The route to receiving disability benefits travels between the federal Social Security Administration and disability determination services operated by state governments, according to Kurt Czarnowski, regional communications director for the Social Security Administration in New England.

Czarnowski said Feb. 4 that medical eligibility for both Social Security disability insurance and supplemental security income is determined by federally funded offices within state governments. In Maine, that office is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Czarnowski said those wishing to appeal a denial of a claim must do so within 60 days of that denial.

According to Czarnowski, a claimant can request a reconsideration of a case. If that is also denied, the claimant has another 60 days to respond.

“The next step in the process is a hearing before an administrative law judge,” Czarnowski said. He said there are further legal actions a client can take.

Barbara Van Burgel is director of the Office of Integrated Access and Support at the DHHS. She said there isn’t much latitude for those who fail to meet the deadlines for providing information.

“Those are the due dates,” she said. “If they are closed or denied because of that they can always appeal or reapply.”

Van Burgel said the DHHS does have provisions to help those living in rural areas access the services they need. A bill under current consideration in the Legislature would create a pilot program in a few of the larger DHHS offices to provide dedicated staff to help clients navigate the hurdles, she said.

She said the 45-day review period to qualify for MaineCare disability coverage was mandated by a court decision. Anyone whose case is not determined in that period will automatically receive temporary aid until a final decision is made, she said.

The responsibility to receive notifications rests with the claimant, Van Burgel said.

“It certainly is difficult for someone who doesn’t have a residence,” she said. “Transportation is also a tremendous challenge.”


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