Applying for disability benefits can be a long and frustrating process. It typically takes the Social Security Administration (SSA) 3 to 5 months to make an initial determination on an application. If the initial appeal is denied, a Request for Reconsideration may take another 6 months.
If the request for reconsideration is denied, then a claimant may choose to file a request for a hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ). It frequently takes 12 months or longer to obtain a hearing at this stage of the process. At the time of writing in 2019, Philadelphia’s two hearing offices have a 13-month backlog and New Jersey’s three hearing offices have between 17 and 18-month backlogs.
For some individuals, this lengthy wait is simply impossible. Due to the severity of their financial situation, they need access to disability benefits sooner rather than later. If this sounds like you, you may question whether writing a dire needs letter will help to expedite your disability appeal.
As a Philadelphia disability benefits attorney can explain, a dire need letter may help you speed up the process so that they can obtain a hearing more quickly. Read on to learn more about dire need letters and how they can be used in the disability benefits process.
What Is a Dire Need Letter?
A dire need letter is essentially an opportunity for you to make a case as to why waiting the normal amount of time for a disability benefits hearing may have dire financial consequences. Generally, it is an attempt to get an expedited hearing with an ALJ by demonstrating that, without the benefits, you will suffer extreme financial consequences.
In most cases, a dire need letter will describe situations that are extreme, beyond what most disability applicants, who are already out of work and without an income are facing. This may include issues such as potential foreclosure or eviction. Alternatively, a dire need letter may document how a claimant will not be able to pay for prescriptions or obtain necessary medical treatment, or pay for basic life expenses such as food or utilities.
Because regional SSA offices each receive hundreds of dire need letters, the situation must be uniquely severe before it is considered. Generally, only if a claimant is in danger of becoming homeless due to foreclosure or eviction, a dire needs letter will be considered. In other cases, a dire need due to a lack of food or access to medical care may qualify. In all cases, Social Security is most concerned with the documentation supporting the request. A simple letter alone, without support, will usually not be sufficient.
Social Security provides the following guidance regarding circumstances in which dire need will be considered directly to judges and hearing office staff:
- The claimant is without food and is unable to obtain it.
- The claimant lacks medicine or medical care and is unable to obtain it, or the claimant indicates that access to necessary medical care is restricted because of a lack of resources.
- The claimant lacks shelter (e.g., without utilities such that his or her home is uninhabitable, homelessness, expiration of a shelter stay, or imminent eviction or foreclosure with no means to remedy the situation or obtain shelter).
Social Security is instructed to give claimants the benefit of the doubt:
“Absent evidence to the contrary, accept a person’s allegation that he or she does not have enough income or resources to meet an immediate threat to his or her health or safety. OHO employees will err on the side of designating the case critical.”
When Can a Dire Need Letter Be Filed?
A dire needs letter cannot be filed with an initial application. Instead, it is only at the third step of the process, when a request for an ALJ hearing is filed, that a dire needs letter can be submitted.
If an expedited hearing is granted at this stage, there is no guarantee as to how much time the letter will shave off of the total wait. It may result in saving just a few months of wait time — but this can be a significant amount of time if your financial situation is truly desparate and you are in need of disability benefits to make ends meet.
How to Write a Dire Need Letter
First, a dire need letter should be written by you, the disability claimant, and not by a friend, attorney, or family member (if you are represented by a disability insurance lawyer, he or she can help you understand what needs to go in the letter, but your own words will likely be more powerful). Because you are making the request and are in the best position to discuss your own financial situation, it is best for the letter to come directly from you.
Second, you should include as much detail as possible to back up your claim of dire financial need. For example, if you are behind on your utilities, do not simply state that your water is about to be shut off for nonpayment.
Instead, list exactly how much you owe, how far behind you are on your payment(s), and the anticipated cut-off date. Include copies of the past-due bills if possible, to further support your claim. Remember, you are advocating to cut in line past thousands of other disabled individuals who are also without an income to rely on.
Similarly, if you cannot pay for medication or if you were turned away for medical care, list this information in detail in your dire need letter. If your home is going to go into foreclosure or if you are behind on rent, include those facts as well, along with specific amounts that you owe. Once again, if you have a notice of foreclosure or eviction notice, including the actual documents can make all the difference.
Third, to the extent possible, be sure to include documentation of all claims made in your letter. While you may not be able to attach proof that you were turned away from a hospital, you can and should include copies of past due notices, foreclosure or eviction letters, or even bank statements. The more documentation that you can provide of your financial situation, particularly as it relates to your potential to become homeless or your inability to provide for basic life needs such as medication and utilities, the greater the chances of your dire needs letter being granted.
Work with a Philadelphia Disability Benefits Attorney
According to the SSA, over 50% of disability claims are denied on the first application. This makes it all the more important to work with an experienced lawyer who can guide you through the process and increase the potential for an approval.
At Bross & Frankel, we have more than 50 years of combined experience working with the disability benefits system. Our founding partner, David Bross, is a former Benefit Authorizer for the SSA, and uses his knowledge of the system to help clients through the process. To learn more about how we can help you or to schedule a free claim review with a Philadelphia disability benefits attorney, contact our office today at 856-795-8880, or contact us online.