Articles Posted in Backlog of cases

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This week I did hearing a hearing for a young woman whose claim was pending for two years.  She passed away two months prior to her hearing.  We substituted her mother as the party and a successful hearing occurred this week.  Her family will collect the benefits due their daughter for the past months from which her claim was pending.

The process of applying for disability benefits is a tedious one, with most applications moving to an appeals hearing. The wait for the hearing can be arduous. According to a new report, as many as 110,000 Americans died waiting for a disability hearing over a span of 5 years.

Those shocking details came in a report released by the Government Accountability Office. As an Atlanta Social Security disability attorney, I know that most applications for disability benefits are rejected the first time around. Most of these rejected applications are then appealed, and claimants must wait for a disability hearing before a final determination can be made about whether the individual qualifies for benefits. The process of waiting for a hearing can take as long as a year, or even longer.

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Many potential clients I speak with daily are shocked to learn that the average wait time for a disability decision with the Social Security Administration is two years.  Yes, you heard me correctly – two years.  Why is that?  First, most applications are denied.  Second, the time period for a decision on the initial application is five months.  An appeal to the next level of review (reconsideration) is three to five months.  The next level of review – and where your best chance of a favorable decision exists — is the hearing level.  The current approval rate in Georgia at the hearing level is 48%.

But wait times for a hearing are currently over a year.  Here are the official wait times for a hearing in Georgia:  Atlanta Downtown Hearing Office – 20 months; Atlanta North Hearing Office –         18 months; Covington  –  18 months; Macon  –  16 months; Savannah – 17 months.

From a  2017 CBS News report, there were 1.1 million applicants waiting on a hearing before an administrative law judge.  That is a 31 percent increase from 2012.  However, the agency’s annual budget is the same as it was in 2011.  Five years ago the hearing wait times were less than a year.   “No search for efficiencies, reprioritization of tasks or technological improvements can substitute for adequate resources,” said Lisa Ekman of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives.

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An already overstressed Social Security Administration (SSA) that is struggling with a backlog of cases is likely to be even more squeezed after a hiring freeze imposed by the Trump Administration.

President Trump announced a federal hiring freeze that potentially could enhance the current problem the Agency has with large numbers of pending cases. An average claim at SSA can take as long as a year to decide. In the meantime, disability applicants who are already suffering from severe medical conditions are forced to wait anxiously for a decision on their claim.

At special risk are appeals filed by disability applicants who have had their earlier claims denied.  If a person’s claim is denied, he or she has the option of filing an appeal. That can be a long process in itself. The Social Security Administration’s Inspector General says that the average processing time for an appeal in 2016 was 526 days.

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You don’t have to be a Social Security disability benefits lawyer, or an SSD applicant to know that disability claims across the country have skyrocketed. CNN recently ran a report on the reasons why these claims have been increasing the way they have.

According to the Department Of Veterans Affairs, the number of disability claims filed by veterans has increased by 28% since 2008 alone. The CNN report blames the recession as well as the economic downtown that kicked off in 2008 and 2009, as the major reason why there has been an increase in these claims. Back during the 2001 recession, the same trend was seen, and disability claims increased by 13% in that year. In 2009, during the recession, claims increased by 21%.

Critics have tried to blame the increasing number of disability claims on laziness, and people applying for disability payments, instead of finding jobs. However, the fact of the matter, as any lawyer will tell you, is that so many people want to work, but are physically unable to do so. When jobs are scarce, people with any type of disability are usually the least likely to be hired. Also, as businesses scale back, a worker who needs an accommodation to keep his/her job may be the first to be let go.

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