It is an unfortunate fact that the safety-net our government has for those who become disabled can be difficult to obtain, even for those in New Jersey who truly need it. In the United States, less than 50 percent of individuals who seek Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits are approved. Even if they get a hearing, it could take on average of 600 days before their case goes before a judge.

This issue may become worse due to changes made by the Social Security Administration last spring. In an effort to combat fraud and make the application process simpler, the agency introduced a new rule in which special consideration will no longer be given to an applicant’s physician. Evidence supplied by the applicant’s personal physician will be on equal standing as evidence supplied by a medical consultant, even though the medical consultant may have only examined the applicant once or merely reviewed the individual’s application.

Some believe this is a mistake. They fear that for individuals with complex medical conditions that affect different people different ways, this could mean that a physician who has not seen the patient before could have a difficult time evaluating the applicant’s medical condition.

Moreover, if more people that are initially denied benefits, this will increase the number of people appealing the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) decision, making an already burdensome backlog worse. As of right now, over one million individuals in the United States have appealed a denial of SSD benefits and are waiting for a hearing, while the SSA’s budget has gone down 10 percent over the past seven years.

In the end, for many people, applying for SSD benefits is a multi-step process, from an initial application to an appeal and hearing. It can take a long time for a person to succeed in being awarded benefits. Therefore, it can help to have a legal advocate by one’s side from the get-go, to ensure the best possible application is presented to the SSA.