4 Ways to Prove Dire Need and Get Disability Benefits Faster

Important: We updated this article in February 2023 to make sure all info below is both current and correct. Did you know that the Social Security Administration reviews and approves some disability claims faster than others? In fact, there are a few ways to get your Social Security disability benefits application processed faster. Naturally, the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) flags terminal illness claims as “critical” so they receive special processing. The ODAR regional office monitors applications with terminal illness designations to ensure these cases go through as quickly as possible. But the SSA lists other dire need situations that help people avoid waiting up to two years for their first payment.

Below, we’ll list some dire need examples that may get your SSD claim reviewed and approved faster than usual. It’s important to know exactly what to say so your paperwork gets flagged under the Quick Disability Determinations (QDD) program. If the SSA already denied your claim, proving dire need can put you next in line for an appeals hearing. (Wait times vary, but it can take 1-2 years just to get your ALJ hearing scheduled after that first denial.) If you get into a dire need situation but your claim is still under review, a disability lawyer can help.

How Does the SSA Define Dire Need Cases?

According to the SSA, a dire need situation exists when you:

  • Have no food and cannot buy anything to eat because you have no money.
  • Need medicine or medical care, but have no way to access or pay for it.
  • Become homeless (through eviction, foreclosure, or other means that prevent you from finding shelter).
  • Lack basic utilities (water, electricity, heat) you need to survive in your current home.

If your health or safety’s in immediate danger because you don’t have enough resources or income, you’re a dire need case. ODAR employees are supposed to flag “critical” cases if asked, but you still have to prove your dire need status. In other words, do not lie and say you’re a dire need case just to get your claim approved faster. If you do, you may receive an overpayment letter in the mail from the SSA demanding you pay them back!

Example Case #1: You Receive a Utility Shut-off Notice

If you receive a utility shut-off notice in the mail but still have somewhere to live, you’re in dire need. Pick the option below that applies to get your application flagged as a Dire Need Case (DRDN) and processed faster.

Important: Utilities that count for dire need cases usually include water, gas or heating oil, and electricity. Landlines, mobile phones, cable, Internet and other monthly bills are not considered utilities and won’t help you.

How New Applicants Can Prove Dire Need for Lost Utilities

In your application’s “remarks” section, write a message listing the utility you’re going to lose and the shut-off date.

For example: “I received a utility shut-off notice on the following date: ________. The utility is scheduled for termination on the following date: _______. I am requesting that you expedite my claim as a dire need case. I am enclosing a copy of my utility shut-off notice and the Social Security policy that applies to my claim.”

How Applicants With Claims Under Review Can Prove Dire Need for Lost Utilities

Give a copy to your attorney or call to potentially schedule an in-person appointment at your local SSA office to add it your file. Never give the original shut-off notice! If you cannot make a copy, visit the SSA office in person and take the original notice with you. They can make a copy to add to your file, but always take the original shut-off notice when you leave.

Important: If you must provide this document in person, call 1-800-772-1213 Monday through Friday, 7am-8pm EST to request an appointment. This is because not all local Social Security offices may not be open to walk-in traffic.

Example #2: You’re Homeless — Or Will Be Soon

Homelessness qualifies as a dire need situation, and the SSA’s own policy clearly states that. But when you’re living on the street (or will be soon), you may not know how to get help immediately. The SOAR program (SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access and Recovery) is active in all 50 states and helping disabled Americans get benefits. SOAR’s goal is to give more eligible adults access to the SSA’s two disability income benefit programs, SSI and SSDI. Contact SOAR if you’ll soon be homeless (or don’t have shelter now) and have at least one of these conditions:

  • Serious mental illness
  • Medical impairment
  • Substance abuse issues (drugs or alcohol).

How New Applicants Can Prove Dire Need for Homelessness

If you’re facing homelessness, you must state this on your SSD benefits application clearly in the “remarks” section. For example: “I am currently homeless and request that you expedite my claim as a dire need case.” If possible, include proof that you are currently homeless. You can ask shelter employees or your social worker to write a letter that vouches for your homelessness. SOAR can also help you get the evidence you need to get benefits faster.

If you’re facing eviction, foreclosure, or losing housing through other means, be sure to state that clearly on your application. For example: “I received an eviction notice from my landlord and will be homeless within 30 days. I’m enclosing a copy of my eviction notice and requesting you expedite my claim for dire need.” Or, “I’m enclosing a copy of my foreclosure notice and requesting that you expedite my claim due to dire need.” This can move your SSD benefits application to the top and make the SSA process it much faster.

How Applicants With Claims Under Review Can Prove Dire Need for Homelessness

If you still have shelter but will soon be homeless, tell your attorney or visit your local SSA office immediately. Show your eviction or foreclosure notice (or similar — if a roommate kicks you out, get a letter from your landlord). Homeless applicants, please look up your state’s SOAR contact person through the site directory. If you need an emergency referral for substance or alcohol addiction treatment, please call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) now. Homeless vets in crisis can call 988 and then Press 1 for instant, private help 24/7.

Any resource listed above should support your dire need request for homelessness and get your SSD claim approved faster. On average, homeless dire need cases get approved with SOAR’s help in three months. Without SOAR, you’ll wait at least five months for claim approval before you get SSD benefits.

Example #3: You’re Living In Foster Care, But Will Soon Age Out of Eligibility

According to the SSA, disabled or blind youth in the federal foster care system usually stop getting benefits at 18. This is a tricky issue, because you’re not eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits until foster care payments end. However, you can apply for SSI up to 180 days before you turn 18 and lose foster care payments.

How New SSI Applicants Can Prove Dire Need for Aging Out of Foster Care

You can file an SSI application with the SSA six months prior to your 18th birthday, in some states. In other states, you can apply six months prior to the day you’ll lose Title IV-E foster care benefits. In both cases, you must meet all the following dire need criteria for the SSA to accept your SSI application:

  • You must currently live in a foster care situation.
  • Allege that you are blind or have a health condition that makes you unable to work.
  • Appear likely to meet all non-medical SSI eligibility requirements once your foster care payments end.

Important: If you’re not blind or disabled at 18, the SSA may deny you SSI benefits. They call this rejection a “technical denial.” To learn more eligibility rules before you apply, visit the SSA’s website.

How Applicants With Claims Under Review Can Prove Dire Need for Aging Out of Foster Care

If you applied for SSI and haven’t heard a decision by your 18th birthday, contact your attorney or local SSA office. Bring a copy of the letter you received showing when your foster care benefits will end to request dire need. After submitting your dire need request, call the following week and have the SSA office confirm your claim’s flagged “critical.” The more flags your case has, the faster the SSA will review it and process your decision!

Example #4: You’re A Disabled Veteran with a 100% Permanent and Total Disability Compensation Rating (VPAT)

Wounded warriors and disabled vets may qualify for monthly SSD benefits in addition to VA disability. However, the rule on this issue is confusing, since it excludes any vets with a 100% P&T disability pension rating. So how can you prove dire need if you’re unsure which P&T rating applies to you?

How Eligible Veterans Applying for Disability Benefits Can Get Their First Checks Faster

If you’re a disabled vet applying for SSD benefits, we strongly recommend you confirm your rating with the VA first. You should have a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) documenting your status. If not, you need to request one from the VA (here’s an example letter). Then, write in your application’s “remarks” section that you’re a veteran asking them to expedite your claim. For example: “I’m requesting you expedite my claim for dire need as a veteran with 100% permanent and total disability compensation rating (VPAT).”

Be sure to include a copy of your VA letter confirming your 100% P&T compensation rating, too. After filing your SSD claim, the SSA can confirm your dire need status through a data match with the VA.

How Eligible Veterans With Disability Claims Under Review Can Get Their First Checks Faster

Talk to your attorney or call your local SSD office and ask them to flag your claim as “critical.” Be sure to bring the VA letter confirming your 100% P&T disability compensation rating. Once they add the “critical” flag to your claim, the SSA confirms dire need with a data match in the VA’s system. As long as the VA confirms your status, they’ll process your claim much faster.

Bonus Tip: You probably already know that local SSA offices are understaffed and mistakes can happen. Always include a copy of the Social Security policy when updating your file or SSD claim just to be safe! Your claims examiner or case worker might not know which policy applies to dire need cases like yours.

If you’re wondering whether there’s another way to get your claim review sped up, you’re not alone. You can talk to a disability attorney for free and get answers that only apply to you. This free, private phone call is the best way to ensure you get the maximum benefits you’re owed. If the lawyers in our network can’t get you benefits, then you pay $0 for legal assistance. People who have lawyers file their claims are almost 3x more likely to get benefits. Those who apply without expert help usually wait 2+ years for their first SSD payment.

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Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.

Laura Schaefer is the author of The Teashop Girls, The Secret Ingredient, and Littler Women: A Modern Retelling. She is also an active co-author or ghostwriter of several nonfiction books on personal and business development. Laura currently lives in Windermere, Florida with her husband and daughter and works with clients all over the world. Visit her online at lauraschaeferwriter.com and linkedin.com.