When Will Social Security Expedite a Disability Application as a Critical Case?

Certain situations require Social Security to make fast disability decisions.

By , J.D. · University of Baltimore School of Law

The process of applying for and getting Social Security disability is lengthy, and it can take up to two years to get a final decision. When you have no income or resources, or if you're facing an extremely serious medical condition, the wait for disability to begin can leave you in serious financial straits.

Fortunately, Social Security has a process in place to expedite the most "critical" cases. Here's what it takes to get your disability claim classified as a critical case so you can get the fastest disability approval.

What Type of Claims Do Social Security Expedite?

There are six types of claims that the Social Security Administration (SSA) calls "critical cases" and that Social Security will expedite (process quickly). Critical cases include those with the following circumstances:

  • dire financial needs
  • potentially violent situations (suicidal/homicidal)
  • terminal illnesses
  • military service (wounded warrior)
  • certain disabled veterans, and
  • medical conditions that qualify for a compassionate allowance.

For Social Security to determine your claim is critical and expedite your case, you must meet certain requirements.

Getting Your Disability Claim Expedited for Dire Need

If you don't have the resources to get food, medicine, or shelter, Social Security will treat your disability claim as a critical case. And your claim can be expedited.

What Does Social Security Consider a Dire Need?

Social Security requires special, expedited processing if you're facing any of the following situations:

You have a dire need for food. Tell Social Security immediately if you don't have food or can't afford to get food.

You have no access to medical care. Let Social Security know immediately if you don't have access to the necessary medicine or medical care. This can be because you don't have the insurance, money, or other resources needed to get the medicine or medical care you need.

You lack safe shelter. You can ask Social Security to expedite your disability claim if you don't have a safe place to live, including the following situations:

  • you're homeless
  • you're facing eviction or foreclosure
  • your home's uninhabitable because you don't have utilities (gas, electricity, or water), or
  • you've reached the limit on how long you can stay in a homeless shelter.

You aren't required to provide Social Security with specific evidence that supports your allegation of "dire need." But if the SSA discovers evidence that contradicts your claim, you might be required to provide further proof of your situation.

Evidence That Helps Prove a Dire Need Case

Social Security won't immediately label the file of everyone who claims to have financial hardship as a "dire need" case because it would prevent the agency from being able to help the most serious cases. Because of this, you should provide Social Security with as much evidence as possible to support your request to be treated as a "dire need" case.

The following are some examples of evidence that might be helpful in a "dire need" case:

  • notification of immediate eviction from your landlord
  • notification from your lender that foreclosure is imminent (not just threatened)
  • a letter from your homeless shelter that states you're no longer eligible for services
  • a letter from your utility company that states water, electric, or gas services have been discontinued because of overdue bills
  • evidence that you've lost insurance coverage
  • pharmacy records that indicate prescription medication costs
  • copies of medical bills, and
  • copies of estimated costs for any medical treatment you need.

When you apply for disability benefits, be sure to let Social Security know if you're without any of these basic needs. If your situation worsens after you've applied for disability, you can go to your local field office to notify Social Security of your situation. If your circumstances improve, the SSA can remove the "dire need" designation on your disability claim.

For more information, read about dire need letters.

Disability Claims Expedited for Personal or Public Safety

If there's evidence that you're suicidal (or homicidal), Social Security will expedite your disability claim. Evidence that you might be a threat to yourself (or someone else) can come from any source, including the following:

  • you (the applicant)
  • your doctors
  • your family or friends
  • law enforcement officials, or
  • Social Security employees.

If Social Security determines that you're a threat to either yourself or others, the SSA will contact the appropriate authorities immediately to ensure everyone's safety. Social Security will also provide referral services to the following resources:

  • local physicians
  • community service centers
  • suicide prevention programs, or
  • other appropriate medical facilities.

If you have a family member or friend who has applied for disability benefits and expresses any suicidal or homicidal thoughts, it's important that you tell Social Security immediately (along with the appropriate authorities).

Social Security Expedites Claims for Terminal Illnesses

Social Security will expedite your claim if it's based on a terminal illness. The SSA calls these claims "TERI" cases. Because of the sensitive nature of TERI cases, Social Security will never mark or note the case as "terminal" in your file. But your claim will be identified as a TERI case when:

  • you, your friends or family, or your doctor state that your condition is terminal
  • your claim is based on a diagnosis of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig's disease
  • your claim is based on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), or
  • you're enrolled in an at-home or in-patient hospice care program.

Your case will also be flagged as a TERI case if you:

  • have an ongoing need for life-support (heart and breathing machine)
  • are on a waiting list for a heart transplant, lung transplant, liver transplant, or bone marrow transplant (all transplants except kidney and corneal transplants)
  • have chronic pulmonary or heart failure that needs continuous home oxygen, and you can't care for your personal needs
  • have cancer that's metastasized, is stage IV, recurs after treatment, or is inoperable or unresectable (can't be surgically removed), or
  • have been diagnosed with certain cancers such as liver or gallbladder.

Social Security will also flag claims as TERI cases if the disability applicant is:

  • in a coma that lasts longer than 30 days, or
  • a newborn who was born with a fatal genetic or congenital defect.

Other terminal conditions might also qualify as TERI cases. For more information on TERI cases, read our full article about getting disability benefits for terminal patients.

Expedited Claims for Military Service Personnel

Social Security will expedite disability claims filed by military service personnel for injuries or illnesses that developed on or after October 1, 2001. You don't need to be a current service member, but your disability must have begun while you were on active duty.

For more information, see our article on how to expedite disability claims filed by U.S. military service personnel or U.S. military veterans.

When Social Security Uses Compassionate Allowances

Some medical conditions might qualify for what Social Security calls a "compassionate allowance" (CAL). CAL conditions are so severe that they're almost always immediately approved under Social Security's Listing of Impairments.

For some CAL conditions, you can sometimes get disability almost immediately because Social Security requires only minimal objective medical evidence and will sometimes grant approval based on a diagnosis alone. This makes it easier to approve these claims quickly—sometimes in as little as ten days.

Social Security currently recognizes more than 200 CAL conditions, including:

  • pancreatic cancer
  • ALS (Lou Gehrig's)
  • malignant multiple sclerosis
  • pulmonary atresia
  • small cell lung cancer
  • mixed dementias, and
  • trisomy 18 (Edwards' syndrome).

For more information, see our article on getting your disability claim approved based on a compassionate allowance.

How to Request Your Disability Claim Be Expedited

When you file your application for Social Security disability, you can ask that your claim be flagged as a critical case and that it be expedited at that time. Or, if your financial situation worsens after you file your application (and you find yourself in dire need or your diagnosis changes to terminal), you should visit your local Social Security office and request that your case status be changed to "critical" and your claim be expedited.

If you've requested Social Security to expedite your disability claim because you qualify under one of the above "critical case" reasons, and Social Security doesn't expedite your claim, it might be helpful to contact an experienced disability attorney. A lawyer can help you determine if your claim qualifies as a critical case and how you can convince Social Security to expedite your disability claim.

Updated November 15, 2022

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