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.
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:
For Social Security to determine your claim is critical and expedite your case, you must meet certain requirements.
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.
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 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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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 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:
Your case will also be flagged as a TERI case if you:
Social Security will also flag claims as TERI cases if the disability applicant is:
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.
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.
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:
For more information, see our article on getting your disability claim approved based on a compassionate allowance.
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. To find an attorney in your area, visit our attorney locator page.
Updated November 15, 2022
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