SSA addresses backlog of disability appeal claims

As some Tennessee residents may have experienced, the nation’s Social Security disability system is in a crisis situation, particularly with regards to the backlog of those who are awaiting a hearing decision. Over 1 million individuals are still waiting for a hearing decision. Some of them have been waiting more than 17 months for such decisions to be made.

The Social Security Administration recognizes this is unacceptable, and is changing the way they handle the appeals process for those who are appealing a decision regarding their application for Social Security disability benefits. However, some fear that these changes could result in some applicants not receiving a fair hearing.

Applying for SSD benefits is not easy, and many applicants are initially denied benefits. As part of the appeals process, the applicant can take his or her case to an administrative law judge. If the applicant is still denied, the applicant can take his or her case to an appeals council and then federal court if necessary.

In these later stages of the appeals process, approximately 30,000 claims annually are remanded to an ALJ. While ALJs used to enjoy a certain amount of independence from the SSA, per the new changes, appeals council remands will be remanded to an Administrative Appeals Judge, who will not enjoy the same level of independence from the SSA that ALJs enjoy.

Some are concerned, however, that this change could affect an applicant’s ability to have a hearing before an ALJ who, per the federal Administrative Procedure Act, has the appropriate amount of judicial independence to handle such matters in a fair way. Some even believe the change is illegal, as it allows the SSA to cherry-pick cases to go before individuals of the agency’s own choice.

It remains to be seen whether this new strategy by the SSA will be effective in addressing the backlog of SSD applicant appeals. In the meantime, SSD applicants who are facing the appeals process may want to consult with an attorney to learn more about their rights.

Source: The Huffington Post, “Social Security Administration Seeks Shortcut Through Massive Disability Backlog,” Arthur Delaney, May 6, 2016