Long Waits And Long Odds For Those Who Need Social Security Disability

In the U.S., less than half of all people who apply for disability benefits — about 45 percent — are ultimately accepted, says Lisa Ekman with the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives. Getting a hearing takes an average of nearly 600 days.

"It is not easy to get disability benefits, and it's a very complicated and difficult process," she says.

It may become even harder for people like Hashmi, whose disability is difficult to actually see or measure. This spring, the Social Security Administration introduced changes to fight fraud and streamline the application process, including a new rule that removes special consideration given to a person's longtime doctor. Ekman says this is a mistake.

"Those changes would now put the evidence from a treating physician on the same weight as evidence from a medical consultant employed to do a one-time brief examination, or a medical consultant they had do a review of the paper file — [who] may have never examined the individual," Eckman says.

She says relying on these examiners who don't know the patient could lead to more denials for disabled people with complex conditions like lupus, multiple sclerosis or schizophrenia. These illnesses can affect patients in very different ways and may be hard for an unfamiliar doctor or nurse to evaluate. Eckman says more denials will lead to more appeals, which will increase the backlog.

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