What Is a Dire Need Letter for Social Security Disability Claims?

A financial dire need letter to Social Security can sometimes get you an earlier disability hearing date.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco
Updated 9/28/2022

When you apply for Social Security disability benefits, it's generally because you can't work due to a serious injury or illness. And if you can't work, you probably can't pay your bills. Waiting months for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to decide your claim can create financial hardship for some applicants.

It's especially tough if your disability application is denied and you have to go through the appeals process. Waiting for an appeal hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) can take a year or more. That's another year without income.

There's not much you can do to speed up the initial determination of your Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) application. But if Social Security has denied your claim and you find yourself in dire need while waiting for your appeal, you can sometimes get your ALJ hearing expedited by writing a compelling dire needs letter.

Here's what you need to know about submitting a dire need letter to Social Security and how to write the most effective letter you can.

When Should You Submit a Dire Needs Letter?

If waiting the normal amount of time for Social Security to schedule your ALJ hearing would have severe financial consequences for you, the SSA might consider that a dire need. Social Security defines dire needs as any of the following:

  • You've lost or are about to lose your home. You're facing imminent eviction or foreclosure, or your stay at a shelter is expiring, and you have no means to remedy your situation.
  • Your utilities have been shut off, making your home uninhabitable.
  • You can't get necessary medical treatment or medications, or your access to life-sustaining medical care is restricted because of your lack of resources.
  • You don't have food, and you have no way to get it.

If waiting for your appeal hearing would cause you this kind of severe financial or medical hardship, your situation fits Social Security's definition of dire need. To try to get your appeal moving, you can ask Social Security to speed up the process by submitting a dire need letter.

Why Write a Dire Needs Letter?

In a dire need letter, you point out why waiting the normal amount of time for a hearing would have dire financial consequences for you. In most cases, this means something like becoming homeless or not being able to get life-sustaining medical treatment. And if you explain your situation in writing, Social Security might flag your file and expedite your appeal.

Explaining that you're in dire need in a letter to Social Security doesn't guarantee your case will be expedited. But if you don't write a dire need letter, you'll definitely have to endure the full wait time for your ALJ hearing.

Do Dire Need Letters Really Work?

When you write a dire needs letter to Social Security, it's actually handled by the Office of Hearing Operations (OHO). Every regional OHO in the country gets hundreds of dire need letters—meaning it can be very difficult to catch someone's attention with your letter. But if you write a convincing letter to Social Security, you have a chance of being heard.

For the most part, the OHO will consider you to be in dire need only if you're in danger of becoming homeless—that is, home foreclosure or eviction is imminent. Under Social Security's rules, your lack of utilities, food, or access to medical care are dire needs, but with the huge number of dire need requests most OHOs receive, only letters describing the most desperate situations will be successful.

Note that getting your dire need request granted doesn't guarantee Social Security will schedule your disability hearing much faster—perhaps a few months earlier at best. But even if it only shaves a few months off the time it takes to get a hearing date, writing a dire need letter is worth the effort. For those in dire need, trimming a few months off the wait can mean the difference between weathering the disability appeal process and losing everything.

Writing an Effective Dire Need Letter

First and foremost, you should write your own dire need letter. That's better than having a lawyer, friend, or family member write it for you.

The letters that get the most attention are the ones that have the most detail. Your letter should provide enough facts to thoroughly and compellingly explain your financial situation. For instance:

  • If you're in danger of becoming homeless because you can't pay your mortgage or rent, make this the first item you address.
  • If you're behind in paying your bills, include which bills and how far behind you are.
  • If you can't pay for medications or get needed clinical or hospital treatment, include the details.
  • If your car is in danger of being repossessed, mention how many payments you've missed.
  • If you can't buy food or pay for critical expenses, like utilities, explain that.

The letters that end up being the most effective are those that have documentation attached. You'll want to share all of the following:

  • past due notices
  • eviction notices
  • foreclosure proceedings
  • utility disconnection notices, and
  • vehicle repossession threats.

Attach copies of these late notices to your dire needs letter. Learn more about the evidence you need to get your dire need case expedited.

Where to Send Your Dire Need Letter

Send your dire needs letter to the OHO office in your region. You can get the address for your OHO by calling Social Security at 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778) or by using Social Security's online hearing office locator.

Whether or not Social Security grants your dire needs request, getting a little financial assistance can help you get by while your disability claim works its way through the appeals process. You may want to learn more about the financial help that's available while you wait for Social Security to decide your claim.

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