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Social Security Disability Backlog Examined by the Washington Post

Posted by Louis B. Lusk | Oct 28, 2014 | 0 Comments

Social Security Disability Backlog Examined by the Washington Post

The backlog of disability appeals pending before Social Security Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) is in the news again. The Washington Post reported on how large a backlog there is and how long it takes for a case to get through the Social Security Disability (SSD) decision-making system.

What the Backlog Looks Like

The Washington Post points out that the SSD appeals backlog is larger than the “backups at Veterans Affairs, where 526,000 people are waiting in line and the patent office, where 606,000 applications are pending.” The Social Security ALJs have “990,399 cases” pending appeal. “In most of these cases, the applicants have already been turned down twice by lower-rung officials who didn't think they were disabled enough.”

The Washington Post states that ALJs are “supposed to read the applicant's medical records and ask questions about medications, limitations and levels of pain. There are 1,445 of these Social Security judges, which means its in-house legal system is larger than the entire regular federal court system – district and appeals courts and the Supreme Court put together.”

The Washington Post says the ALJs' jobs are slow going “by a pileup of outdated rules and oddball procedures. The judges' official list of jobs, for instance, is a Depression-era relic last updated in 1991. It still includes ‘telegram messenger' and ‘horse-and-wagon driver' – not exactly growth industries. It doesn't mention the Internet at all.” This backlog of cases did not start piling up over the last year. The Washington Post notes that it began during the Ford Administration (1974-1977).

How Long to Get Assistance?

The Washington Post points out that when a person initially applies for SSD benefits, they are put into a pile of “about 633,000 cases waiting” for an initial determination. “Each of these decisions takes 109 days.” About 32 percent of cases are approved for benefits. In 40 states an appeal goes to another Social Security official for review on appeal. “There are about 170,000 people waiting” for this review to be completed. “The average wait time is 107 days. Only about 11 percent of the applications are approved.”

The next step is to appeal to an ALJ. In the 10 states that do not have a secondary review, those individuals go straight to the ALJ review. Those on the ALJ list wait among a large backlog. “The average case at this Social Security office [in Miami, Florida] will take 422 days to decide, but an appeal at the VA will take 957 days. A patent application usually waits more than 800 days for a decision.”

The Social Security Administration says “there was a surge of new disability applications, from broken-down baby boomers and people left jobless by the Great Recession. The judges' incoming caseload surged from 589,449 in fiscal 2008 to 810,715 in fiscal 2014.” There are new regulations that “limit all judges to 720 cases a year and imposed new checks to make sure the ‘yes' decisions are as well thought-out [and documented] as the ‘noes'.”

Looking at these numbers from the number of applications at each level in the SSD decision-making process to the percentage of approvals at each level, it is helpful to have an attorney by your side.  If you are considering applying for disability benefits, contact our experienced attorney to assist you.

About the Author

Louis B. Lusk

About Louis B. Lusk – Disability Attorney Attorney Louis B. Lusk has helped thousands of disabled individuals recover Social Security disability and SSI disability benefits.  He is an active member of the National Organization of Social Security Claimant's Representatives (NOSSCR), an organizat...


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