Adding insult to injury

As the clock ticks, Knoxville employees glance at it to see how much time remains in their work days. For those who are prevented by disability from working, the clock often has a different meaning. It can be marking the time passing as a person waits for an appeals hearing before an administrative judge with the Social Security Administration.

That’s part of the process of appealing a denial of SSDI benefits; a process that is excruciatingly long in many parts of the nation.

The nation’s longest average wait, according to a recent news report, is in Miami, where applicants wait 22 months for an appeals hearing. In that time, many disabled claimants must deal with hard financial realities. Without a job or disability benefits, they often find themselves slipping into poverty, unable to pay for medicines, meet their mortgages or keep the lights turned on.

A million appeals are pending, the newspaper says, with just under half of that number expected to be eventually approved.

But the waits are long and difficult in many cities, including Chattanooga (19 months), along with 20-month waits in Brooklyn, New York; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Spokane, Washington; and Fort Myers, Florida. The shortest average nationally is in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where SSD applicants wait just 8 months.

The goal is to get the wait down to 270 days by 2020. Even that would still be a 9-month wait, of course.

For those applicants waiting for an appeal, the question then becomes how prepared they are for that critical hearing. After waiting so long, do they have the medical documentation needed? Have they spoken with an attorney experienced in preparing applications and applicants? It’s another crucial step in an important process.