Obtaining disability benefits can be very challenging. Reports show that more than 50% of disability claims are denied on the initial attempt, making the experience very frustrating for those who truly in need. Complicating matters, it’s up to the Social Security Administration (SSA) to determine eligibility for Social Security Disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), not individual states. That makes the process quite lengthy; generally about 400 days, according to the SSA.
Of course, some individuals simply can’t wait 400 days to get the help they need. That may leave them wondering, “will writing a dire need letter help my disability case?” The answer is maybe. Let’s start from the beginning.
When to Claim Dire Needs
Before you can claim you are in dire need of assistance, you must first make an initial attempt to apply without it. If you are denied, here are the next steps to take:
Reconsideration. You ask the SSA to review the initial denial and a claims examiner will review your situation.
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Hearing. If the reconsideration does not come back in your favor, you can request a hearing before an ALJ. This is when you would submit a dire needs letter. Your letter may be able to get your hearing date scheduled faster.
Appeal Council Review. If the ALJ doesn’t find in your favor, you can request an Appeal Council review. At this point, we would highly recommend you have a disability advocate at your side.
Federal Court. If the Appeal Council denied your claim, a civil action with the federal District Court is your last resort.
While it may be frustrating to wait until step two to submit a dire needs letter, like everything in government, we have to play by the rules. And remember, getting an expedited ALJ date is a coup; otherwise, it’s not uncommon for it to take over a year to be seen.
What Constitutes Dire Needs?
When you’re applying for disability, it’s natural to assume that if you meet the income and resource limitations, you are in a dire needs situation. Unfortunately, the SSA doesn’t make it that easy. In addition to being in financial dire straights, applicants also have to be able to prove they are unable to obtain food, shelter, basic utilities, or medicine on their own (presenting a threat to their health and/or safety). If an applicant meets these criteria, their application will be processed as a “critical case” and the process should move faster.
Writing a Dire Needs Letter
If you qualify as a dire needs applicant based on the criteria above, you need to compose a letter explaining your situation. If you’re able to write the letter yourself, it should come from you rather than a family member, friend, or representative. Authenticity is critical. Don’t shy away from details when writing your letter; dates and locations of specific incidents are beneficial to your cause (e.g., 2/1/19: went to the emergency clinic at 500 W. Main but was turned away due to money; 2/15/19: went to the shelter at 800 E. Main but was told it was full). The more support you can add to your claim, the better.
If you really want to increase the chance of receiving an expedited hearing, provide solid proof of your situation. This could include copies of eviction or foreclosure notices, past due bill notices, utility shutoffs, a signed letter from support staff at a homeless shelter or food bank, or supporting evidence from family, friends, or a physician.
We’ve stressed before that honesty is the best policy when applying for benefits; this goes for writing a dire needs letter too. If the SSA or hearings officer checks into your claims (and they will) only to learn that you’ve exaggerated or lied, your case will likely be tossed out and you’ll need to start all over again, and this time they’ll have their eyebrow raised from the beginning.
Submitting a Dire Needs Letter
You’ll want to submit your letter to the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO). We recommend calling them beforehand to ensure your letter gets where it needs to go:
Mon-Fri | 7am-7pm EST
The office locator can be found online here; Florida is in Region 4, so click on Atlanta.
Appealing With an Advocate
Hiring a professional disability advocate when applying or appealing can increase the likelihood of your claim being approved since they know SSA policies and procedures. A reputable advocate will help you collect the necessary documentation, fill out paperwork, present your case, and cut through red tape. We can also let you know if a dire needs situation may benefit you, and help you with that process. Want to speak with a caring advocate now? Contact the professionals at Disability Experts of Florida (DEF) today.