Applying for Disability Benefits While the SSA Offices Remain Closed

Getting Social Security Disability benefits isn’t easy, and with Social Security Administration offices closed, it can be even tougher. Here are some tips to improve your chances.

A man in a wheelchair attempt to enter an office building.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in earnest in spring 2020, the Social Security Administration (SSA), along with scores of businesses, was forced to close about 1,200 field offices and transition thousands of employees to remote work status practically overnight. For well over a year, it was unclear when or how the offices would reopen as the world waited and watched the trajectory of the virus.

The SSA offices have remained mostly closed to the public, though they offer limited in-person services for people with “dire” needs. This has caused difficulty for the millions of Americans with disabilities who rely on the responsiveness of the SSA and its employees to apply for and receive their Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits following a work-disrupting disability. Recent negotiations have led to a revised, but still tentative reopening date (opens in new tab) of March 30, 2022, over two full years since the field offices initially closed.

If you are one of the millions of people waiting for updates on your application or approval status, here are some tips to maximize your chances of success.

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Apply for SSDI Immediately.

There is no time to lose when it comes to applying for SSDI. Due to the field offices being closed, the administration is seeing a significant backlog. The initial application can take three to six months to review, and typically only about one in three applications are approved.

Waiting until the SSA field offices reopen to apply will only hurt your financial situation, and possibly your savings and retirement fund, especially if you have no other regular income.

If you are thinking about applying for SSDI, check the categories of eligible disabilities online (opens in new tab) to see if you are eligible to receive the benefits you deserve and earned while working.

Use a representative to get help early.

Applying for SSDI is a multistage process that can be incredibly complex and can prove to be both physically and mentally exhausting. Many applications fail to get approved simply because the applicant did not submit all the required documentation. Having an experienced, dedicated representative advocating for you can make a huge difference in getting your application and claims approved in a timely manner.

This is especially true since SSA’s operational process has grown more complicated on a state-by-state level, with different state Disability Determination Services (DDS) offices taking different approaches to managing workloads. An effective representative should be familiar with the policies and procedures of the SSA, can advocate for you and your particular disability, and can help ensure that all necessary forms and documents are in order, properly completed and submitted electronically to the federal agency.

Create a budget and adjust your spending habits accordingly.

As described above, it is likely going to take some time for the SSA’s offices and staff to get back up to speed once they reopen. This may mean needing to go for longer than expected without receiving a benefits payment. Looking at your finances and creating a budget could help you live beneath your means and remain financially secure for an interim period while the SSA processes your paperwork.

If you still find yourself coming up short financially, consider searching for community and social or faith-based organizations that may be willing to provide temporary assistance, helping out by providing food or funds for housing, utilities and other expenses.

Keep your health insurance.

With expected delays, it might be tempting to opt out of health insurance. However, having medical evidence is critical to support your claims. The lack of medical records could be a reason why your application gets denied. Therefore, you should consider your health insurance options, such as COBRA, Health Insurance Marketplace plans or Medicaid.

If you need to stop paying for health insurance premiums due to cost or other circumstances, then look for low-cost or free health care clinics serving your area. You can find a list at the federal website: (opens in new tab).

This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Steven Perrigo, J.D.
Vice President, Allsup

Steve Perrigo, J.D., is Vice President, Sales and Account Management, for Allsup (opens in new tab)and has over two decades of experience and knowledge of the Social Security Administration (SSA) and its programs. He joined Allsup in August 2010 and helps clients understand their options when coordinating private disability insurance benefits with the Social Security program.  Prior to joining Allsup, Steve Perrigo spent 17 years with the SSA in various roles of increasing responsibility.