Rule Changes May Add to Social Security Disability Backlog
July 18th, 2017 by Attorney John Colvin
As of May 2017, the average wait time for a disability hearing in the Chattanooga Social Security office was 17 months, and the average processing time for a claim was 553 days. New rules that govern the claims approval process could add to the already significant backlog of SSD cases.
Until this year, the Social Security Administration gave special consideration to a person’s long-time doctor when making a determination about disability. But now, a long-time doctor’s opinion is no more important than that of a medical consultant who sees a disability claimant only once – in some cases, medical consultants might not even examine the person who’s applying for benefits.
Lisa Ekman, an SSDI policy consultant, said that the change in medical evidence rules will likely result in more claims being denied, which means more people will be filing appeals, and that will add to the SSD backlog.
Reasons for the Backlog
Between 2000 and 2016, the government cut the SSA’s operating budget by 10 percent, and the SSA issued a hiring freeze in 2011. So, as people working for the SSA retire or leave the agency, the SSA is not filling those open positions, and that means fewer and fewer people are available to process claims or answer SSD applicants’ questions.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
- The SSA has lost 1,400 field office employees during the hiring freeze.
- People visiting SSA field offices must wait more than an hour to speak with someone, and at least three weeks for an appointment.
- The average hold time for callers to the SSA service center is 17.7 minutes, up from 3.4 minutes in 2010.
- Congress provided $150 million for the SSA to hire staff to handle SSD appeals, but without long-term increases in funding, the SSA likely won’t work through its current backlog.
As the SSA staff continues to shrink, the United States population is growing older, which means more people are applying for disability benefits. More than 65 million in the past two decades have entered their 50s and 60s.
The SSA’s Tasks
The SSA does more than just process and review disability claims. And in all areas it oversees, it is falling behind. Former SSA commissioner Michael Astrue said in 2012:
“At some point, we will have to handle every claim that comes to us, every change of address, every direct deposit change, every workers’ compensation change, every request for new or replacement Social Security cards. The longer it takes us to get to this work, the more it costs to do. Funding us to keep up with the work is ultimately cheaper than delaying it. It is also the moral thing to do for the American citizens who depend on our services.”
An Uncertain Future
The SSD program isn’t charity – people earn the right to benefits based on their history of employment (or based on their spouse’s or parent’s work record). When you become disabled, you expect that SSD benefits will help you, but many people have already waited a year or more to find out whether they’ll be receiving benefits. Without increases in funding that enable the SSA to hire the staff it needs, more and more people will be left waiting for an answer.
John R. Colvin, Attorney at Law, has successfully represented injured clients throughout Tennessee and Alabama who have needed SSD benefits. He has also assisted people throughout the SSD appeals process. For 20 years, he has been helping victims put their lives back on track, and he is ready to help you. For advice on how to proceed next or if you have any questions about this topic, call 1-931-962-1044 or submit this online form. Put his bold approach and client focus to work for you.