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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Reducing the Social Security Backlog—Will New Steps Help or Hurt?

How will procedural changes affect individuals applying for SSDI?

For those who become disabled, making ends meet can be an ordeal. And waiting for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits to be approved is another obstacle for those already coping with serious injuries or illnesses. Currently the wait time to have a new claim resolved can be as long as 17 months.

Although nine million people receive disability benefits of approximately $1000 per month, the backlog means that 1.1 million people are still waiting for a decision. Some lose their homes or pass away during the delay.

Social Security Disability Appeals Go Before Administrative Law Judges

The Social Security Administration (SSA) often rejects first time claims. To appeal, claimants must go before an independent administrative law judge (ALJ). These judges, who are protected from SSA pressure by the Administrative Procedure Act, may reverse the SSA's decision. If an ALJ still rejects a claim, applicants can go before an appeals council and, after that, a federal court.

SSA's Steps to Reduce the Backlog

In the past, of the cases that wind up in federal court, some 30,000 had been "remanded" or sent back to the appeals council or an ALJ for reconsideration. These cases will now be heard by "administrative appeals judges" who may be less independent than ALJs and more beholden to the SSA.

Thousands of other cases, including those of people who returned to work after receiving benefits and whom the SSA thinks it may have overpaid, are also being taken away from the ALJs.

A Step Forward or Backward?

Advocates for social security claims are relieved that the SSA is trying to address the massive backlog but uneasy about the lack of independence of the new judges. At least one Congressman has suggested the procedural changes may violate SSA regulations and lead to more litigation rather than less.

If you have a social security claim that has been denied or that you fear may be denied, the first step is to consult an experienced disability attorney. With sound legal advice, you can make the strongest case for your claim, whether in an initial application or on appeal.

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