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Delays in Social Security Disability Cases
The delays in processing Social Security cases are astonishing. According to a recent article, as of March 2023, there are 1 million people who have filed applications for Social Security whose cases are pending. The last time the delays were this bad was in 2010.
According to the article – I have no way of verifying this – 8,000 people would be expected to file for bankruptcy and 10,000 will die before their decisions are rendered. Unfortunately, death of a client is something I am well aware of. It is horrible to win a case only to learn my client died waiting for his checks.
Some potential clients come to me with terminal illnesses. Even though there is supposed to be a procedure for filing for an expedited process, it isn’t much of an expedited process.
With great fanfare a decade ago, the Commissioner at that time established a list of conditions that he felt should be automatically approved. He termed this “compassionate allowances.” They are mostly esoteric and fairly rare cancers. In the list of impairments, there are some disabling conditions that are automatically approved. The most well known is Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) where the mere diagnosis of the condition is enough for you to be found disabled. Yet I have had cases of ALS where the process was slow and clients weren’t approved right away. I have seen many cases of rare cancers where the process should be expedited and again it didn’t happen.
I have a friend who had a disease that was qualified for a compassionate allowance who applied for herself. She had worked in the field so knew exactly what to do. It took about 8 months for her to win a case when she should have won, according to the Commissioner’s press release, in about 2 weeks.
A Commissioner can make as many announcements as they want but it means nothing unless the staff is trained to actually effectuate the changes. Currently we don’t even have an actual Commissioner but only an acting Commissioner.
COVID was a disaster for the country and especially for this agency. They lost a great many employees who do not want to return to the office to work. Judges apparently have been reluctant to return to their offices preferring to work at home doing hearings via telephone. Hearings are not being held in person by and large. This may be convenient for the agency but it is very difficult for us when trying to question a witness.
Our job is to cross-examine experts. When you can’t see them, assessing their testimony is harder. You don’t know what materials they are referring to because you can’t ask to see them. It’s very unsatisfactory though during COVID it was necessary. It’s not necessary now. I admit I’m getting more used to video hearings. They are better than a phone call but not as satisfying as being in person. One benefit of a video hearing is no one has to travel very far and that’s good for everyone, especially for a client with a disability.
What Can We Do About the Delays?
What can we do about the delays? There have been enormous delays in the IRS and President Biden pushed through a huge increase in funding for the IRS. It’s only made the newspapers in light of statements that this means that more people are being audited. But in truth the IRS has hired more staff. The IRS phone calls are now down to less than 5 minutes. If you try to call Social Security, if you can get someone to answer the phone in less than an hour, it is a minor miracle.
We have to contact Social Security just to get a barcode so we can submit evidence. My staff complains endlessly about being on hold for 30 to 45 minutes just to get a barcode. There are hearing offices that I am told after 30 minutes on hold the phone mysteriously hangs up. This is because they don’t have enough staff.
There are plenty of Administrative Law Judges. But we don’t need more people at the top. What the Social Security Administration needs are the support staff to get the work done. You need a lot more Privates than you need Generals to run an army. But Social Security keeps hiring Generals but adding no support staff believing the Administrative Law Judges should be typing their own decisions. That is just crazy. The Administrative Law Judges get a lot more money than the support staff. They could hire a lot of staffers for the cost of one Administrative Law Judge. The more staff, the more work gets done and this would reduce the wait time.
What can be done about this? Call your Senators and Representatives. Let them tell you it’s okay that you are waiting over a year to get a decision.
Don’t Let the Delays Discourage You!
If you have a disability and the prognosis is that your disability is expected to last a year or more (or one that has lasted that long) and your doctor says you cannot work anymore, you may be able to apply for Social Security Disability benefits. And Binder & Binder® can help. Our advocates represent tens of thousands of people each year throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and all U.S. territories. The people we help are affected by many different types of accidents, injuries and pain that prevent them from working. If you’re suffering from a disabling condition, contact us to talk about getting the benefits you need.Free SSD Evaluation
Article by Charles E. Binder.