When someone is injured or becomes ill and is unable to work, it can be a financial disaster. One program available to help workers who have become disabled is Social Security Disability Insurance. The SSDI program is administered by the Social Security Administration and is funded by a portion of the funds withheld from workers’ wages. Unfortunately, not all disabled workers will qualify for SSDI benefits.

According to the latest figures available from SSA, more than 10 million Americans received SSD benefits in 2016. However, this does not account for all disabled workers. In fact, only about one-third of all SSDI claimants are eventually awarded benefits. To make matters even worse, the amount of time that a claimant has to wait before finding out whether they are eligible for benefits has grown steadily longer as the SSA struggles with budget woes.

Nationally, claimants are waiting an average of three to four months before learning whether their initial application was approved. If it was not and a claimant decides to appeal, the claimant will have to wait an average of 600 days for a hearing. During the pendency of their cases, claimants have lost their homes, filed for bankruptcy and even died before receiving a benefits decision.

A large part of the problem is that since 2010, SSA has lost more than 3,500 field personnel who have not been replaced. Under the White House’s proposed budget for the 2019 fiscal year, the SSA workforce would be reduced by another 1,000 field employees, which could mean even longer delays for benefits determinations. One thing that can help is having a representative. According to the Government Accountability Office, a claimant with a representative – such as an attorney – is three times more likely to prevail at a benefits hearing than an unrepresented claimant.