When someone applies for a disability, the application and claim goes through a multiple month review process that is led by a local Disability Determination Services. These centers are located in every state, and most major cities and towns, and operate in partnership with the federal government Social Security Administration field offices. The staff work closely with applicants that are filing for SSDI - Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Even if your application was denied and needs to be appealed, the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, which is a part of DDS, plays a key role in that process too.
The centers operate in a number of ways. When filing an initial claim, what generally happens is that representatives from a Social Security (SSA) office will obtain someone’s application for disability benefits. They receive this by telephone, from the person filing at the office, in person, or online. So applications for disability benefits need to go to the social security office first, and this is where people should begin the process when applying for financial assistance.
So the first review of an application is done by a representative that will work at a SSA field office, and this person is responsible for verifying non-medical eligibility requirements. They will review information such as employment status, age, Social Security coverage, income, or the applicants marital status. The SSA field office then sends the case to the Disability Determination Service (DDS) center in your state for evaluation of the disability claim.
After that step above is complete, then what happens is the DDS will take it from there. These are state agencies that are responsible for developing and reviewing medical evidence. The staff will also make the initial determination on whether or not a claimant is qualified as disabled and/or if they are found to be blind under the law.
There are many activities undertaken at the DDS center. They will do their best to obtain evidence from the applicant’s doctors or medical sources first. If that doesn’t work out, and say the information is insufficient or unavailable, then the Disability Determination Service will set up a more thorough consultative examination. They may use doctors, independent sources, trained medical staff, or others as part of this process.
To make the decision, a number of factors are reviewed. They will review extensive information, medical records and variables. The final decision is made by your Disability Determination Services office. It really comes down to whether the applicant is able to work based on what their experience and training would dictate. They will also strongly consider whether the person can work in the future and find future employment when considering the person’s disability. So the process is very unique, and no two cases are the same. This is why an advocate can help in the process, as they will ensure you are treated fairly and no discrimination or bias occurs.
The staff from the center will ensure the application is closely reviewed. They closely focus on the employment issue as well, as this should be the deciding factor in whether approving or denying the application. For example, even if someone is able to communicate, walk, and manage their own life, they may in fact be considered disabled if there is no employment given their abilities. However someone with diminished mental capacity or mobility may not qualify for SSDI disability benefits if there is plentiful employment in their field that is available given their abilities. Another twist is that in some cases, an applicant may found to be qualified by Disability Determination Services based on their symptoms alone.
When applying, many people want to know how long will their case file be at the local DDS office. Unfortunately there is no official timeline. It general, the application will be reviewed, analyzed, and at the office for as long as it takes to make a decision. It may be anywhere from 4-5 months, or even longer. If you appeal and it needs to be reviewed again, then that will add a few more months to the process.
If you want to call the Disability Determination Services center, you can do this. While it may be challenging to get a phone number, it is recommended to call the Social Security office where you originally applied and ask for the DDS number. While there are security protocols in place, in rare cases an applicant may visit their local office in order to speak directly to the examiner who is processing your claim or to bring additional documentation or evidence.
In some cases, the local disability examiner will contact you directly. This may occur by mail, phone, or in some cases an appointment at the office. They may request additional information, need to clarify your application, or ask questions.
After this comprehensive process is completed, the DDS centers returns the case file to the Social Security field office for appropriate action and further review or sign off. Whether it was approved or denied, the claim is then returned to the originating SSA office to finish processing.
If the case manager at your state’s DDS office found that the claimant is disabled, the federal government SSA completes the process from that point going forward. They will decide the cash benefit amount to pay out. This will initiate the process to begin paying benefits to the individual. If your application was denied, both SSA and the Disability Determination keep this on record for any possible appeal or lawsuit from an attorney.
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