Sadly, applicants for Social Security disability (SSI in particular) often experience dire need situations, due mainly to the great delays in the Social Security Administration's disability claim evaluation process. And for the most part, a disability claimant's financial situation will have no bearing on the pace at which a Social Security disability or SSI disability case is processed.
However, if a disability claimant is waiting for a hearing to be scheduled with an Administrative Law Judge, this can sometimes be expedited by submitting what is known as a "dire need" letter.
What the Letter Does
In a dire need letter, you point out why waiting the normal amount of time for a hearing (unfortunately, the normal wait time can sometimes be a year or longer) might have dire financial consequences for you. In most cases, this means something on the order of a home foreclosure, an eviction from an apartment, or not being able to obtain prescriptions that are desperately needed.
Do Dire Need Letters Work?
Are dire need letters effective for expediting Social Security disability claims? That is, does Social Security, or, rather, the Social Security hearing office, take them seriously? Every regional Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR, formerly the Office of Hearings and Appeals) in the country gets hundreds of dire need letters. Therefore, it's somewhat normal for the disability process at this level to give scant attention to the majority of such letters. But if you write a convincing letter and it gets the right person on the right day, you have a chance of being heard.
For the most part, a hearing office will consider a dire need situation to be only one in which a disability claimant is in danger of becoming homeless; in other words, where foreclosure on owned property or eviction from rental property is imminent. Having said this, however, a hearing office that is not beset by a growing backlog may occasionally view a claimant's lack of utilities or access to needed medical care as a qualifying dire need situation.
But even if an expedited hearing is granted, there is no guarantee as to how much faster a disability hearing before an ALJ will be scheduled -- perhaps a few months earlier at best. Having said that, even if a dire need letter only shaves a few months off the total time required to get a hearing date, writing such a letter is certainly worth the effort.
Writing an Effective Dire Need Letter
First and foremost, the letter should be written by the claimant, versus a representative, friend, or family member.
The letters that get the most attention are the ones that have the most detail. So, if are your bills are behind, include which bills, and how far behind they are. If you can't pay for medications, obtain needed clinical or hospital treatment, or pay for critical expenses, such as utilities, incude details. If your car is in danger of being repossessed, certainly mention this. And if your home situation is in jeopardy because you can't pay your mortgage or your rent, make this the first item that you address.
The letters that end up being the most effective are those that have documentation attached: copies of past due notices, eviction threats, foreclosure proceedings, and the like. For more information on the evidence to include in a dire need letter, see our article on which critical disability cases are expedited.
You send the letter to your closest ODAR office; you can get your ODAR's address by calling Social Security at 800-772-1213.
Also, you may want to learn more about financial help that's available while awaiting a disability decision.