According to an article on the Baton Rouge 2theadvocate.com webpage, the system Social Security uses to administer disputed disability claims is severely backlogged. This is nothing I didn’t know already. I see it in my practice every day. I represent people in Social Security disability cases who have an average wait time of anywhere from one year to two years, in this district. That wait time is from the date of denial of a disability claim to the date of hearing on the claim. After the hearing it can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months to get a decision from the ALJ.
The story quotes Social Security Administration officials, who claim the backlog is the result of underfunding and under-staffing at the Agency, as well as a dramatic rise in the number of cases, and an increasing number of cases dealing with what they call “hard to prove ailments”, such as back pain, depression and anxiety. The thing to remember is that as our society ages, a huge number of baby boomers are moving into their 50’s, an age when major injuries and illnesses can cause disability. The number of disability cases in the next 10 years should increase significantly, over and above the already high numbers. The system needs help right now, to clear out the backlog, as well as to prepare for what will become even greater numbers of disabled people in the future.
Nearly 2/3 of applicants for Social Security disability are denied on their initial application. The next step after denial is to file an appeal and appear for a hearing before an administrative law judge. Almost 75% of people who hire an attorney win their appeal at the hearing level. Last year the average wait time for a hearing was one and a half years.
According to the Administration, the number of people on SS disability is 7.4 million, double the number of people who were on disability in 1990. In contrast, the number of staffers at the administration is down by five percent. Obviously a 50% increase in workload and a 5% decrease in people working the claims is a recipe for disaster. The administration is working on ways to streamline the process. They recently hired more judges and staff. Extra funds were allocated to the administration in this year’s budget. The administration has an electronic records system, to store and manage medical records and other documents more efficiently. They are also experimenting with video conferencing systems which would allow attorneys to attend hearings via video conferencing equipment in their offices, which will hopefully expedite the hearing process.
The newspaper article shares the story of a person who has been waiting several years for her determination. This is a story I hear on a routine basis. It is worth the efforts of congress and the administration to fix this system, and speed up help for those among us who are in dire need of help.