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NPR reports shine light on Social Security Disability qualification process

A recent series of articles by National Public Radio's Chana Joffe-Walt has shined a light on a lengthy, complicated process that more than 14 million Americans have already been through: applying, qualifying and receiving Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. Joffe-Walt's report looks at both sides of the issue, considering the opinions of both those who feel that the SSD program is so hard to qualify for that some people literally die before a decision can be made about whether they will receive benefits, and those who feel that the entire SSD system has become little more than a glorified welfare program full of people too lazy to work.

The NPR expose

The articles written by Joffe-Walt not only renews the debate about the entire disability payment system, but it dispels some myths prevalent about the program. A key part of the story is to provide a wake-up call to those who think that disability payments are some sort of "windfall" for recipients. In reality, most people receiving government-sponsored benefits from either the Social Security Disability Insurance program or the Supplemental Security Insurance program live at or under the nation's poverty line. Another erroneous fact most people have about the SSDI or SSI recipients is that they are all young or middle-aged who refuse to go to work, while the truth is that many older workers who have lost their jobs due to companies closing or instituting lay-offs are now looking to SSD and SSI payments to fill the wage gap.

Reasons why

Our aging population has a lot to do with the sharp uptick in disability cases in recent years. Truthfully, older people have - on average - more medical problems and are affected more by those problems. For example, a young man might suffer a heart attack, have surgery to repair the damage and be back at work in less than a year. An older man, perhaps in his late 60s or 70s, who endures the same medical challenges will take much longer to recover - if he recovers at all - because his body is working harder to heal him, and he likely has other conditions that will impede his recovery. He might not ever work again, through no fault of his own.

The reality

It is obvious that it does take time, perseverance and patience to properly apply for and receive SSD or SSI benefits, especially when you consider that the average application takes upwards of a year to decide, and a whopping 60 percent of those initial applications are denied. Appeals are possible, though, and many law firms offer the assistance of an experienced attorney at the appellate stage, someone who knows and understands the disability laws in such a way as to increase an applicant's chances of having a denial of benefits overruled. An attorney's help can make a huge difference in the initial stages of an application as well, since someone well versed in the law will understand the jargon used and will know how to cross every proverbial "t" and dot every "i."

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