Although there have been some strides in recent years, processing Social Security disability claims remains slow due to significant backlogs in the system. (Applicants in many states can expect a wait of two years or more.) The reason for the backlog is the large influx of new applications; a trend that is typical in a down turned economy. Sources note that a little over 3 million new applications will be received this year which is more than 300,000 over last year. Close to two-thirds of those claims will be denied, with the expectation that they will simply be dropped. For those people appealing their cases, chances are they will win and even be eligible for retroactive benefits, but it can take an extensive amount of time.
In an attempt to decrease instances of fraud, qualifying for Social Security Disability can be complicated without the assistance of a disability lawyer. It is governed by strict rules and regulations, as well as an intensive application process. Typically, a doctor must first state that the applicant is unable to perform his or her job, and if deemed unable, officials must try to see if the applicant can perform a new job or function. This is all an attempt to avoid a drain on the system by determining who truly qualifies.
After a doctor concludes that the applicant’s condition will preclude them from working for at least one year, the claim is filed. After filing, the average denial rate for first time claims is approximately 63 percent and the average waiting period for that denial is approximately 111 days. Applicants denied by the original state agency called the Disability Determination Services, can appeal back to that state agency. A large part, approximately 80-90% of those appeals are denied, taking an average of an additional 104 days. The next step would be to appeal to an administrative law judge. Over a half a million cases were decided this way, and judges approved approximately 63 percent of the appeals. Sources indicated, however, that the average process time is 491 days. Finally, those who are still denied can eventually take their cases to federal court, after a special council convenes, however, very few cases win at this level.
Michael J. Astrue, the Social Security commissioner, has succeeded, in small part to shorten the wait time for appeals by hiring hundreds of judges and accompanying support positions. However, with nearly 2 million people waiting to find out if they qualify for Social Security disability benefits, it’s a daunting task in an already overloaded system.