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Program helps the disabled, despite tough eligibility criteria

A recent statistic by the Social Security Administration might surprise readers: one-quarter of American 20-year-olds are expected to have a disability by the age of 67.

When disability strikes before retirement age, Social Security disability insurance might be available to workers who have paid into the system and have an impairment that is expected to prevent them from working for at least 12 months. However, a disability benefits attorney might agree that the SSDI application process is exacting.

Due to the high denial rate, many disability applicants turn to the advice of an attorney. The SSA has a comprehensive listing of potentially qualifying disabilities, known as the Blue Book. In addition to illnesses, mental conditions and physical disabilities, the SSA also has a Compassionate Allowances program that expedites the review of some terminal conditions.

The extensive entries in the Blue Book might suggest that applicants have a good chance at obtaining benefits. To the contrary, SSA reviewers deny over two-thirds of initial applications -- generally after an applicant has been waiting to have his or her appeal processed for at least several months. Although there are appeal options, even fewer applicants prevail at that stage. According to one estimate, around 10 percent of appeals before an administrative law judge are successful.

The average application contains extensive diagnostic reports and treatment records, which are thoroughly reviewed by Social Security Administration officials. Expert analysis of how a disability impacts a person's ability to work may also be needed. Finally, a lawyer must present compelling arguments, linking medical data to the separate rubric and requirements of the law.

Source: chicagotribune.com, "Applying for Social Security disability is a complicated process, but worth it," Elliot Raphaelson, Oct. 15, 2013

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