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A surge in applications for disability benefits challenges the system

Four times as many Americans, including many living in New Jersey, survive on Social Security disability benefits than forty years ago. Deemed "out of control" by some, the increasing numbers of Americans applying for Social Security disability benefits has made it difficult for even the most deserving applicants to receive benefits.

Ironically, one major contributor to the dramatic increase in applications is better health care. Americans now live longer than they did in the 1950s when Congress first created the program. Heart disease and cancer were the most common reasons for qualifying a few decades ago, but currently account for only 20 percent of claims. Today, more people are awarded disability benefits for pain and mental disorders. Both of which are harder to diagnose and challenging to prove a person's inability to work.

Another factor in the increase in applications is our recent recession. Between 2007 and 2010, the number of Americans on disability has grown by 1.4 million, with more than 400,000 people being approved for benefits every year.

Many people who apply for disability benefits are unsuccessful in their first attempt. Although people can appeal the decisions, because of inconsistencies within the system, final approval depends greatly on which administrative judge reviews the appeal. Some people will wait months or even years to be approved for disability benefits.

Analysts agree that claims will increase, and further strain the system. The National Bureau of Economic research predicts that today's 20-year-old worker has a 30 percent likelihood of ending up disabled before retiring. Although politicians have focused their attention on retirement benefits, they may want to shift their attention to disability benefits.

News reports highlight much of the negative aspects of the system, but Social Security disability benefits continue to provide millions of Americans with much needed financial support. Anyone in New Jersey interested in applying for disability benefits would do well to consult with an experienced attorney. An attorney can help individuals throughout the application process and work to get them the benefits they deserve.

Source: The Kansas City Star, "Rural communities have strongest reliance on disability benefits," Rick Montgomery, Jan.29, 2012

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