Dying while waiting for Social Security Benefits
Denials are a part of the disability process. Sometimes a denial comes because the case is not completely worked up: no recent tests; no treating doctors willing to give opinions regarding disability; or conditions which are harder to evaluate over mail correspondence like chronic pain. Other times the denial is due to an error made by the examiner who evaluated the claim or the reviewing doctor who missed or ignored key pieces of information.
All attorneys’ get the heart broken calls from their clients after they receive a denial. The questions are the same: Why doesn’t SSA believe me? Does this mean I won’t ever get disability benefits? I know people much better off than me who got approved the first time, why not me? Even more upsetting: I’m about to lose my home/car/I can’t afford treatment/my medications.
If you’ve been practicing in the field of disability for more than a minute, you’ve had a client who died from their condition while waiting to be approved for benefits, or who has chosen to take their own life out of desperation. Living with the loss of income, ability to engage in activities you enjoy, and/or living with chronic pain or mental illness can be almost too much for people to bear and too often the denial letter that comes in the mail can be the final straw. It is always heartbreaking to get that call from a family member informing you that your client has passed away, regardless of the reason.
The fear for many attorneys is that the longer delays in processing and adjudicating claims that SSA is reporting as of late, may lead to an increased chance of claimants either passing away or choosing to take their own lives while waiting for SS benefits.
Not only are delays causing getting worse, but the number of cases being awarded has declined as well. Allowance rates at the initial levels have been around 33% the past few years. Hearing allowances are down to 48% nationally. The allowance rates have declined for both levels over the past 5 years although the standards for disability have not changed.
This means that each and every day, based on the number of applicants and the denial rate, approximately 400 people are getting denial letters in their mailbox.*
The suicide rate has risen steadily in the US every year since 1999. The majority of the people who take their own lives are middle aged. The majority of people applying for disability are in this same age range. Aging baby boomers coupled with crippling disabilities makes the situation very scary. Attorney’s have identified this as a dangerous combination, and have made this known to the powers that be at SSA, but as of yet, nothing has been done to lessen the risks that claimants may pass away before receiving benefits.
* The statistics come from, “The Neglected Suicide Epidemic among Social Security Disability Applicants” by N. David Kornfeld.
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