Two-thirds of Social Security Disability applicants are initially denied benefits

Two out of three people who apply for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income are denied benefits on their first attempt.

About two-thirds of all initial claims for disability benefits are denied, even seemingly credible applications seeking the benefits that disabled workers desperately need.

Millions of people receive monthly payments from the Social Security Administration, including beneficiaries who are retired workers and people on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

SSI provides basic financial assistance to adults age 65 and older and people with disabilities, regardless of age, with limited income or resources, while SSDI provides support to people who have not reached their full retirement age but have a disability and have a qualifying employment history.

To be an SSDI recipient, you must have paid Social Security taxes while working as a qualified employee, which is the biggest difference from SSI recipients, who can apply for the benefit without having worked, since this program is subsidized by the federal government.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) initially denied nearly two-thirds of all Social Security disability applications. Even more people (87%) receive a denial letter after requesting reconsideration, where the applicant asks a different claims examiner to review the claim.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is the government body that oversees the approval or denial of applications for social security disability benefits.

According to their annual statistical report, the rate of approval for applications varies by year, but tends to average around 32 percent year over year. This means that the administration denies close to 66 percent of disability applications each year.

Getting denied disability doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not disabled—look at your denial letter to learn the rationale for the denial.

According to the law firm Berger and Green, which often helps severely disabled workers apply for Social Security disability benefits, the SSA received 2,636,563 disability applications in 2014. By the end of the year:

  • 441,621 were still pending a final decision
  • 934,825 had received denials due to technical details
  • 590,143 had received denials due to medical reasons
  • 27,537 had received denials due to subsequent nonmedical reasons
  • 640,347 received benefit awards
  • 2,090 received subsequent denials

The 2014 year resulted in a 29.2 percent benefit approval rate, leaving the remaining two-thirds of applicants to either appeal their decision or give up on their claim.

As workers approach retirement, they are more likely to experience a health condition that could limit their ability to remain employed. 

An individual is eligible for benefits if he or she is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months or is expected to result in death

One can apply online through the official SSA website or by phone at 800-772-1213, but applicants will need to have the necessary documents on hand to prove their disability and work history. SSA has a list of helpful documents to review before you call.

If you would like a Social Security representative to help you file your application, call the number listed above and schedule an appointment. The average time to get a response from SSA is more than six months. If accepted, payment is calculated as if you had reached full retirement age.

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