Extreme backlogs in Social Security disability appeals

In addition to paying out retirement benefits, the Social Security Administration also awards benefits to disabled individuals who can no longer work. However, the process of applying for Social Security disability can be daunting because it is complex and bureaucratic. People can apply for disability benefits for illness or injury, but they must adequately prove their case in order to receive benefits.

After disabled individuals first present their applications to the Social Security Administration, they will receive an initial approval or denial. Applicants are able to appeal the initial denial and, if they are denied again, they are also able to appeal a second time. Generally, denials are based on the officials not believing that they are sufficiently disabled to qualify for benefits. If an applicant wants to appeal a third time, this time the case is heard before a special Social Security judge-so applicants are able to present their claim in person. However, the current status of this Social Security disability appeals court is nearly 1 million cases behind. The backlog is greater than that of any other government program, including Veterans Affairs and the patent office. Although there are 1,445 judges to hear these appeals, the system first began to get behind during the Gerald Ford presidency, and the backlog has been growing ever since.

This story illustrates how important it can be for applicants for SSDI to win their cases at the first stage. A denied claim, though not impossible to appeal or overcome, can dramatically increase the time a person spends waiting for benefits. In order to qualify for Social Security Disability or SSDI, a person must have suffered an injury or medical condition/illness that affects their ability to work.

The disability must have existed for 12 months before a person is eligible for benefits, but this does not mean that an applicant must wait 12 months after becoming disabled before beginning to prepare or file their claims. Working with an attorney to prepare a strong claim that contains all of the required information as soon as a disability is suffered can decrease the time a person spends waiting for benefits.

Source: Washington Post, “‘It’s just maddening. There’s nothing you can do,’” David A. Fahrenthold, Oct. 18, 2014