Is yours a Dire Need Case?
Unfortunately, the wait times to receive a decision on a social security disability application can be long. The average wait time to get a hearing in West Michigan is as follows:
Grand Rapids: 14 months
Lansing: 12.1 months
Mt. Pleasant: 17 months
Often times, an individual seeking Social Security Disability benefits or Supplemental Social Security in West Michigan ask, “Is there anything I can do to get a hearing more quickly?”
Sadly, in the majority of cases, there is not much that can be done to speed up the process. For the most part, a disability or SSI claimant’s financial situation will have no effect on how soon Social Security will process their case. However, Social Security identifies several situations were a case is considered “critical” and will be processed more quickly.
The most common situation is where a “dire need” situation exists.
What is a dire need case?
Social Security has identified essentially three situations that may constitute dire need:
- The claimant does not have food and cannot obtain it.
- The claimant needs medical care and cannot get it due to lack of money or insurance.
- The claimant is homeless or is facing foreclosure or eviction.
Social Security recognizes that these cases need special attention and in some cases, the case may be processed more quickly.
How to request a dire need designation:
The Social Security employee manual (HALLEX), directs all employees who screen cases are responsible for identifying dire need cases, regardless of whether you specifically ask for the case to be identified as a dire need case.
However, due to the high volume of cases, this almost never happens. The most effective way to have your case identified as a dire need case is to send Social Security a “dire need letter.”
How often do Dire Need Letters Work?
In how many cases are dire need letters effective for expediting Social Security disability claims? Every regional Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) in the country gets hundreds of dire need letters per year. Therefore, 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. Having said this, however, some hearing offices (usually the less-busy ones) may occasionally view a claimant’s lack of utilities or access to needed medical care as a qualifying dire need situation.
However, 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. Having said that, even if a dire need letter only shaves a few months off the total time required to get a hearing date, writing such a letter is certainly worth the effort.
Tips on writing a dire need letter
First and foremost, the letter should be written by the claimant, versus a representative, friend, or family member. The letters that get the most attention are the ones that have the most detail. So, if are your bills are behind, include which bills, and how far behind they are. If you can’t pay for medications, obtain needed clinical or hospital treatment, or pay for critical expenses, such as utilities, include details. If your car is in danger of being repossessed, certainly mention this. And 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.
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. For more information on the evidence to include in a dire need letter, see our article on which critical disability cases are expedited.
Where to send your dire need letter?
You generally send the dire need letter to the ODAR that is handling your case. The following is the is the contact information for the West Michigan Social Security ODAR Office: