Tampa, FL (Law Firm Newswire) November 20, 2014 - While claimants wait for a judge to make decision on their case, the already-long Social Security application process can stretch on for more than a year.
Some agencies of the federal government have acquired unflattering reputations for big backlogs to process applications or resolve appeals. One agency in particular, the Social Security Administration, has reached an unenviable milestone and is fast approaching another one. As of the third quarter of this year, the Social Security office of judges who hear appeals for for disability benefits ranks as the leading federal agency for backlogs, with the number of cases awaiting to be heard having swollen to nearly one million.
The most current number of people waiting in line to have their disability cases heard by an administrative judge stands at 990,399, a number that dwarfs the number of backlogs at two other federal agencies notorious for case lags — the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with its pile of 536,000 appeals for benefits and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) with its 606,000 pending applications.
The office that oversees the judges who hear the disability cases, formally known as the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), has been plagued by backlogs since the mid 1970s, when Congress complained of what was then considered a big backlog of 103,000 cases, largely created by funding and staffing issues. The number of cases waiting to be heard has ballooned ever since.
When comparing wait times for a decision to be made on a case, the wait does not seem to be quite as bad as those for either the VA or the USPTO: the average wait time for an ODAR judge to decide a disability case is 422 days, while a patent application usually waits more than 800 days and an appeal at the VA typically takes 957 days.
While the wait for a judge’s decision on a disability claim appeal may not seem so long, it does not represent an accurate account of the total number of days that a disability applicant usually must spend during the entire application process. Indeed, after one adds in the average wait time for an initial decision, which is 109 days, and the average wait time for the first appeal before an official, which is 107 days, the entire disability claim process is revealed to be much longer.
“The thousands of people who apply for Social Security disability benefits all face the possibility of a multi-hurdle process,” said David W. Magann, a prominent attorney in Tampa, Florida, who specializes in Social Security disability law at David W. Magann, P.A. “In the meantime, they are not collecting any benefits, which may be their only potential source of income.”
In recent years, the backlog for disability claims was exacerbated during the Great Recession that began in 2008, when the rising number of jobless people contributed to a similarly rising number of disability applications. Most recently, the government shutdown in 2013 caused the number of undecided cases to spike further. Partially as a result of those two factors, the caseload has risen from 589,449 in fiscal year 2008 to 810,715 in fiscal year 2014.
Judges who hear cases are required to pore over all medical records themselves, without the help of a clerk. Congress has not been forthcoming about either providing them with additional assistance or hiring more judges. The heavy burden on judges has also contributed to the backlog.
“The funding and staffing problems at the SSA, coupled with the government’s self-inflicted damage during the shutdown and the recent recession, have made an already bad situation even worse,” Magann said. “Unfortunately, thousands of people with legitimate disability claims are being forced to pay the price for this bureaucratic mess.”
David W. Magann, P.A.
156 W. Robertson St.
Brandon, FL 33511
Call: (813) 657-9175
4012 Gunn Highway #165
Tampa, Florida 33618