will not only increase your chance for an approval but will avoid any unnecessary delays associated with your claim.
YOUR RECONSIDERATION CLAIM AND THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC:
If your initial Social Security Disability claim was denied, it must be appealed within 60 days of the initial denial. The first step of the appeals process is known as the Reconsideration stage.
The Reconsideration stage is a relatively new step in the SSA appeals process in the State of Michigan, United States. The filing process for Reconsideration is similar to the Initial claims process. After the Reconsideration appeal is filed, the SSA processes it and sends it back to DDS for further review.
Presently, the SSA is experiencing a significant delay in case assignments (60-90 days). However, it is unclear whether the COVID-19 pandemic has played a part in causing this delay in assigning these claims to a case worker. For this stage of the claims process, your case will be assigned to a separate case worker to ensure adequate review of the initial denial and the claim as a whole. Moreover, the Reconsideration stage takes around 4-6 months for a decision to be reached following assignment of the case.
In relation to the initial claim, it is important for a claimant or their representative to keep in close contact with DDS. The advantage for having a Michigan social security disability lawyer allows close monitoring of the case, ensures the completion and timely submission of paperwork, and assistance to keep the claim organized.
Moreover, a Michigan and Detroit social security disability attorney can relay medical developments to a case worker to keep the claim updated. Overall, retaining a disability attorney can maximize a claimant’s chances for a favorable decision at the Reconsideration level.
YOUR SSA DISABILITY HEARING AND THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC:
If your request for reconsideration has been denied, you must file a Request for Hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). This stage of the claims process has arguably been most effected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The SSA Hearings Offices are closed to the public and the Agency has not provided any indication of when those hearings will resume. Presently, all hearings are being conducted by telephone or video conference calls.
Claimants do have the option objecting to a telephonic/video hearing and electing for an in-person hearing to be conducted. Thus, for the purposes of saving time and stress, it is recommended that claimants attend their hearings via telephone or video. Interestingly, the pandemic has decreased the wait time for hearings to be scheduled. Before the pandemic, it could take 12 to 18 months before a hearing is complete and a decision for disability benefits is made. Now, the hearing process takes anywhere between 4 to 8 months.
Having a legal representative for this stage of the appeals process is highly encouraged. Having an experienced Michigan SSD or SSI lawyer will allow a claimant to feel peace of mind prior to their hearing.
The attorneys and their office will handle filing court documents, gathering medical information and ordering medical records, writing legal arguments, regularly contacting the SSA Office of Hearing Operations (OHO) for each claim, preparing a claimant for their hearing, and so on.
RETAINING REPRESENTATION FOR YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY CLAIM:
Retaining an attorney for your disability claim is just as important now as it was pre-pandemic. Our disability team at the Lee Steinberg Law Firm will help file an individual’s disability application and regularly contacting the SSA and DDS case workers for case status. We also assist with disability forms, obtaining medical records, getting expert reports and your building disability case.
SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY LAWYERS IN MICHIGAN
In sum, the COVID-19 pandemic has not impeded the SSA disability claims process. Rather, the SSA has been able to adapt and still serve each claimant throughout the application process.
It is recommended to not wait until the pandemic comes to an end to apply for disability. If there are any interests or inquiries for applying, our team here will be more than happy to help.We have a long history of winning cases and significant financial compensation for our clients. Contact our offices at 1-800-LEE-FREE (1-800-533-3733) or fill out the Free Case Evaluation Form to get started with a free consultation. As always, you pay nothing until we settle your Social Security Disability case.