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.
According to the Government Accountability Office report, between 2014 and 2019, about 48,000 people, or approximately 1.3 % of the claimants, filed for bankruptcy before their disability hearing date. Even worse, as many as 110,000 people died before their disability hearing.
Wait times occur because of the backlog of appeals in the system. This backlog is one of the more troubling aspects about filing a claim for disability benefits. In 2015, the average median wait time for a disability hearing was 839 days. In 2019, the average wait time was 505 days. In 2020, as all hearing offices moved to telephone hearings (where the claimant agreed to proceed by telephone) due to the unusual risks posed by the coronavirus, the wait times have dropped to 395 days in the third quarter of 2020. Given the efficiencies of the telephone hearings, this might be a unintended benefit of the corona virus new procedures. While the telephone hearings are certainly not ideal, they are useful for efficiency and protecting ill claimants from the difficulties in traveling to hearing offices.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans find that their financial struggles after their disability simply become even more intense as they wait for a date for the hearing. Disability benefits claimants are typically older and poorer, and cannot afford to wait months on end for a disability hearing to determine the fate of their benefits claim.
This problem underscores the need for funding of the disability program and for the permanent implementation of new procedures to move the backlog of cases so that people — many of whom paid into the program through payroll taxes – obtain their benefits when they need them the most.
If your disability benefits claim has been denied, speak to Atlanta Social Security disability attorney Lisa Siegel about filing an appeal. Most applications are initially rejected, so there is still hope for your disability claim.