Why Disability Benefits Are Challenging to Receive

Brenda Powell had a stroke and was in debilitating pain. She called the Social Security Administration last year to inquire about receiving disability benefits.

The former Louisiana state office worker struggled at times to write her name or carry a glass of water. Powell, then 62, believed she could no longer work, and she was worried about how to pay for medical care with only a $433 monthly pension.

The Social Security Administration agreed that Powell’s condition limited the work she could do. Unfortunately, the agency rejected her initial application for Supplemental Security Income. She had the choice to appeal that decision, which could take months or years to resolve, or take early retirement. The latter option would give her $302 a month now but might permanently reduce the full Social Security retirement payment she would be eligible for at age 66 and 10 months.

Every year, tens of thousands of people who are disabled and unable to work consider receiving Social Security payments early. Over one million people are awaiting a verdict on their benefits application, the federal disability system concedes that it is hindered by delays and dysfunction.

According to AARP, the average wait period for an initial disability decision at the Social Security Administration reached an all-time high of more than six months, or 198 days, in August 2022. Nearly three times longer than it was a decade earlier.

In addition, many people are denied several times. Approximately 65% of all disability claims submitted to the Social Security Administration are refused on the first application like Powell’s was. If you keep submitting new applications for disability benefits instead of filing an appeal, Social Security will continue to deny them.

According to AARP the average disability applicant now waits more than two years for a final decision. Sadly, more than 10,000 individuals die each year without receiving an answer.

Contacting the Social Security Administration is also a challenge. AARP noted wait times of around 31 minutes in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky in September 2022, which were roughly ten times longer than in 2012.

The disability benefits system in the United States needs to be reformed. Benefits need to be increased, and the application process needs to be streamlined. People’s lives depend on these benefits, and thousands die waiting for an answer.


Classen-Kelly, Fred. “‘A System in Crisis’: Dysfunctional Federal Disability Programs Force the Poor into Difficult Choices.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 11 May 2023, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/social-security-disability-benefits-early-retirement/.

Konish, Lorie. “As Social Security Disability Application Wait Times Hit Record High, Experts Say It’s a Sign the Agency Needs More Funding.” CNBC, CNBC, 16 Sept. 2022, https://www.cnbc.com/amp/2022/09/16/long-social-security-service-waits-signal-need-for-more-funds.html.

Trudeau, Joyce. “Does Social Security Disability Deny Everyone the First Time They Apply?” Disability Secrets, Nolo, 21 Jan. 2022, https://www.disabilitysecrets.com/does-social-security-deny-you-the-first-time-you-apply-for-disability.html.

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