Most people who interact with the federal government are aware of the slow processing times for applications and decisions. What may not be considered is the drastic impact on the people applying for benefits and the general public as a whole. Individuals who suffer from this delay cannot pay their bills, receive inferior medical care, and place an additional burden on their family to support their most basic needs. Because Social Security Disability applications may have no or very little earnings, they experience terrible financial outcomes awaiting a decision, such as bankruptcy. Over the period of 2008 through 2019, most applications who filed an appeal waited more than one year for a final decision on their claim. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), median wait time for claims in the year 2015 rose to a crazy 839 days. Now, during the COVID-19 pandemic the times have decreased to 506 days, but this is still a travesty of equitable justice for one of the most vulnerable populations of America.

About 1.3 percent of applicants filing for disability filed for bankruptcy while awaiting a decision. Of those applicants who filed for disability, 44.6 percent were approved for their disability benefits. Moreover, of those who filed for bankruptcy while awaiting an appeals decision, most were female, older, and had greater than a high school education. About 1.2 percent of the applicants have died while awaiting a final decision. In the year of 2019, 9,607 applicants died while waiting for a decision on their disability claim.

The report by the GAO was provided to the Social Security Administration. Social Security had an opportunity to respond to the information provided in the report. They stated that their highest priority is to improve customer service. They stated that “We have made significant progress improving the hearings process by prioritizing the cases of those individuals who have waited the longest for a hearing decision.” The response by the Social Security Administration further illustrates the disconnect between the Social Security’s efforts and the hardships that their delays places on applicants and the public.

In addition to the long wait times, only thirty five percent of those denied at the hearings level sought review by the Appeals Council. The numbers likely reflect that applicants got frustrated or felt defeated. As a disability attorney, I can unequivocally state that getting denied time after time, after time can be disheartening. I try to encourage clients to keep their head up and remind them that the fight is not over. This is why it is so important to have a disability attorney to encourage you to keep proceeding and to assist you in fighting for the benefits that you need and deserve. A seasoned attorney has been navigating this system for years and knows how to speed the process and how to appeal to ensure your claim is presented in the most favorable light possible. Additionally, a small law firm will actively push your case because you are not just another number to them. You actually matter and your unique medical impairments can be understood and presented to the Social Security Administration.

Jonathan Cole

(708) 529-7794