A backlog of SSDI cases means delays for some disability applicants in the united states.
One little known side effect of the prolonged recession is a rise in the number of applications for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). In an average year, the Social Security Administration considers 2.5 million applications for disability benefits. But cases were up by 20 percent over the past year and are likely to increase to well over 3 million in the coming year, according to SSA chief actuary Stephen Goss.
One obvious reason is that workers who have endured disabilities may decide to seek benefits after losing a job to outsourcing or a prolonged layoff. "When there's a bad recession and we lose six million jobs, people of all types are going to be part of that," Goss explained in a recent interview. While the SSA is a vast bureaucracy capable of serving a huge volume of applicants, the recent surge has led to backlogs in some parts of the country.
Disability Attorneys Advocate for Bureaucratic Reform
One concerned group, the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives (NOSSCR), has weighed in on this issue. Nancy Shor, NOSSCR's Executive Director, recently testified before Congress on behalf of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force, of which NOSSCR is an active member organization.
Addressing a subcommittee of the House Committee on Ways & Means in April, Shor identified both encouraging and troubling developments: "The wave of new claims is having a very significant impact at the state Disability Determination Services (DDSs) where processing times are on the rise. The news has been more positive at the hearing level where, for the first time in a decade, SSA finished FY 2009 with fewer hearing level cases waiting for a hearing and decision than at the beginning of the year and processing times have been reduced."
But Shor expressed deep concern about the government's ability to clear the docket because of the rising tide of new applications, many of which will be denied and then appealed. She predicted complications for the SSA's stated goal of eliminating the hearing level backlog by 2013.
A National Backlog, Regional Differences
Despite the fact that they all occur under the auspices of the same federal program, the life cycle of an individual SSDI or SSI application can vary from state to state. Consider the examples of two individual seeking disability benefits: one from St. Louis, Missouri; one from across the Mississippi River in East St. Louis, Illinois. Following the denial of an initial application, the Illinois applicant must pursue a formal reconsideration of the application, while the Missouri resident can move on to a formal hearing before an administrative law judge. This is because of an SSA program that has piloted different procedures in various jurisdictions to explore ways to make the bureaucracy more efficient.
This procedural difference can make a significant difference in the amount of time it takes to exhaust one's options in pursuit of benefits. Because a majority of initial applications are denied and the rejection level at the reconsideration stage is even higher, the value of legal counsel becomes apparent no matter where you are located.
Local practitioners can tell you about a variety of factors that influence the amount of time it takes to complete the process, including the impact of effective administrators in local SSA offices. Most important, they can help you assemble all of the necessary details to complete your application fully the first time around. But expediting these claims is positive only to a certain extent: because applicants must prove twelve months of disability to establish eligibility, they must make sure that their claims are sufficiently ripe to justify an award of benefits.
Solutions to Help Deserving Applicants Receive Timely Disability Benefits
The SSA can streamline certain aspects of the process by eliminating bureaucratic red tape that interferes with timely resolutions. In some cases, even applicants who have received a positive decision face intolerable waits before benefits kick in. For example, there is a complicated relationship between workers compensation and Social Security disability benefits. The federal government must have exact confirmation of state workers compensation payments before it can issue a check. This can create long delays.
Recent technological advances to improve the process include online resources to expedite initial applications, status updates and initiation of appeals. Some advocates are in favor of allowing claimants to send their applications directly to local DDS offices rather than routing them through the larger bureaucracy.
An ongoing political commitment to resolving the backlog in a timely manner is an honorable goal, because Social Security is critical to the economic security of many Americans. But for applicants on the brink of financial hardship who want to make the most of their opportunity to secure benefits, a detailed consultation with an experienced SSDI lawyer is a wise first step.
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