Applicants for Social Security disability (SSI in particular) often experience dire need situations, mainly due to the delays in Social Security disability claim process. 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 you are waiting for a hearing to be scheduled with an administrative law judge (ALJ), you can sometimes get an expedited hearing by submitting what is known as a "dire need letter."
In a dire need letter, you point out why waiting the normal amount of time for a hearing (unfortunately, the normal wait time can be a year or even two) 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 get medical treatment, obtain prescriptions that are desperately needed, or pay for utilities.
Are dire need letters effective for expediting Social Security disability claims? That is, does the Social Security hearing office take them seriously? Every regional Office of Hearing Operations, or OHO (formerly known as the Office of Adjudication and Review, or ODAR), in the country gets hundreds of dire need letters. So 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. However, a hearing office that is not beset by a growing backlog might occasionally (and should, by law) view a claimant's lack of utilities, food, 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. But even if a dire need letter only shaves a few months off the total time required to get a hearing date, writing a dire need letter is worth the effort. In many cases, taking a few months off the wait for a hearing can mean the difference between a claimant being able to weather the disability appeal process and losing everything everything he or she has accumulated prior to becoming disabled.
First and foremost, the letter should be written by the disability claimant, versus a representative, friend, or family member.
The letters that get the most attention are the ones that have the most detail. The letter should provide a level of detail sufficient enough to thoroughly and compellingly explain your financial situation. So, if are your bills are behind, include which bills and how far behind they are. 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. If you can't pay for medications, obtain needed clinical or hospital treatment, or pay for critical expenses, such as utilities, include the details. If your car is in danger of being repossessed, certainly mention this.
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. Attach copies of any late notices you may have received from utility providers or mortgage providers. 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 OHO office; you can get your OHO address by calling Social Security at 800-772-1213 or going to the Social Security's hearing office lator page at www.ssa.gov/appeals/ho_locator.html.
Also, you may want to learn more about financial help that's available while awaiting a disability decision.