Social Security Disability backlog
The New York Times on December 10 reported that the backlog in Social Security Disability hearings has reached an all-time high. As the federal goverment has been further stressed by the Iraq War and "starve-the-beast" politicians attempting to minimize government services, the SSD backlog has lengthened, resulting in a wait that may reach three years just to secure a decision. In addition, the Agency apparently has such a political perspective against recognizing disabilty that more than two-thirds of those claimants who appeal their denial of disability prevail on appeal before a neutral Judge.
Our firm doesn't handle Social Security Disability claims, however, many of our clients are so badly injured that they qualify for SSD. In cases where a client's entitlement is disputed, we work with one of several attorneys in Northern Michigan who specialize in Social Security hearings. We have watched the process described by the NYT unfold on a consistent basis for more than a decade. In the year 2000 when the current Bush was elected, the SS backlog was 311,000 cases. Today it is more than 755,000.
Persons who are unfamiliar with the Social Security system should realize that the standard for securing disability payments is set intentionally high to disqualify and discourage persons who might malinger. Recipients must prove that a disability disqualifies them from "any kind of substantial work" for at least 12 months or will "result in death". If a professional, for example, could work as a convenience store clerk or bagging groceries, he would be disqualified from SSD. Claimants who have paid in to the system receive approximately fifty percent higher benefits than do severely disabled children or the poor (currently about $1,000.00 per month rather than $637.00 per month).
About 2.5 million people apply for disability each year and two-thirds are refused after a review of their medical and employment records. Approximately one-half million file appeals and about two-thirds of appellants eventually are determined to be qualified. The average length of appeal in the State of New York is 21 months (average---so half of claimants wait even longer) and half of the appellants are destitute and receive welfare benefits during the pendency. For the two-thirds of applicants who legitimately meet the high standard of disability, the loss of dignity that occurs during this three-year process is unconscionable. Congress recently appropriated additional money to fund an increase in the 1,000 Administrative Judges who hear these appeals, however the increase was vetoed by President Bush.
If you know of a northern Michigan resident who is struggling with the SSD system without the help of a lawyer, we will be glad to refer you to an ethical and compassionate attorney who specializes in these cases.