Changes to Colorado’s disability benefits application process irks advocates, attorneys – The Denver Post

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A step has been added to the appeals process for receiving Social Security disability benefits in Colorado, prompting criticism that the change adds delays to an already slow system.
Everyone who filed for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) in Colorado after Jan. 1, 2019, will now have to go through the reconsideration process if their application is denied.
The SSDI program provides benefits to people who have paid a certain amount into Social Security and who have a disability that has prevented them from working for at least a year. There are several levels of appeals that people can go through if their initial application to receive benefits is denied.
In most states, applicants whose initial claim was rejected can go through a reconsideration process, where they have 60 days to file an appeal to the Social Security Administration. If their appeal is denied, they then could ask for a hearing before an administrative law judge, who would decide their case.
In the 1990s, the Social Security Administration decided to remove the reconsideration step from the process in Colorado and eight other states. But at the beginning of 2019, the reconsideration step was added back into the appeal process in five states, including Colorado, to the frustration of local disability attorneys and advocates.
“[Reconsideration] adds more time into a system that is already backlogged with lots of claims,” said Mary Dale Walters, senior vice president at Allsup, a company that helps applicants navigate the disability approval process.
Allsup is a national company, so its employees were familiar with how to navigate the reconsideration process. But Walters said she worries that the new step will throw a wrench into the process because Colorado state employees and disability attorneys will not know how to handle it.
Approximately 8,300 Coloradans appealed the initial denial of their benefit application in federal year 2017, and 6,500 appealed in federal year 2018.
There are 7,400 Coloradans waiting to have a hearing before an administrative law judge, according to data from May. That includes people who filed last year and didn’t go through reconsideration and people who filed this year and did.
Nationally, about 36 percent of people who apply for SSDI in a given year will be granted benefits when they first apply. For those who ask for their case to be reconsidered, only 13 percent will have their denials reversed. Of those who appeal their case to an administrative law judge, about 45 percent will receive benefits.
According to federal data, at the end of fiscal year 2018, 129,000 people were at the reconsideration level. The government is estimating that at the end of the 2020 fiscal year, that number will have reached 233,000.
Brandon M. Selinsky, an attorney at the Rocky Mountain Disability Law Group, said he disapproves of the reconsideration step being added into the process.
Selinsky practiced disability law in other states before Colorado, so he was familiar with how to handle reconsideration. But he said the step generally does not help people get benefits and just leads to applicants having a longer wait.
“It’s never good to stretch out a process where people are trying to get benefits to sustain themselves,” Selinsky said.
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