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March 17, 2010

Applying for Social Security Disability Under the Compassionate Allowances Program

An estimated 2.5 million Americans file for Social Security Disability benefits yearly, while almost 1.5 million are denied benefits after the first review. Sadly, over one million people filing claims don't pursue any appeal after that first denial is issued. It is no secret that most claims filed result in long wait times for a decision, with multiple denials and appeals. As a Social Security Disability lawyer, I have seen the toll that these wait times take on applicants. The average award decision currently takes 400 days for a full five-step application and appeals process. The lag time can be attributed to several causes, including state budget shortfalls. Despite the fact that Social Security is a federal program, once an application is filed the case is sent to a Disability Determination Office located in the state of that applicant. The review of these claims on a state level adds to delays in processing. State budget problems that result in layoffs and furloughs are adversely affecting the review and approval rate of Social Security Disability claims.

Fortunately, the government now sees the need for expeditious handling of the most severe of these cases and is making improvements to the claims system. In 2008 the Social Security Administration launched a fast-track claims system with a list of 50 medical conditions. As of March 1, 2010 this list will be expanded for people with a confirmed diagnosis of an additional 38 diseases and medical conditions, including Alzheimer's disease, Tay-Sachs disease and mixed dementia. Claims involving these conditions will be approved automatically, thereby allowing applicants to skirt the long process of denials and appeals that are typical for most patients suffering disabilities that restrict their ability to work.

The 2008 program introduced by the Social Security Administration is called Compassionate Allowances and targets individuals unable to work as a result of a medical condition that will last a minimum of one year or that is expected to result in the patient's death. While the program requirements did not change with the expansion of the list of diseases and medical conditions, the scope of conditions grew to meet the realities of today's workforce. In the end, under this program more applicants will receive disability payments faster than before. It is estimated that between 40,000 and 50,000 people this year will benefit from the additional listing of 38 medical conditions. While the addition of these medical conditions is commendable, it will impact a relatively small figure compared to the total number of claims filed yearly. There is more work to be done by the government to expedite the process for the majority of eligible Social Security Disability applicants whose conditions are not covered under the Compassionate Allowances program.

Social Security disability applicants struggle through a labyrinth of bureaucracy, KansasCity.com, February 15, 2010

Social Security to Expand Fast-Track System, WSJ.com, February 11, 2010

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