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What makes the Social Security Disability process so complex?

The concept behind Social Security Disability Insurance benefits is pretty straightforward. The government has set up the program to pay monthly benefits to individuals who are no longer able to perform substantial gainful work for any number of various reasons.

But the simplicity of that statement belies just how difficult it can be to get the benefits expected. Anyone in California who has been through the steps of the process knows that it is far from easy. Understanding and meeting all the eligibility requirements can be a major challenge. And if one misstep is made in the application process, it can mean immediate denial and require help with the cumbersome appeals process.

The array of entities involved in making a determination of legitimate disability also has a way of complicating matters. When an application is made the Social Security Administration assesses if you have been worked long enough to be covered (usually 10 years) and whether the outlook for your case is such that you won't be able to work for a year or more, or is likely to end in death.

If those hurdles are cleared, your paperwork is sent to the Disability Determination Services in your state for more consideration. In California, it's the Department of Social Services. That agency is then responsible for assembling the necessary medical evidence from any and all sources and deciding if your condition is a disability as defined by law.

All this takes time, of course, and if all the elements don't align just so it can result in a claim denial. Then the appeals process begins, and it can take additional years to get benefits approved.

What is clear from all this is that SSDI, while crucial for those eligible for it, is not easy to come by. Speaking with an attorney is advised.

Source: Social Security Administration, "Disability Determination Process," accessed Jan. 7, 2015

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